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

December 2012 Archives


Jimmy Farrell was as much a part of Wrigley Field and the Cubs as the ivy on the outfield walls.
But only those with inner knowledge of the day-to-day workings at the ballpark would have known the gentle man who spent more than two decades making sure one of the key elements of a ball game was in order--the umpires.
From 1982 until he retired in 2007, Farrell worked as the umpire room attendant, seeing to the needs of the men in black, from personal and professional supplies to words of friendship.
``Jimmy loved his job as the umpire room attendant and loved all of his many friends in the Cubs organization--and we loved him back,'' team spokesman Peter Chase said Friday.
Farrell died this week at the age of 91.
Along with longtime clubhouse attendant Yosh Kawano, Farrell was a fixture at Wrigley Field, though not as well known as the sailor-capped Kawano.
But he preferred it that way.
Yet ask him about his family--his late wife Eleanor or his children or especially his grand-and great grand children and his face would light up with delight.
He was a South Sider by birth and graduate of Leo High, but his mother would take him to Cubs games as well. Baseball remained a lifelong love, but it wasn't until the World War II veteran retired after 29 years working for the Chicago Public School system that his ``second career'' in the game began.
Eleanor told him he needed something to do. A friend who knew someone had gotten a job with the Cubs suggested he, too, apply.
A few days later, a surprised Jimmy was hired.
Fans would see him at the beginning of a game putting the rosin bag and game ball on the mound and bringing water to umpires between innings of a hot day or their jackets on a cold one.
What they never saw were the friendships he developed with players, umpires and the day-to-day personnel working at Wrigley Field.
Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg adored him as he did Kawano. And Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was apologetic when he learned Farrell just missed getting hit by the bats Dawson sent flying in anger over a call by umpire Joe West, Farrell remembers in his memoir.
He was married to Eleanor for 68 years before her death last December. He is survived by four children, ten grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
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A Dog For Alex

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Cubs fan Darren Udaykee always considered White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn just that--one of the guys on the other team.
Until he found out how much they had in common as parents of a child suffering from epilepsy.
``I can understand how having your son live with such a miserable condition can affect you at home and at work,'' the Tinley Park resident wrote in July after reading about Dunn's son, Brady, now 6, and his family's search to acquire and train a service dog for him. ``Constantly worrying about your son's safety, as a seizure can strike at any moment--in the bath tub, in the pool, on the stairs, on top of the playground equipment,'' he wrote, thinking of his own son, Alex, 9. ``It's hard not to, but I'm always fearing the worst. And I'm sure it's worse for Adam as he spends half the season on the road.''
Darren and Kim Udaykee had gone through extremes for their son in the last six years, from a dozen different medications to brain surgeries that failed to provide the hoped-for help to control his seizures.
``He has seizures every day,'' Kim Udaykee said of Alex. ``He has an adult aide with him at school. He can't even go into the shower alone.''
Doctors, hospitals and constant monitoring are the norm for Alex, his parents, brother Scott, 22, and sister Brooke, 8.
``He's going to be 10 next month and can't be by himself,'' Kim said.
And they knew, too, about the help a service dog can provide.
``We've been informed how long of a process it is to obtain a dog for our son due to the logistics, time and costs involved,'' Darren wrote. ``My wish is that...one day my son Alex and Brady can live their lives as normal as one can without medicine and surgery.''
That is when the Dunns' story took on a new chapter as the Udaykee's story.
The family's situation touched dog trainer Stacey Larsen, who had worked with the Dunns for months to train Astro, Brady's service dog.
She reached out to them, learning more about their plight and the severity of Alex's condition.
Though thousands of miles away, Larsen became a friend.
``She said `I envision a nice black lab sitting next to your son,' '' Kim said.
That vision is about to come true.
Larsen reached out to breeders she knew, who networked with breeders in Illinois. The search led to Ann Garmon of Anthem Labrador Retrievers in Harvard, IL, a longtime breeder whose labs have been accomplished in the show ring, as field dogs--and as service dogs.
``She told us about `Ernie', a black lab puppy she was saving as a show dog. She said he had the right temperament,'' Kim said.
``Before even meeting us, she said she was going to save him for us.''
Garmon helped the family find trainer Pam Barnett, who runs Pack Leader Academy in nearby Palos Heights.
Her interest in training service dogs is personal as well as professional, having founded Paws Assisting Wounded Warriors to train dogs to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
``Pam and I were very touched by [the Udaykee's] situation and we know how life-changing a service dog can be,'' Garmon said.
Then came a surprise from the community.
Kim's father wrote about the family's situation to Tinley Wish, a local organization that helps families in need.
Along with Alex's ongoing medical bills and trying to acquire a dog, Darren Udaykee had lost his job as an accountant for a time before this year.
The Udaykees were one of the nine families Tinley Wish selected to receive help.
The organization couldn't fund the purchase and training of a dog--costs that will run into many thousands--but they helped by paying the family's mortgage and car payments for a month.
And they delivered it all with the fanfare of fire trucks, squad cars and Santa Claus parading to the family's home on Dec. 15.
``Mayor Ed Zabrocki was here, too. They brought gifts for the kids--and lots of gift cards to Petsmart,'' Kim said.
Ernie got a present too--his village dog tag for the coming year.
``So many people have made this happen for us,'' Kim said. ``Alex is so excited. He said ``can I finally start doing things by myself?' ''
Ernie should arrive in early January.
``We're so grateful to Ann and Pam and Stacey,'' Kim said. ``She said `we're going to make this happen.' She was relentless.''
The Udaykees are grateful to the Dunns, too.
``None of this would have happened if they hadn't shared their story,'' Darren said. ``Please thank them for us.''
As it happens, the Dunns have followed the Udaykee's story through Larsen. ``And we're so happy for this family,'' Rachel Dunn said.
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The Cubs will add two more arms to challenge for rotation spots with the signings of right-handers Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva.
Both deals where completed Thursday pending physicals for both players, according to multiple reports.
Both 29-year-olds will vie for starting roles, with returning Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and newly-signed Scott Baker and Scott Feldman.
Jackson's deal is the bigger signing--a four-year package worth $52 million. Though Jackson has pitched for five different clubs in the last six seasons--including the White Sox in 2011--he is a former All-Star (2009) who also pitched a no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was part of the Washington Nationals' National League East Division-winning team last season, going 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 31 starts.
Villanueva gets a two-year deal worth $10 million. He made 29 starts for the Toronto Blue Jays over the last two seasons and had indicated he wanted a chance to remain a starter.
He also made 42 relief appearances for the Jays and had been a reliever with the Milwaukee Brewers.


