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.

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN will live stream Cubs and White Sox games plus pre and postgame shows throughout the 2017 season.

This is thrilling news for all Chicago baseball fans and comes at an absolutely perfect time for a Cubs fanbase that will spend the rest of the year reveling in the 2016 World Series championship.

White Sox fans will also gain more opportunities to get up-close looks at the future as the South Siders continue on with their rebuild.

Both teams and the pre and post shows will be streamed on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports app.

CSN already streams Bulls and Blackhawks games and pre/post shows.

"We are thrilled to launch live streaming of our Chicago White Sox and Cubs telecasts beginning this MLB season," said Phil Bedella, Vice President/General Manager of CSN Chicago. "With live streaming currently offered for our Bulls and Blackhawks telecasts, the addition of MLB streaming further illustrates our commitment to provide our viewers with the most in-depth and compelling Cubs and White Sox content in and out of the home and on any device."

The complete CSN broadcasting schedules for Cubs and White Sox telecasts will be released over the next couple weeks.

"We are very pleased that our partners at CSN will be able to provide fans with the opportunity to watch the White Sox anywhere," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for fans to watch their White Sox, regardless of where they are or what they are doing.  Sports fans deserve to see all the action all season long."

"After such a historic season, we are thrilled Cubs fans will be able to stream games on their choice of device, either inside or outside the home," Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said. "This access has been years in the making for our fans, but the timing is awfully good given the excitement around the 2017 campaign."

For more information, check out the complete press release.