Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

March 2010 Archives

Cubs great Williams to get Wrigley statue

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It's not the first move the Ricketts family has made since buying the Cubs last fall, but commissioning a statue of Cubs great Billy Williams is easily the most popular one so far.

Williams, a Hall of Fame outfielder who once held the National League record with 1,117 consecutive games played, got the news during an annual team gathering Tuesday night.

The life-size statue is to be unveiled Sept. 7 outside Wrigley Field, two seasons after teammate Ernie Banks' statue was erected near Clark and Addison. The location for Williams' statute has yet to be determined.

``This is the ultimate, ultimate honor for a player,'' said Williams, now a senior advisor in the front office who also spends spring training in uniform working with the players.

Cubs roster: Tracy in, curse-buster out

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Maybe they really don't believe in curses.

When the Cubs made the decision on the final roster spot overnight, they took the left-handed hitter with a good pinch-hitting track record and more defensive versatility over the guy with all the famous clubhouse intangibles and the curse-busting track record from Boston.

That means former Diamondbacks starting third baseman Chad Tracy makes the Cubs' bench, while the popular Kevin Millar was released Tuesday morning as the Cubs' finalized their 25-man roster earlier than they have in recent memory

Cubs rookie Colvin in -- now where does he play?

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Tyler Colvin can finally put in his seat request for the flight to Atlanta.

Two days after saying he wouldn't believe he made the team until he was on the team charter when the club breaks camp, manager Lou Piniella put the top performer in camp this spring on the plane personally - calling the rookie outfielder into his office this morning to make it official.

``It was never really a doubt for a while now,'' Piniella said. ``He played terrific.''

Colvin's roster clinch leaves one bench opening between veterans Kevin Millar and Chad Tracy. Piniella said that decision could come Tuesday.

Ex-Cub Bradley: `Beat it'

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The self-described Kanye West of baseball avoided the stage today in his only chance this spring to play against his former Cubs team.

And Milton Bradley didn't seem to want to talk about that or anything else when three Chicago reporters approached him near his locker in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse before today's Cubs-Mariners game.

``No chance,'' he said, preempting the interview request. ``Beat it. You guys ran me out of town. Never again.''

As much as some members of the media might like to believe they/we have that much power, it was pointed out to Bradley as he walked way that the media didn't run him out of town -- to which Bradley reacted by raising two fingers, saying, ``Peace,'' and turning the corner out of sight.

He was also a no-show in today's lineup after playing six innings in Seattle's game Saturday.

Bradley, who was named Seattle's everyday cleanup hitter this weekend, recently told AP:

"If I was a musician, I'd be Kanye West. If I was in the NBA, I'd be Ron Artest. In baseball, they've got Milton Bradley. I'm that guy. You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, 'There goes the bad guy."'


Ex-Cub Bradley: `Beat it'

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The self-described Kanye West of baseball avoided the stage today in his only chance this spring to play against his former Cubs team.

And Milton Bradley didn't seem to want to talk about that or anything else when three Chicago reporters approached him near his locker in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse before today's Cubs-Mariners game.

``No chance,'' he said, preempting the interview request. ``Beat it. You guys ran me out of town. Never again.''

As much as some members of the media might like to believe they/we have that much power, it was pointed out to Bradley as he walked way that the media didn't run him out of town -- to which Bradley reacted by raising two fingers, saying, ``Peace,'' and turning the corner out of sight.

He was also a no-show in today's lineup after playing six innings in Seattle's game Saturday.

Bradley, who was named Seattle's everyday cleanup hitter this weekend, recently told AP:

"If I was a musician, I'd be Kanye West. If I was in the NBA, I'd be Ron Artest. In baseball, they've got Milton Bradley. I'm that guy. You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, 'There goes the bad guy."'


Cubs set pitching staff; Silva, Gorzelanny to start

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Barring a potential trade for a reliever in the next week or so, the Cubs' pitching staff is set.

As expected, manager Lou Piniella said this morning that right-hander Carlos Silva and lefty Tom Gorzelanny will open the season in the starting rotation, with the other two pitchers in the battle for those jobs -- Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall -- going to the bullpen.

That left one bullpen opening, and after a large round of cuts this morning, left-hander James Russell was the last man standing for that job.

``Unless we make a deal,'' Piniella said. ``Remember, Jim [Hendry, general manager] is still working hard. Jim and Randy [Bush, assistant GM] are working hard to get us an experienced right-hander.''

Otherwise, the Cubs would open with a bullpen that has three rookies and a fourth pitcher, Samardzija, without a season year in the big leagues.

Russell, who hasn't allowed a run in seven spring outings (9 IP), won the final spot over lefty John Gaub and right-hander Marcos Mateo -- both of whom were optioned to AAA Iowa.