The Cubs are believed to be near announcing they have signed right-handed pitcher Carlos Villanueva to a two-year deal.
Team officials said no announcements were expected Thursday, but reports say Villanueva, 29, has agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal. The veteran pitcher who made 29 starts for the Toronto Blue Jays over two seasons had indicated he wanted a chance to remain a starter. He also made 42 relief appearances and had been a reliever with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Cubs also are negotiating with right-hander Edwin Jackson, 29, who pitched for the Washington Nationals last season. He was with the White Sox in 2011.


The Cubs wasted no time bouncing back from losing Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers last week - closing in Wednesday on what appeared to be a short-term deal for right-hander Carlos Villanueva while continuing talks on a potential long-term deal with right-hander Edwin Jackson.

One report that the Cubs had a deal done with Villanueva Wednesday afternoon was premature, but nothing appeared to be holding up the would-be agreement for the former Milwaukee Brewers reliever who made 29 starts for the Toronto Blue Jays over the past two seasons (plus 42 relief appearances).

Villanueva, 29, had made it clear he wanted an opportunity to earn a regular starting job as he hit the free agent market for the first time.

More intriguing are ongoing discussions with Jackson, 29, who is said to be seeking a four-year deal, with the list of serious suitors reportedly down to two (also Texas).

The historically durable Jackson has pitched for six teams in five years, including the White Sox, but the 2009 All-Star is widely regarded as a good teammate, strong clubhouse presence and has contributed to three playoff teams, including two World Series teams.

He made $11 million as a first-year free agent for the Washington Nationals in 2012, going 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 31 starts for the N.L. East champs.

The Cubs last week were prepared to commit $77.5 million over five years to Sanchez.

Without Jackson, the Cubs' would go to spring training with six experienced starters: Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Villanueva and Travis Wood.

Baker (all of 2012) and Garza (final two months) both finished last season on the disabled list because of elbow injuries.

Like Baker, another Cubs' starter, Arodys Vizcaino, is coming off Tommy John surgery rehab. He's expected to be considered for a starting job at some point next season.

Cubs' Fujikawa: long-term asset or July trade bait?

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If this plays out the way Theo Epstein and Kyuji Fujikawa suggested on Friday, then the Japanese reliever Epstein's front office just signed could be the first professional free agent acquisition to actually become part of the turnaround in the Cubs' rebuilding process.

``The primary goal is to have him here as part of the solution,'' team president Epstein said as Fujikawa was introduced to the media almost a week after agreeing to a two-year, $9.5-million contract that includes a third-year option.

