Cubs make deals with Valbuena, Lillibridge, McDonald

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Cubs make deals with Valbuena, Lillibridge, McDonald

In one month, pitchers and catchers will report to the Cubs complex in Arizona. Whether the front office has another big move in them or will spend the rest of the winter searching for complementary pieces the Mesa picture is coming into focus.
Infielder Luis Valbuena avoided arbitration on Thursday and agreed to a one-year, 930,000 deal. The Cubs also confirmed their list of 16 non-roster players who have so far signed minor-league contracts with invites to big-league camp, including ex-White Sox utility guy Brent Lillibridge, former Boston Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald and Oak Lawn native Brian Bogusevic.
The Cubs have stockpiled pitchers with those deals: Andrew Carpenter; Jaye Chapman; Dayan Diaz; Jensen Lewis; Blake Parker; Zach Putnam; and Cory Wade.
Hisanori Takahashi who went 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA in 61 relief appearances for the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 could emerge as a left-handed option for the Cubs bullpen.
The Cubs have also reached agreements with catcher J.C. Boscan, outfielder Johermyn Chavez, first basemanoutfielder Brad Nelson, and infielders Alberto Gonzalez and Edwin Maysonet.
The Cubs have not yet finalized their complete list of non-roster invitees, which should include some minor-league players already in the system. Left-hander Dontrelle Willis the National Leagues 2003 Rookie of the Year recently signed a minor-league contract that does not include an invite to major-league camp.

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are so strong up the middle that Javier Baez can star for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and return to camp as a super-utility guy/late-game defensive replacement. 

But that projection in late March is based on across-the-board health, which never happens in a 162-game season. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (stiff neck) hasn't played in a Cactus League game in almost a week. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) became a late scratch to Friday's lineup at Sloan Park.

Center fielder Albert Almora Jr. exited a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians with what the Cubs called "left neck tightness" after trying to make a diving catch in the third inning, though he still plans to play in Las Vegas this weekend.  

On the other side of the spring-training complex in Mesa – away from the crowd of 15,473 in a minor-league game against a Colorado Rockies squad – the Cubs did get a positive piece of news on the health front: Kyle Schwarber went four innings behind the plate, going Tony Pena style and trying to reduce the stress on his body.

"I love catching," Schwarber said. "Whenever I played baseball, I was always a catcher. For me to be able to do that today – and feel pretty good about myself walking away from the day – it was a good step."

This is clearly important to Schwarber, an intensely driven personality who doesn't want to hear "no." Otherwise, the Cubs probably would have shut this down already, not wanting to risk it with a franchise player, someone who might blast 35 homers at the top of their lineup.

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But the medical staff cleared Schwarber when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – and it could become a valuable skill again. 

"The most difficult part I would probably say was setup-wise," Schwarber said, "trying to find that timing of your moves and everything like that. Sometimes I felt like I was a little late getting my setup. But that all came. It's been a year since I got behind there, so overall everything went really well."

The Cubs already have one of the best young catchers in the game (Willson Contreras) and a two-time All-Star making $14 million this season backing him up (Miguel Montero). Schwarber doesn't want to put a number on how many starts he might make behind the plate, though the Cubs have framed it as in case of emergency, an extra late-inning option for manager Joe Maddon or maybe something that makes sense with a particular matchup. 

"As of right now, it's still the third-catcher role," Schwarber said. "I'm down for whatever, but I know the majority of the time is going to be out there in left."

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

MESA, Ariz. — Think the stir-crazy Cubs have been in Arizona long enough? Near the end of a camp that has been relatively tame — at least compared to last year's parade of mimes, zoo animals and karaoke jams — manager Joe Maddon heard about Madonna's contest to find a new dance trainer and immediately thought of the man behind those gonzo stunts.

Because that's what a three-time Manager of the Year does. So the organization's content arm put together a one-minute clip nominating strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss, releasing it to 1.7 million followers on Friday through the @Cubs Twitter account.

"We're hoping that Madonna has an opportunity to check that out," Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "We're willing to send even more information — whatever she possibly needs — to see that our guy's the best."

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Set to synthesized 1980s-style music, the aerobics video is rated more PG than the actual "Bussy" experience. The Cubs didn't show Buss leading the team stretch in a Speedo and a Lucha Libre mask. A slow-motion part of the montage does feature Buss standing alone in the clubhouse, dousing himself in beer during a clinching celebration.

"We could have made it more edgy," Maddon said. "There were so many more ways to go with it. I was kind of pleased with it. I thought it presented his abilities very well. His physique was presented in a manner that she could be duly impressed with the fact that our strength and conditioning coach fashions that form."

What if Madonna steals Buss from the Cubs?

"We could share somehow," Maddon said. "She'll fire him after a couple weeks anyway."