Chicago Cubs

The winter meetings, Fujikawa and where the Cubs go from here

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The winter meetings, Fujikawa and where the Cubs go from here

The Cubs arent going to overreact to the empty green seats at Wrigley Field. The business of baseball is booming. The bailout money will be coming soon enough with the new national and local television deals.
And of course nobody is untouchable. The Cubs can lose 101 games with or without them. But that doesnt mean theyre about to trade Starlin Castro.
It almost certainly wont stop the rumors from bouncing around the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland and getting recycled in cyberspace. Castro for Giancarlo Stanton? Justin Upton? Mystery Player X? What about Josh Hamilton on a short-term deal? But the Cubs have a very clear idea of what they want to accomplish at next weeks winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Nothings changed philosophically, general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday. Were still trying to build to a point where we have a ton of young talent and a lot of available money to spend to really have that team (with) sustained success.
How the Cubs find the middle ground for 2013 will be the big question. Kyuji Fujikawa recently visited Wrigley Field, and the Japanese closer was believed to be most interested in the Cubs and Los Angeles Angels (with the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers lurking as a wild card).
The Angels just signed Ryan Madson, which could eliminate the opportunity to close in Anaheim. Hoyer confirmed a meeting with Fujikawa we came away very impressed but wouldnt comment on the state of negotiations or an anticipated timetable for the decision.
Before Friday nights deadline, the Cubs non-tendered third baseman Ian Stewart, who could still return as a free agent. Four arbitration-eligible players were tendered contracts: pitchers Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and James Russell; and infielder Luis Valbuena.
Pitchers Zach Putnam and Jaye Chapman who were not eligible for arbitration were not tendered contracts while Casey Coleman has cleared waivers and been assigned outright to Triple-A Iowa, leaving the 40-man roster at 37.
Some pitchers cut loose elsewhere Jair Jurrjens, Mike Pelfrey and John Lannan could be intriguing options for the rotation. But the front office also wants to impact the endgame.
Fujikawa is 32 years old and has notched 220 saves during his time with the Hanshin Tigers. The right-hander has posted a career 1.77 ERA, with 914 strikeouts against 207 walks, the kind of ratio you wont get with Carlos Marmol.
Fujikawa has competed in the World Baseball Classic, as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Marmol was nearly traded to the Angels four weeks ago until the Cubs had concerns about Dan Harens medicals. Assuming Marmol makes it to camp, the Cubs would like to see someone push him.
Whenever you build a bullpen, you want as many guys that have a chance to pitch late in the game as possible, Hoyer said. Carlos had a great second half (1.52 ERA). He struggled in April. He lost the job and to his credit he worked really hard to get it back and pitched really well. If we bring in someone that has closing experience or a number of guys that have that kind of experience thats no knock on Carlos.
Every team in baseball wants to have an assortment of guys back there that if the need arises can pitch in the ninth inning. Hopefully, we can do that. Our bullpen put too much pressure last year on (Shawn) Camp and Russell and Marmol and we have to avoid that. We need to bring in a really good number of arms to make that goal a reality.
Team president Theo Epstein has said that the Cubs have very narrow fits for possible trades. They will listen to just about anything, and would have no problem moving a short-term asset like Marmol, but they are planning to stockpile core players like Castro, Samardzija and Anthony Rizzo.
We lost 101 games last year, Hoyer said. I dont think were in a position to say we have enough talent or to say that any one player on the rosters untouchable. We certainly have several players that we would have a hard time parting with, and it would take a heck of a package to make it happen.
So far, the Cubs have been largely quiet, signing pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to one-year deals while continuing to look for possible rotation pieces. But most of the big names are still on the board.
Hoyer talked about the cascading effect once a certain player signs. With the entire industry gathering in the Music City, all it could take is one powerful agent or one bold front office to get everything flowing.
The Cubs wont be setting the market, but they realize they need a veteran outfielder. Brett Jackson is already ticketed for Des Moines. Junior Lake has gone to the outfield in winter ball, and the Cubs think his superior athleticism could play well there, but hes far from a finished product. Albert Almora and Jorge Soler are nice prospects, but they will probably start next season at Class-A Kane County.
It is always a balancing act when you have prospects you like a lot and theyre (that) far away, Hoyer said. You cant really think too much about those guys. You have to think about your team now. The idea of blocking when a guy is in the low minors is kind of ridiculous.
Well look to improve our outfield. We know thats an area we need to improve upon and theres a number of players that well be talking to across the next few weeks.
The Cubs will keep selling their vision for the future, but they still need something for the here and now.

