Baseball works toward another labor truce

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Baseball works toward another labor truce

Friday, March 11, 2011Posted: 3:45 PM Updated: 6:26 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. While negotiations between the NFL and its players union unravel in Washington, baseball is approaching 16 years of uninterrupted labor peace.

Since wiping out the 1994 World Series, there has been a thaw in the cold war between owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association. There is optimism on both sides that a new labor deal will be reached amicably before years end, without any of the work stoppages that previously defined their relationship.

Cubs catcher Koyie Hill, the teams lead union representative, doesnt see any red flags at this point. MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner has essentially said the same thing on his spring-training tour, which will bring him to Cubs camp later this month.

There havent been any major concerns about not being able to work together, Hill said Friday. Everythings been pretty professional. (I) havent seen anything that would be alarming. That doesnt mean we dont need to sit down and get (it done). But were not going at it lackadaisical.

The NFL negotiations have focused on major structural issues with the collective bargaining agreement. Baseball talks figure to be more on the perimeter, figuring out how to regulate the amateur draft and the international market.

In the run-up to the Super Bowl, news coverage slanted toward labor conflict, and speculation about how long the NFL might go dark. It drew attention away from the Green Bay Packers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the sports biggest day.

Though the current agreement wont expire until Dec. 11, its a good guess that the keepers of the game wouldnt want to play the World Series against that backdrop.

One thing we all underestimated is how badly it hurt us, commissioner Bud Selig said last week at HoHoKam Park. Every two, three years, its all fans are reading about.

The thing about labor peace (is its) in everybodys interest. Player salaries have gone up, revenues have gone up and the sports popularity is at an all-time high. So when you look back on it, there are a lot of lessons to be learned. And I think we have.

Thinking of home

Kosuke Fukudome stood in the clubhouse Friday morning and tilted his head up toward the big-screen TV, watching CNNs coverage of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan.

Through a translator, Fukudome said that he contacted his brother back home in Japan and was optimistic that his extended family remained safe.

The games become international, manager Mike Quade said. All of a sudden these things happen around the world in the Dominican Republic, Japan, wherever and you get to the ballpark and the first thing youre asking is: Are your people ok?

Etc.

Ryan Dempster threw five scoreless innings during Fridays 4-3 win over the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Jeff Samardzija gave up all three runs in the ninth, raising his ERA to 8.44. John Grabow, who is monitoring a sore left shoulder, is hoping to pitch in a game before Wednesdays off-day. Its getting better, Mike Quade said. Its time to get him back out there. The Cubs optioned relievers Esmailin Caridad and John Gaub to Triple-A Iowa on Friday, cutting their spring roster to 58 players.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."