MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

PHOENIX – Rob Manfred is open to the idea of an All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field, but the Major League Baseball commissioner won't make any guarantees about the 2020 target date the Cubs have proposed in a joint lobbying effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

"I'm not going to get into specific years," Manfred said Tuesday during a Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore. "Because there's a number of clubs – we're fortunate – that have interest in particular years. And I don't want to say anything that would suggest that I'm anywhere near making a decision."

During last month's Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney expressed optimism in a Super Bowl-style bidding process, and not the old way of simply alternating the showcase event between the American and National leagues each year.

The Cubs will point to their starring role in a World Series that beat the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7. By 2020, the $600 million Wrigleyville development is supposed to be finished, and Emanuel helped broker the deals that moved the NFL draft to Chicago the last two years after a long run at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

"I will say this: A renovated Wrigley Field would be a great location for an All-Star Game," Manfred said. "Chicago is a great city. And over time, we have tried to go to cities that would be great locations for the game – and to reward cities that had made substantial investments in either new or renovated facilities."

The Cubs still see potential roadblocks, needing City Hall's help with an increased security presence around an urban neighborhood ballpark that hasn't hosted the Midsummer Classic since 1990.

Kenney also acknowledged that All-Star Games have been used as bargaining chips in public negotiations in cities like Miami and Washington – Marlins Park (2017) and Nationals Park (2018) will make it four straight All-Star Games for NL stadiums – while the Ricketts family used private mechanisms to fund the project after striking out on other proposals. 

Not focused on free agency, Todd Frazier wants to improve upon 2016

Not focused on free agency, Todd Frazier wants to improve upon 2016

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Free agency has crossed Todd Frazier’s mind, but he doesn’t want it to dominate his thought process.

A free agent after this season, the White Sox third baseman said Friday afternoon he’d rather that his entire focus is spent improving upon last season when he produced career highs with 40 home runs and 98 RBIs. While Frazier performed well in some areas, he struggled in others and hopes a fresh start helps him rebound. So rather than be preoccupied with his future, Frazier hopes to improve every aspect of his game that he can.

“It’s a new year, man,” Frazier said. “I just try and build off what I did last year. Think about the positives. The home runs, RBIs, all that stuff. But I need to try and hit the ball to right field more. Get the average back up, on base percentage, little stuff like that if we need to work on together as a team.”

Similar to Jose Quintana and David Robertson, Frazier is probably wise to keep his focus on the field. His name wasn’t thrown around nearly as often on the hot stove as the two pitchers were this winter, but that’s because there wasn’t much of a demand for right-handed power hitters.

Not only was there a plethora of power available in free agency (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mike Trumbo and Mike Napoli), there was only one opening at third base and the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to re-sign Justin Turner.

Still, the White Sox are in the midst of a rebuild and if anyone paid up, Frazier would likely have been traded. There’s also a good chance a deal could happen before the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline. All of the above makes it seem as if there’s little chance the White Sox would bring Frazier back, even though he’d like to return.

For now, Frazier isn’t worried about the future.

He’s more concerned with hitting the ball to the opposite field more often. He also wants to improve upon a .169 average with runners in scoring position. And Frazier also would like to get on base more often after finishing 2016 with a .302 on-base percentage.

Frazier said a sprained left point finger that bothered him last month is no longer an issue. He’s also not calling it a rebuild, preferring to describe it as a “refueling.” He thinks the White Sox are a better club than people project they’ll be and hopes they have a few surprises in store for the rest of the league.

And he’s hoping that focusing on all those elements results in him worrying about things that are out of his control.

“I’ve thought about (free agency),” Frazier said. “Not to the extent where it’s going to bother me the whole year. Let’s work on this year, right now. When the time comes let’s see what happens. Chicago is a nice place to play and I’d like to play here.”

Cubs reboot the Kyle Schwarber catching experiment

Cubs reboot the Kyle Schwarber catching experiment

MESA, Ariz. – Kyle Schwarber unveiled a Tony Pena-style crouch on Friday morning, sticking out his left leg while catching John Lackey’s side session, trying to show the Cubs that he does have a future behind the plate.

Now that Schwarber has been medically cleared to resume catching activities – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – the Cubs are willing to keep this possibility alive. Even if Schwarber only does these physical drills once or twice a week at the Sloan Park complex, and the goal is set at being a viable emergency third catcher when the team leaves Arizona in late March.

But going off initial impressions in camp – and after listening to the medical analysis – manager Joe Maddon still sees Schwarber as a potential leadoff guy and part of the catching mix.

“Absolutely,” Maddon said after the workout. “He feels great. Obviously, he always feels like he’s being held back a little bit, and that’s good. But, yeah, talking to him specifically and talking to the medical types, he’s good. He’s good to go.”

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Maddon, who watched Jose Molina use a similar setup for the Tampa Bay Rays, thinks this could work for Schwarber in real games, at least with less than two strikes in the count and no runners on base, and help him present a lower target for pitchers. 

“Obviously, I still have a passion for catching,” said Schwarber, who will spend most of his defensive time in left field this spring. “If I can do it, I’d like to do it. But if it’s not medically smart, let’s not risk it.”

From management’s perspective, this is a left-handed hitter with 30-homer power, an asset that will remain under club control through the 2021 season and a football mentality that doesn’t really allow Schwarber to go half-speed or dial back the intensity.

But knowing Schwarber’s hard-charging personality – this is someone who missed almost the entire regular season before his shocking return as a World Series designated hitter – is there a chance he could catch somewhere in the range of 20 or 30 games this year?

“If everything breaks well for him properly, and there’s a need,” Maddon said, “you’d like to think that might be something you could do by the end of the season, maybe like a 20-spot.

“But I really don’t know. The main thing is to have him in the lineup. The main thing is to keep him healthy. He’s a young man that has many more years to come, so you don’t want to jeopardize the potential to catch him in the future, either, so all that stuff has to be weighed in making that decision.”