Chicago Cubs

Cubs designate LaHair for assignment; adjust 40-man roster

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Cubs designate LaHair for assignment; adjust 40-man roster

Tuesday is the deadline for MLB teams to set their 40-man roster and the Cubs made some corresponding moves.

Chicago added four young players to the 40-man roster, but needed to clear up some room first, designating Bryan LaHair for assignment.

LaHair was one of the feel-good stories of the year, a career minor leaguer who finally earned a chance to start on a big-league club and eventually made the 2012 All-Star team as a reserve first baseman for the National League.

LaHair, who turned 30 earlier this month, started the season off hot, hitting .390 with a 1.251 OPS through April before finishing with a .259.334.450 line and 16 homers.

The Cubs are reportedly pursuing an opportunity for LaHair to play in Japan.

Carlos Gutierrez, whom the Cubs claimed off waivers in late October, was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa after clearing waivers.

That left some open spots on the Cubs' 40-man roster, which they subsequently filled with Christian Villanueva, Logan Watkins, Trey McNutt and Robert Whitenack.

McNutt, 23, was taken in the 32nd round of the '09 draft and burst onto the minor league scene with two great years to start his career, posting a 0.98 ERA in 13 games in '09 and a 10-1 record and a 2.48 ERA in 25 starts at three levels in 2010. He was named the No. 48 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season, but has struggled some since with ERAs of 4.55 and 4.26 and WHIPs of 1.67 and 1.45 in Double-A Tennessee over the past two seasons, though he has been slowed by a myriad of minor injuries.

Whitenack, who turned 24 Tuesday, was taken in the eighth round of the same 2009 draft and underwent Tommy John surgery in summer of 2011. He came back midway through the 2012 season and started 15 games for High-A Daytona, going 1-6 with a 5.96 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was just coming into his own before his elbow injury, posting a 7-0 record with a 1.93 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 11 starts in High-A and Double-A in 2011.

Watkins, 23, was named the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 after putting up a .281.383.422 line in Double-A Tennessee, stealing 28 bags and scoring 93 runs in 588 plate appearances. The 5-foot-11 Watkins has played six different defensive positions for the Cubs since he was selected in the 21st round of the 2008 draft, but spent most of his time at second base in 2012.

The Cubs acquired Villanueva, 21, in the deal that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers just before the trade deadline this past summer. He was named the No. 100 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, his first at High-A. Villanueva hit .279.353.427 with 14 homers and 24 doubles in 125 games this year, including a .250.337.452 line and four homers in Daytona following the trade. He has played 294 of his 307 career games at third base.

The Cubs also made a minor trade Tuesday, sending Jacob Brigham back to the Rangers for right-handed pitcher Barret Loux. Brigham, a 24-year-old starting pitcher, was acquired in the deal that sent Geovany Soto to Texas before the trade deadline.

Loux, 23, was drafted sixth overall in the 2010 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks before failing a physical with shoulder and elbow problems and signing with the Rangers in November 2010. He is apparently all the way back from the arm trouble, making 46 starts over the past two season and earning the Double-A Texas League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2012 with a 14-1 record, 3.47 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.

The move cleared up Brigham's spot on the 40-man roster. Loux does not have to be added to the 40-man roster.

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”

Why Cubs gave World Series rings to fired managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs gave World Series rings to fired managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria

Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria scrapped for their careers as big-league players, paid their dues as coaches and dreamed about managing the Cubs team that finally ended a century-and-counting championship drought.       

In terms of style and personality, they also couldn’t have been more different, which was kind of the point when the Cubs fired Sveum after 197 combined losses during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Where Sveum had a constant 5 o’clock shadow and could be gruff with the media and brutally honest about his players, Renteria put a happy face on the teardown and could begin to actually see what the Cubs were building – at least until Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season.  

So much has changed around this gentrified neighborhood since then. Even the bar where team president Theo Epstein fired Sveum over drinks shut down and will reportedly be replaced with something called a Capital One Café. But in thoughtful gestures that recognized how the Cubs got here, both Sveum and Renteria now have 2016 World Series rings.

“We felt like they both came in and busted their butt to help our young players get better,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday at Wrigley Field. “They were both put in a position where we were rebuilding. Obviously, we were honest with both guys about the rebuilding process. But both guys were ultimate team members.

“Their willingness to go along – to execute the plan that we had set out for them, to play oftentimes with either inexperienced players or shorthanded – was remarkable.

“We think both Dale and Ricky had a big impact on our young players and really helped us win a World Series. It was the right thing to do to give them a ring.”

In contrast to the media blitz surrounding the private Steve Bartman ceremony, the Cubs quietly gave a ring to former general manager Jim Hendry, who now works as a special assistant for the New York Yankees. USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale included those nuggets within a revealing story about White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who raved about the job Renteria has done during a rebuilding year on the South Side.

Hoyer – who knew Renteria well from their time together with the San Diego Padres – was there for the ring presentation last month in a hallway outside the visiting clubhouse before a crosstown game at Wrigley Field.

“I love the fact that the White Sox are high on him and have been happy with his contributions,” Hoyer said. “Not to go back over history, but he was put in a tough spot. We made a decision that at the time we even admitted wasn’t necessarily fair to Ricky. And the least we could do was to give him a ring.”

Chairman Tom Ricketts – whose family signed off on the gifts – is widely respected within the organization for the way he took an interest in the draft, knew scouts by name, invested in infrastructure and visited minor-league affiliates.

“There’s a long history with this organization,” Hoyer said. “A lot of people had a part in us winning in 2016. It wasn’t only people that were still here in 2016. A number of people had an impact on our players, whether it was through managing, through scouting, through player development.

“We thought the right thing to do was to honor those commitments to our team by giving them rings. And not acting as though you had to be here in 2016 necessarily and be part of the organization to have impact.”

Hendry’s group built the pipeline in Latin America that produced catcher Willson Contreras and left enough assets for the Epstein regime to flip and acquire players like Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Hendricks. Former amateur scouting director Tim Wilken – who now works as a special assistant for the Arizona Diamondbacks – had the vision to draft Javier Baez and Jeff Samardzija.

Sveum, who earned a 2015 World Series ring as the Kansas City Royals hitting coach, hired coaches Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello and left his mark with the pitching infrastructure and game-planning system that helped market trade chips like Samardzija, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza.   

The Cubs already gave a ring to ex-pro scouting director Joe Bohringer, who now works as a Seattle Mariners special assistant, and a number of long-time, behind-the-scenes employees who left before It Happened.

“When you take a step back and look at any championship,” Hoyer said, “there are just so many people that have an impact on it.”