``We're a big believer in his talent as well as his character,'' Epstein said, ``so we think he'll be a positive influence on our younger pitchers, and he'll be a real stabilizer for our bullpen.

``We're not signing him at all with the intent to trade him. Obviously, we'll see what happens. Hopefully, the team performs well, and he'll be pitching very important games for us.''

That's no guarantee the premier closer in Japan in recent years won't be flipped at the trading deadline for prospects if the team gets off to a poor start and his trade value is high; he doesn't have no-trade rights.

``That's up to the team. I don't care,'' Fujikawa said Thursday through an interpreter.

Sources say he's well aware of that possibility and it does matter to him. On the other hand, talks leading up to his signing were centered more on what he could do for the team during the entirety of his contract.

Fujikawa, 32, said the front office's ``warm-hearted'' pursuit was one of the reasons he signed, and that he envisions playing a veteran leadership role on a young team.

``I know what they've done last year, but hopefully we can do better next year,'' he said. ``I'd like to be part of the building process for the Cubs' future.''

Until or unless that happens, he's the heir apparent to closer Carlos Marmol, who has been assured the closer role still belongs to him entering the season - but also been told to expect the Cubs to trade him before the July 31 deadline.

Fujikawa - whose command, fastball-first approach and durability played big roles in the Cubs' interest - shrugged off the importance of getting a shot to close games while the cameras were running Friday.

But insiders say that was significant during the overall free agency process, and he was very close to signing with the Los Angeles Angels instead of the Cubs until the Angels reached terms with closer Ryan Madson Nov. 27 - though Epstein said it wasn't a big part of the Cub talks.

``In our discussions with him it was the chance to have a meaningful role and do his job,'' Epstein said. ``That's all he said: `My job is not closer or setup guy; my job is to help the team and do what the manager asks of me.' And that's the only time it came up in the whole discussion.''

Fujikawa met with Cubs brass Nov. 15 and toured Wrigley Field, which he compared to his 88-year-old home stadium in Japan. ``From that day on it was Cubs, Cubs, Cubs,'' he said.

NOTES - The Cubs were one of at least three teams still awaiting a decision from veteran reliever Jason Grilli on which offer he'll accept, though they didn't view the delay as any reason to raise their lukewarm hopes of landing him. ... Right-fielder Nate Schierholtz, who agreed this week to a one-year, $2.25 million deal, still has not completed the physical that will make the deal official.


Two years have passed since Ron Santo's death, yet his long time radio partner, Pat Hughes, continues to keep alive the spirit, passion and joy they shared for 15 years.
``It's about remembering and smiling,'' Hughes said of the collection of excerpts from their years together broadcasting Cubs games. ``I've heard some of these maybe a hundred times, and yet I still laugh.''
The CD of ``Ron Santo: Cubs Legend'' has been a popular holiday gift, heightened this year after the induction of Santo into the Hall of Fame. It is part of a collection of audio CDs Hughes has produced on a dozen famous sports broadcasters, including the newest on Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, whose work covering the San Francisco Giants includes the legendary call by Hodges of Bobby Thompson's home run to win the 1951 National League pennant.
Information is available for all the CDs at ``www.baseballvoices.com''.

Cubs reunite with Stewart, wait for Grilli decision

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When a glorified utility infielder like Jeff Keppinger gets a three-year, $12 million contract coming off a season he played only 115 games - and then badly broke his leg during the off-season - maybe Ian Stewart for $2 million is a value.

That's the kind of thought process the Cubs went through when finally agreeing Thursday to the one-year deal with the third baseman they non-tendered just a week ago, according to conversations with several team officials.

Because Stewart has less than six years of service time, the standard big-league contract is non-guaranteed, like other one-year deals for that service level. Once he makes the team in spring training, the full salary is guaranteed. The deal also includes $500,000 in performance incentive clauses.

The Cubs, who pursued Keppinger and Eric Chavez before those free agents signed elsewhere Wednesday, view Stewart as their starting third baseman and plan to keep looking for a right-handed-hitting infielder capable of backing up at third.

Stewart made $2.2 million with the Cubs last season, when he played just 55 games (.201, five homers) before an already troublesome wrist flared up and put him on the disabled list. He eventually had exploratory surgery, which revealed an apparent impingement in the hand that doctors attempted to correct.

The Cubs didn't view Stewart as a worthy $2.3-million gamble when the deadline came for tendering him a contract last week, but a third base market that suddenly has made all-field, no-hit former Cleveland infielder Jack Hannahan a hot commodity changed the math.

The Cubs also went into Thursday night as one of at least three teams awaiting a decision on their offers from veteran reliever Jason Grilli, though sources say the Cubs were not particularly optimistc the right-hander would fall their way.

