Cubs sign Baker, tender arbitration-eligible players

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Cubs sign Baker, tender arbitration-eligible players

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
Updated 5:55 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Around the Cubs at least from a baseball operations perspective it has been a relatively quiet offseason and without much payroll flexibility it could remain that way through the coming months. The White Sox stole all the headlines Thursday by reportedly grabbing free-agent slugger Adam Dunn, who wont be hitting home runs onto Sheffield Avenue. The buzz will increase next week at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where the Cubs will be targeting a first baseman, starter andor reliever. But first the Cubs reached an agreement Thursday with Jeff Baker on a one-year deal worth 1.175 million to avoid arbitration. As expected, the club also tendered 2011 contracts to the five other players eligible for arbitration: closer Carlos Marmol; left-handers Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny; and catchers Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill. This week, while speaking to a newspaper in the Dominican Republic, Marmol confirmed that hes discussed a long-term extension with the Cubs and would like to remain in Chicago. Marmols representatives can make a compelling case. All Marmol did in his first full season as closer was save 38 games and strike out 138 hitters, which led all relievers in 2010. Marmols ratio of 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings pitched represented the highest mark for a reliever in major-league history. After earning 2.125 million, the 28-year-old will be in line for a significant raise during his second year of arbitration. The same goes for Marshall, who for 950,000 posted a 2.65 ERA in 80 games and might have been the teams most valuable player on a day-to-day basis. This is the first time Soto, who made 575,000 last season, is eligible for arbitration. A Rookie of the Year in 2008 and a massive disappointment the next, he timed it right by putting up numbers (.890 OPS) that compared favorably to the best catchers in the game. Baker, 29, is valued for his versatility and ability to hit left-handed pitching 49-for-140 last season, which translated to a .350 average and .945 OPS. He can play first, second or third base, as well as the outfield. He also provides insurance in case third baseman Aramis Ramirez gets injured again.Historically the Cubs and general manager Jim Hendry have avoided arbitration, settling dozens of cases before Ryan Theriot took the team to its first hearing since 1993 last February.

From the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, the new St. Louis infielder continued his media tour Thursday, questioning the clubhouse chemistry at Wrigley Field and saying that the decision to go to arbitration might have damaged his relationship with the team.

In the end, Theriots view of his own skills did not match up with judgments made by the Cubs.

There were definitely reasons that we had for doing that, Theriot said on WMVP-AM 1000. You wind up in a better place. You cant look back and thats the way I have to approach it (because) you cant say What ifwhat ifwhat if all day long. If you do that, you make yourself go crazy.

Was it a fun process? No, I didnt enjoy it one bit.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.