He joins a seven-man bullpen that also includes closer Carlos Marmol, along with lefty John Grabow, right-handers Esmailin Caridad and Justin Berg and two pitchers from the battle for the rotation -- likely left-hander Sean Marshall and right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

Manager Lou Piniella is expected to officially announce the winners of that four-man battle for two starting jobs, one of whom is Carlos Silva (already scheduled to start next on Saturday). Tom Gorzelanny, who pitched a team-high six innings on Thursday, is expected to get the other job.

The five others cut from big-league camp this morning were: outfielder Jim Adduci (optioned to AAA), pitcher Jeff Gray (optioned to AAA) and three non-roster players reassigned to minor-league camp (infielders Bobby Scales and Darwin Barney and catcher Robinson Chirinos).

That left 31 healthy players in camp, with one or two bench jobs to determine, depending on how the next few days play out and whether the organization feels Piniella can get highly regarded prospect Tyler Colvin enough at-bats to justify having him on the big-league bench.

Clubhouse harmony on key with Cubs Idol

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When the Cubs have talked about better team chemistry this season, and Kevin Millar in particular, they may not have had visions of prospects performing ``American Idol'' acts for the veterans.

But that looks like exactly the kind of thing they meant.

Millar and his pal Ryan Dempster are the ringleaders of a ``Cubs Idol'' competition that's apparently so entertaining that manager Lou Piniella had fun talking about it before and after Tuesday's game - following the semifinal round of the Idol competition Tuesday morning, presided over by judges Dempster, Millar, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

``It was fun,'' Piniella said. ``I tell you what, they spent some time preparing for today's show.

``Some of these guys worked hard,'' he added of the prospects, starting to laugh. ``If they had worked as hard baseball-wise, they'd be in the big leagues. ... Obviously, I'm joking. But it was fun watching them.''

Piniella said Dempster came to him two weeks ago to ask if it was all right to stage the ``competition.''

``I said to have some fun with it,'' the manager said.

And that's the point.

This is a team that had no fun last year. They year before, they were loose and always laughing.

And whether you believe that's a chicken-and-egg proposition that has more to do with winning first, it's no accident that good-guy, outgoing grinders like Marlon Byrd and Millar were brought in this spring. Or even good-guy pitcher Carlos Silva in that trade for you-know-who, or good-guy outfielder Xavier Nady.

Millar is the poster boy among Cubs newcomers for so-called clubhouse chemistry.

``Look, we like chemistry,'' Piniella said. ``We like for this team to be loosy-goosy and have fun. We look to our veteran players to provide that. So he fits in all those categories.''

And he might even make the team, especially if he shows he can handle playing the corner outfield spots over the next week or two.

Meanwhile, he has work to do with his fellow judges in the clubhouse this weekend. Cubs Idol finals are Saturday.

``A couple of these kids have a little talent,'' Piniella said. ``I'm serious.''

Theriot wins Cubs leadoff job

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With three weeks left until Opening Day, it looks like Ryan Theriot will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter in an everyday lineup that manager Lou Piniella says is about ``80 percent'' set:

SS Theriot
RF Kosuke Fukudome
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
CF Marlon Byrd
LF Alfonso Soriano
2B Mike Fontenot
C Geovany Soto

Piniella said the second base battle between Fontenot and Jeff Baker hasn't been finalized, but Fontenot's in the clear lead, and Piniella wants to make a decision within the next two weeks.

But the leadoff spot looks settled at this point - and Piniella said he doesn't plan to use any kind of lefty-righty platoon with Theriot and Fukudome.

Nathan injury hurts Cubs' pen, too

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Joe Nathan's elbow injury could deliver yet another blow to the Cubs' bullpen.

With the Twins' All-Star closer facing the likelihood of Tommy John surgery, the Twins are suddenly in the same market for a late-inning reliever that the Cubs are - with every bit as urgent a sense of need.

And for maybe the first time ever, the Twins are at no discernable financial disadvantage as they go head-to-head with the Cubs to fill a roster hole.

Cubs' Guzman plans career-threatening surgery

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MESA, Ariz. - Cubs pitcher Angel Guzman says he plans to have surgery on his injured shoulder, even though he's been told few pitchers ever come back from that kind of surgery.

``It's going to be tough,'' said Guzman, 28, who was diagnosed over the weekend with a significant ligament tear near his armpit and instability in the shoulder. ``But it's better than not having it and not having a chance. Doing it, I have a small chance, but there is a chance. So I'm going to take the chance.''

Guzman says the decision isn't final. He plans to see famed orthopedist James Andrews - who already has done operations on Guzman's shoulder and elbow -- as soon as this week and then consult with his agents and his family.

``It's very sad, but what can I do?'' he said. ``I'm still breathing.''

He may also seek a third medical opinion before deciding, he said.

The Cubs' medical staff recommends four to six weeks of strengthening and rehab followed by a throwing program instead of surgery.

