Hoyer calls Soler deal rumors bogus

709410.png

Hoyer calls Soler deal rumors bogus

MESA, Ariz. Google search the images for Jorge Soler and all you really get is one grainy photo. Such is the mystery surrounding the Cuban defector who will spark a bidding war.

The Cubs are widely viewed as the frontrunner to land Soler, to the point where some media outlets have portrayed it like theres already an agreement in place.

But the 20-year-old outfielder still has to establish residency in the Dominican Republic and be cleared for free agency, a process that insiders have described as far more complicated than the slam dunk its been made out to be across cyberspace.

Solers representatives were preparing to take him to the market at least as far back as the general manager meetings in Milwaukee last November, and the industry is still waiting.

Hes not a free agent, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this week. The rumors that we have a deal with him are just completely bogus. I dont know where that started, but you guys (in the media) should not run with those rumors. Theyre just rumors and they have no merit.

Still, that doesnt mean it wont happen. Theres no denying that the Cubs have targeted Soler for months and done extensive background work on the prospect.

If signed before July 2, Soler would not be limited by the international cap imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement. The general expectation is that he will become a free agent in time to cash in and beat the deadline. But there are multiple layers of government to go through and, obviously, the process has already taken this long.

Because of Solers youth and five-tool potential and with this being the final international shopping spree before the labor deal sets spending limits the Cubs wont be alone in their pursuit.

Dont bet against the mystery team in the age of Internet rumors. The Oakland As shocked the baseball world last month by landing Yoenis Cespedes with a four-year, 36 million deal.

But there are logical reasons to think Soler could learn The Cubs Way and become a key piece in Theo Epsteins foundation for sustained success.

The Cubs were definitely in on Cespedes and felt like they were able to establish a level of trust with the Cuban defector, though they werent as open to a shorter-term commitment.

This month the Cubs finalized a deal with Gerardo Concepcion, a 20-year-old Cuban left-hander who will get 6 million guaranteed in a five-year, major-league contract. Theres a slight chance Concepcion will appear in a Cactus League game this spring, though the organization hasnt decided where he will begin this season in the minors.

It should take closer to Cespedes money to sign Soler, but the Cubs have already shown a commitment to being big players internationally. Several people in the front office have deep personal and professional connections in Cuba and the Dominican, and reputations and relationships should matter there.

Resources that had been earmarked for the draft and international signings will have to be shifted elsewhere. This is the last prize before the business is regulated. Now is the time to go all in. Soon enough, Solers face will be everywhere.

Brewers claim Neil Ramirez off waivers from Cubs

cubs_maddon_on_rondon_05-31_640x360_696263235809.jpg

Brewers claim Neil Ramirez off waivers from Cubs

The Milwaukee Brewers are in that uncertain place where the Cubs used to exist, trying to collect as many long-term assets as possible, trying to see which interesting project players might actually stick around for their next contending team.

The Brewers have now claimed reliever Neil Ramirez off waivers from the Cubs, potentially adding a right-handed weapon to their bullpen, though that idea comes with the standard disclaimer.

"The biggest thing is good health," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. "If he’s able to maintain good health and get an opportunity, he’s going to pitch really well."

The Cubs acquired Ramirez as part of the Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers in 2013 and watched him develop into a dominant setup guy the following season (1.44 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 43-plus innings).

But Ramirez has been on the disabled list three separate times since the middle of that 2014 season, accounting for only 14 innings during last year’s breakthrough into the playoffs. The Cubs didn’t find a role for him this season (4.70 ERA in eight appearances) and designated him for assignment on May 21.

"He’s got a great arm," Maddon said. "He’s got a wipeout slider. The velocity, I guess, came back a little bit, but I wasn’t here to really see the difference. Primarily, with good health, this guy can be very good. And I wish him nothing but the best. It’s no more complicated than that. If Neil stays well, he’s going to pitch well."

Bullpen's ridiculous performance bails out Cubs in win over Dodgers

cubs_maddon_on_wood_he_was_spectacular_05-30_640x360_695644739609.jpg

Bullpen's ridiculous performance bails out Cubs in win over Dodgers

The Cubs' MLB-leading starting rotation has gotten plenty of buzz this season, but the bullpen had their breakout game on Memorial Day.

With Jason Hammel limited to only two innings because of hamstring cramping, the bullpen stepped up big time, tossing seven perfect frames in the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of 41,470 fans at Wrigley Field.

Hammel allowed just a bloop single with two outs in the first inning on a ball that fell between Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward in shallow right field, wind-aided and sun-aided base hit for Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.

Hammel walked the next hitter and that was it.

No other Dodger reached base after Adrian Gonzalez walked with two outs in the first inning. 

Hammel and four relievers combined to set down 25 straight to end the game, the first time a Cubs pitching staff has done that since May 15, 1960.

Travis Wood was the standout performer from the bullpen, coming in on short notice in the third inning and tossing four perfect innings with four strikeouts, throwing just 43 pitches.

When Maddon sat down for his standard postgame press conference, he said the Chicago media should really be talking to Wood first.

