After a whirlwind winter spent getting to know the organization and retool after a 71-91 season, the new Chicago Cubs brass cleared out of Wrigley Field at the end of the week and prepared to head to Arizona.
Pitchers and catchers report for spring training Feb. 18 and work out formally the next day. Ahead of that, however, new team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer planned to convene a quick, two-day set of organizational meetings that will include all baseball personnel in Arizona.
In past years, the Cubs have held week-long organizational meetings during October or November, but the new crew wasn't fully put into place until November, pushing things back.
Numbers-wise, it's a beefed-up front office, with Epstein and Hoyer keeping all the holdovers in key spots and bringing in additional people.
The Cubs enter spring training with a retooled and younger rotation, having added left-handers Travis Wood
and Paul Maholm
and right-hander Chris Volstad.
The bullpen will be minus left-hander Sean Marshall
, traded in December to the Reds. Closer Carlos Marmol
is back, and the Cubs will keep a close eye on his control during the spring.
Position players don't officially report until Feb. 23, but expect a good number to be in Mesa, Ariz., before then.
The infield corners will be the spots to watch, with Ian Stewart
having replaced offensive machine Aramis Ramirez
at third base. At first, the Cubs say career minor leaguer Bryan LaHair
has the inside track over prospect Matt Rizzo, obtained in a trade with San Diego.
New manager Dale Sveum has promised greater accountability on the field. The Cubs were a poor defensive team last year, and they also suffered from numerous mental lapses.
Sveum, Epstein and Hoyer are expected to address the media on Feb. 18, and if nothing else, the verbal tone should be set then.
Cubs Notes & Quotes
INF Adrian Cardenas was claimed on waivers from the Oakland Athletics. The 24-year-old Cardenas figures to be right in the mix for a backup middle-infield spot. He also has played the outfield in the minor leagues. Last year at Class AAA Sacramento, the left-handed batter had a hitting line of .314/.374/.418. The Cubs like his on-base ability and his youth. Cardenas made seven errors in the infield last year.
INF Blake DeWitt was designated for assignment to make room for Cardenas. It's not out of the question that DeWitt could return to the Cubs as a non-roster invitee to spring training if he clears waivers. If he clears, the Cubs are expected to outright him to Class AAA (Des Moines) Iowa. DeWitt, 26, had a hitting line last year of .265/.305/.413 with five home runs in 121 games. He is a left-handed batter who is limited defensively, and the Cubs felt Cardenas was an upgrade.
RHP Carlos Marmol will be under the microscope this spring after blowing 10 saves in 44 chances last year. Command always has been the issue for Marmol, who hit nine batters and walked 48 last year in 74 innings. When he's on, he's difficult to hit. During a recent appearance on a Chicago radio show, general manager Jed Hoyer said the Cubs want and need much better from Marmol.
"I don't think what happened last year is acceptable," Hoyer told ESPN radio in Chicago. "I think there's nothing more demoralizing to a baseball team than to win for 2:45 and then lose in the last 10 (minutes). I think that happened a lot last year. If you look back, this guy has had some dominant years. ... Everyone said the slider wasn't quite the same last (season)."
CF Marlon Byrd is the expected starter, with hot prospect Brett Jackson expected to open the season at Class AAA (Des Moines) Iowa. The 34-year-old Byrd, entering the final year of his contract, batted only .198 with runners in scoring position last year, including .118 with the bases loaded. He missed six weeks of the season after being hit in the face with a pitch last May in Boston and hit only nine home runs, his lowest total since he hit five with Washington in 2006. If Jackson gets off to a hot start in the minor leagues, it's possible the Cubs will look to trade Byrd.
LHPs John Gaub and Scott Maine will be in the mix to help replace LHP Sean Marshall, traded in December to Cincinnati. The Cubs termed Marshall the top left-handed setup man in the game, so he will be hard to replace. Currently, the inside track for lefty setup man belongs to James Russell, who regrouped last year from a disastrous run as an emergency starter early in the season. Also in camp will be 38-year-old Trever Miller, signed to a minor league contract.
Gaub came to the Cubs three off-seasons ago from Cleveland in a deal that sent IF-OF Mark DeRosa to Cleveland. The 26-year-old Gaub rebounded from shoulder problems in 2010 to post a 3.42 ERA and seven saves at Class AAA (Des Moines) Iowa. He got into four games for the Cubs. Maine, 27, had 12 saves and a 3.68 ERA at Iowa in 2011. He got into seven games for the Cubs. Both Gaub and Maine will get long looks in the Cactus League.
By the Numbers: 24 – The Cubs had 24 blown saves last year, 10 by closer Carlos Marmol. The Cubs were fifth worst in the NL in blown saves.
Quote to Note: "You're really building for two different places. We always talk about being able to do multiple things: hit some home runs but also win on the days when the wind is blowing in. There is a huge challenge with Wrigley. It's not one place. It's kind of two places." -- General manager Jed Hoyer, on putting together a team that can win in the changing conditions of Wrigley Field.
The new Chicago Cubs brass, which includes Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Dale Sveum, has begun retooling the roster this offseason by replacing some key players. The Cubs are set to open spring training in Arizona on February 18.