Joe Maddon thinks Ben Zobrist getting ejected would be a sign of the apocalypse

Joe Maddon thinks Ben Zobrist getting ejected would be a sign of the apocalypse

As the rest of the world readies for the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, Joe Maddon is thinking about the apocalypse.

That's because Ben Zobrist very nearly got ejected from a ballgame Wednesday night, something that seemed essentially impossible just a few days ago.

When Zobrist squared around to bunt in the bottom of the ninth inning, he was peppered with a 96 mph fastball right on the leg. The Cubs veteran was initially awarded first base — which would've loaded the bases with nobody out — but then was called back by first base umpire Chris Conroy who insisted Zobrist did not pull back his bunt and thus the pitch was a strike.

Maddon raced out and very quickly got ejected from the game. He admitted it was the angriest he'd been in a Cubs uniform.

Zobrist also was giving the umpiring crew an earful about such a crucial play in a crucial spot of a tie game.

Zobrist was not ejected and the Cubs eventually won two batters later, but had the game continued, Zobrist would've had a tough time controlling his anger moving forward.

Envisioning Zobrist getting ejected elicited laughter from Maddon, who said it would've been more entertaining to see Zobrist get tossed than Kris Bryant's ejection last month.

"This would've been really good," Maddon said. "Because he would've had like contrived anger after the fact. Had the game continued, I really believe something may have occurred that we've never seen before. 

"You got the eclipse coming up Monday. You got Zobrist arguing with an umpire and possibly getting kicked out and an eclipse within three or four days. That's where you worry about the apocalypse at that point."

Zobrist is one of the most mild-mannered players in the game and has never been ejected in his 12-year career. Maddon always says that whenever Zobrist is actually arguing with umpires, he must really have a point, especially on a religious day like Sunday.

However, the well-respected 36-year-old just had an issue over the weekend where he struck out looking in Arizona to end the game and petitioned hard for robot umps and an electronic strike zone.

"It keeps happening to Zo, of all people," Maddon said. "I mean, Zo does not deserve this. If any baseball player does not deserve that kind of inequities, it's him. 

"Listen, I really believe had I not done that and the game ended differently, you might've seen Zo's first ejection."

It was Maddon's second ejection of the season and he expects to get fined after laying into the umpires 15 minutes after the game ended in his media session. 

He said he has no grudges to carry over into Thursday and doesn't anticipate the umpires will, either.

Wednesday's ejection reminded Maddon of the time a few years ago when he "ejected" three umpires from a game on the South Side of Chicago when he was managing the Tampa Bay Rays.

But he doesn't get tossed as much now with instant replay really cutting down the need to argue.

"That thing yesterday is not reviewable," Maddon said. "So when it's not reviewable, that's where you could get upset. Check swings, hit by pitch in that situation. There's not a whole lot to get angry with anymore.

"Balls and strikes? But it's so hard to argue balls and strikes from the side [in the dugout]. I can see up and down; I can't see in and out. I'm really wrong a lot on in and out, so I don't even say anything anymore. And so again, it's just about moments like that that are not reviewable, those are the ones that I think can create a little bit of a stir.

"But it doesn't happen that often. I'm not looking for it just to go argue. I just thought it was egregiously bad yesterday."

There is currently a report filed with the league about the incident, though that is standard procedure for any ejection.

Maddon said twice during his postgame rant Wednesday that he's "playing nice in the sandbox" with the league. When asked about what he meant by that, he gave a cryptic answer:

"There's other things that nobody's aware of that I've been playing nice in the sandbox about."

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”