"Oh my God," Maddon said. "I'm really trying to decide when to take him out of that game. ... My goodness. You throw like 20 pitches after two innings.

"He was so pitch-efficient, he permitted us to do what we did. It comes down to that. Pure and simple. Forty-three pitches in four innings. He was spectacular."

Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon followed Wood in order, each throwing an inning and combining for four strikeouts and only 36 pitches.

"The rest of the guys came in and they were very efficient 'cause they saw Travis go out there and do it," Maddon said. "So then here comes Grimmer and here comes Stroppy and here comes Ronny. 

"They all were really, really efficient. Good pitches, good location, good stuff. But Travis set the tone for the whole day."

"I love our bullpen," said David Ross, who caught the whole game. "Those guys are very impressive to me."

Wood picked up his third victory of the season on a day where he entered the game just seconds after sitting on the couch in the Cubs clubhouse. When he saw Hammel go down, he knew he might be needed, so he dashed out to the dugout and sure enough, he got the call to go into the game.

Maddon and the Cubs always claim Wood has a rubber arm, and he needed only 15 or so pitches to warm up before his four perfect innings. 

"[I was just focusing on] each hitter at a time and try to get the outs," Wood said. "Those are freak situations that happen - a guy gets hurt or in Hamm's case, it was just a cramp.

"So you're just out there to get outs for as long as they want you to. And then take it from there."

The Cubs got on the board in the fifth inning when Zobrist led off with a single and wound up on third after Dodgers right field Yasiel Puig booted the ball.

Heyward plated Zobrist on a 60-foot chopper down the first-base line, reaching safely for an infield single. He then came around to score the game's final run on Anthony Rizzo's double to right field two batters later.

The Cubs have won six straight games and have allowed just one hit to the Dodgers in their last 18 head-to-head innings dating back to last season.

Now the Dodgers have to contend with Jake Arrieta - who no-hit them on national TV the last time he faced them - Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Cubs breathing a sigh of relief after Jason Hammel's leg cramp

cubs_hammel_it_felt_like_a_cramp_05-30_640x360_695644227883.jpg

Cubs breathing a sigh of relief after Jason Hammel's leg cramp

Before anybody really knew what happened, Jason Hammel was sitting on the ground behind the pitcher's mound at Wrigley Field surrounded by Cubs trainers and coaches.

The veteran starting pitcher had just come out to warm up for the top of the third inning after he and Ben Zobrist struck out to strand the bases loaded for the Cubs in the bottom of the second.

He eventually got up and tried to throw a few more warmup pitches, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Chris Bosio ultimately decided to roll with Travis Wood, removing Hammel from the game after only 39 pitches.

Two innings later, the Cubs announced Hammel was being evaluated for right hamstring cramping.

After the game, Joe Maddon sounded optimistic about Hammel's status.

"It seems to have just been a cramp," Maddon said. "We just couldn't wait for it to settle down. You just don't know in that particular moment if it is a cramp. 

"We thought it was a cramp, but you just can't stand out there for 15 minutes and wait for it to dissolve or whatever. So we had to move it along at that point."

Maddon said the Cubs feel Hammel should be ready to go for his next start in five days.

Hammel - who said he's never dealt with a cramp like that before - iced and massaged his leg after being removed from the game and took an anti-inflammatory. 

But he felt good enough to joke after the game about how he gave up the only hit before the Cubs bullpen combined for seven perfect innings of relief.

"I blew the no-hitter!" Hammel said. "It makes me feel really small. I obviously wanted to stay in there. It just sucks. Something like that where it's on and off.

"I felt like after I stretched it and it was down on the ground and I threw the first pitch, I felt fine. Then the next pitch, it was back. It would've taken us six hours to get through the game if I stayed in there."

After two shutout innings Monday, Hammel now has a 2.09 ERA and 1.16 WHIP on the season and has been a revelation in helping the Cubs to the best starting rotation in baseball slotting behind Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey.

Hammel was pitching at an All-Star level (2.89 ERA) before running into a leg injury in early July last season. He was never the same after, posting a 5.03 ERA in his final 15 starts.

Over the winter, the 33-year-old Hammel responded by shedding some weight and rededicating himself to a training regimen designed to help take some pressure off his lower body.

After the hamstring/calf issue last July, Maddon had a quick hook with Hammel, who expressed his frustration at various points throughout the end of last year. 

But after the cramp popped up Monday, Hammel saw the big picture and wasn't upset with Maddon, who wanted to play it safe with the Cubs thinking World Series or bust.

"Made the right move," said Hammel, who bounced the ball on the mound in frustration after being removed from the game. "We're all stubborn when we're out there. We want to compete and finish what we started. But the end game is basically to make sure we're staying healthy and it doesn't really do any good to push it there. 

"I honestly felt like I drank the equivalent of Lake Michigan last night. Once it starts to get pretty humid and hot here, I always hydrate really well. I drank so much water last night. I really don't understand why I cramped. We'll figure it out."

If Hammel is forced to miss any time, Maddon said he would turn to Wood or Trevor Cahill for a spot start.

When asked if he feels ready for a spot start, Wood responded simply:

"I feel so. I'm always ready to take the ball."