But Guzman said, ``I think there is no chance to get it fixed without the surgery. By doing rehab, it wouldn't do anything. I spent four months here working out [over the winter] and I felt as strong as ever. And still, pain. I think that's the only way to get it fixed.''

It's already been a nightmarish year for Guzman, who faces a possible career-ending injury less than two months after his brother and his best friend were shot to death back home in Caracas, Venezuela.

Manager Lou Piniella suggested Guzman might benefit from going home for a while before taking the next step.

``I would love to,'' he said. ``For the last two months I've been through some issues. Maybe going home would clear my mind and [make] me fresh and I can come back and fight for my goal, for what I want.''

Regardless of the treatment course he chooses, he plans to fight, he said.

``I love pitching. I've been pitching since I was 4 years old,'' he said. ``I'm still 28. I think 28's a good age to keep pushing it.''

Guzman, who agreed to an $825,000 contract in January in his first year of arbitration eligibility, supports his parents and siblings back home.

``I'm going to get all the people that are close to me involved in my decision, because I've got a family to support and I think it's a good idea to talk to them,'' he said. ``Maybe it's going to take a few days, or a few weeks.''

For now: ``Disappointed. Sadness,'' he said. ``I just have to go through it.''


Cubs could add pen help; eventually Ozzie?

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It may take until late in the month, when rosters around baseball begin taking shape, but look for the Cubs to add at least on veteran reliever to their staff before Opening Day.

Meanwhile, the news that Angel Guzman's shoulder injury could be career-threatening and takes him out of the team's plans for 2010 doesn't mean the team will rush to try to make a deal.

``We were counting on this young guy, to pitch in the middle-to-late part of the ballgame,'' manager Lou Piniella said. ``We thought we needed one [more] pitcher. Now we're going to have to work hard to see what we have in camp and see if we can fill that gap somehow.''

Whatever the Cubs do from the outside, it isn't likely to involve a player with much of a salary, making a guy like San Diego's Heath Bell a pipe dream unless something close to Bell's $4 million salary is heading the other way.

The Cubs already knew Guzman's long history of health issues - including shoulder soreness that sidelined him the final two weeks last season - was something that could always re-enter the picture. So from a baseball standpoint, his injury isn't the kind of shock to the system that leads to crisis thinking.

On ex-Cubs, near-sighted pitchers and prospects

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Jake Fox might have found a home that fits with the Oakland A's - even if third base still doesn't look quite the perfect fit on him.

The popular Fox, a big hitter with a questionable defensive resume, was traded to Oakland in early December and has found a much greater opportunity to earn playing time.

He started at third for Oakland in its game against the Cubs Thursday, batting cleanup and going 0 for 2 with a throwing error. He'll get looks at first, DH and a little at catcher.

``It'll be little bit of a merry-go-round,'' he said. ``It's going to be exciting. It's really going to be interesting to see what happens.''

Fox holds no hard feelings for the Cubs, who probably did him a favor by trading him this winter to an American League team.

Lou: Cubs ``haven't not won because of'' Mesa facilities

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As the Cubs made their annual move from Fitch Park, a mile up the road to HoHoKam Stadium on the eve of their exhibition opener, the subject of old-vs.-new spring facilities came up in Lou's afternoon media session.

With a new facility, the move 2 ½ weeks into camp wouldn't be necessary, obviously, he said.

But more than that, the Cubs have relatively little work space compared to even Fitch Park, especially in early March when nobody has yet been cut from big-league camp - one full field, one smaller field and a few bullpen mounds and hitting-cage stations.

``I remember the 10 years I spent here with Seattle, we had wonderful fields,'' Piniella said listing the six full fields that Peoria, Ariz., complex has available to the Mariners.

``It's more limited [in Mesa]. But it's a workable thing. Put it this way: we haven't not won because of the facilities here.''

Nearly a month after striking an exclusivity deal with Mesa to work toward a new state-of-the-art spring complex, Arizona's share of the agreed funding for the facility is anything but assured - with the recently proposed ``Cubs tax'' on Cactus League games involving all teams has been met with strongly worded opposition from several teams that train in the Phoenix area.

Also today:


Cubs' Castro gets early look

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The Cubs aren't wasting any time getting their first look at top prospect Starlin Castro in a game this spring. Manager Lou Piniella said he might lead off with the 19-year-old shortstop in Thursday's opener.

``I'm anxious to see the kid myself,'' Piniella said. ``He handles himself very professionally for a young kid out here, he really does. He's calm. He's not awed by being here. He's relaxed. He's not starry-eyed. If you didn't know he was 19 years old, you couldn't guess he was 19.''

Castro isn't realistically playing for a job in camp. He's projected to open the season as AAA Iowa's starting shortstop. But how he looks in these games will have a bearing on whether the Cubs feel comfortable calling him up during the season if Ryan Theriot gets hurt, Piniella said.

Other camp news today:

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