With reliever Kyuji Fujikawa's introductory press conference coming Friday morning and the finalizing of outfielder Nate Schierholtz' $2.25 million deal expected to follow close behind, more of the Cubs' winter shopping list appears checked off.

Besides another infielder, they're still looking for outfield and pitching depth.

``Sometimes leaving here you feel like this is closer to the end of the off-season than the beginning,'' general manager Jed Hoyer said as the team prepared to leave Nashville Thursday. ``It's actually a lot closer to the beginning. There's a lot of time left. We still have resources left. We'll continue to work hard all winter.''

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In keeping with an emerging pattern, the Cubs this morning nabbed another Tommy John surgery graduate with the potential to be an impact pitcher if healthy - taking 6-foot-3 power pitcher Hector Rondon with the second overall pick in Thursday's Rule 5 draft on the final day of the winter meetings.

The right-hander, once a touted starting prospect in Cleveland's system, has missed much of the past three seasons because of the elbow reconstruction surgery, and, subsequently, a broken bone in the elbow suffered while pitching.

More recently, he was throwing 97 mph in a handful of late-summer rehab appearances and into the Venezuelan winter season, and was considered a contender for the Indians' bullpen in 2013.

According to the Indians, Rondon, 24, was left exposed to the draft because the team was especially deep in relievers.

``We've been watching him in Venezuela this winter, and he's throwing the ball really, really well. He's got a great arm,'' Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. ``We feel we can capitalize that he's healthy now and throwing the ball really well. Hopefully, he can recapture what made him [one of the] Indians top pitching prospects.

``We felt like this is a guy that has a chance to be really good right away. If he can stay healthy, obviously that's been his challenge. But the stuff coming out of his hand is pretty impressive right now.''

As with Lendy Castillo last year, the Cubs must keep Rondon on the 25-man roster all year or offer him back to Cleveland for half the $50,000 drafting price.

The Cubs also lost four players in Thursday's draft, including right-hander Starling Peralta to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the major-league portion of the draft. Peralta 5-8 with a 3.44 ERA in 20 games (17 starts) for Class A Peoria last season.

The Cubs lost three more players in the minor-league side of the draft: outfielder Michael Burgess (to Houston), infielder Matt Cerda (St. Louis) and right-hander Alvido Jimenez (Toronto) - a surprise to some considering how thin on talent the front office has said the system has been since taking over a year ago.

``Sometimes [losing so many players] is a good sign, that you have enough depth that you can't protect everyone at the AAA roster,'' Hoyer said. ``You never want to lose guys but you know it's part of what happens. As we get deeper, we'll lose more. But it's something you never want. You're always disappointed when you hear your name called during these meetings.''

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Landing a third baseman in an increasingly scarce market is looking even tougher for the Cubs than expected.

But they assured they won't leave the winter meetings Thursday empty-handed by agreeing to terms Wednesday on a one-year, $2.25 million deal with free agent right fielder Nate Shierholtz.

Schierholtz, 28, is a strong defensive outfielder with a .270 career average, who has yet to start a full season in six big-league seasons.

The deal, which awaits a physical before becoming final, would shift David DeJesus to center, where he played much of last year after opening the season in right. Schierholtz, who made $1.3 million for the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies last season, was non-tendered by the Phillies.

Cubs officials would not comment on the subject Wednesday night, but a source said the team may not be done seeking outfield depth.

Meanwhile, the Cubs' modest wish list to fill a gaping third base hole is disappearing fast with targeted free agents Jeff Keppinger (White Sox) and Eric Chavez (Diamondbacks) signing with other teams Wednesday, the same day another target, Yunel Escobar was traded by the Marlins to the Rays.

``Obviously, we were part of some of the negotiations that ended [Wednesday],'' general manager Jed Hoyer said. ``We have a lot of irons in the fire when it comes to third base, and we're confident we'll land someone that we feel good about. But it's certainly a position of scarcity, no question.''

Top free agent third baseman Kevin Youkilis is beyond the Cubs' willing reach. And as of late Wednesday, his agent had not so much as met with the team. Swing-and-miss specialist Mark Reynolds is a poor fit; ex-Cub Casey McGehee has not been approached; and despite several reports of interest in Yuniesky Betancourt, a source insists he's nowhere near the team's radar. Even non-tendered Cub Ian Stewart is fielding enough offers from other teams to look like a long shot.

Non-tendered Cleveland third baseman Jack Hannahan, 32, appears to be the best bet left on the board.


OTHER CUBS MEETINGS BUZZ:


NO DEMPSTER NEGOTIATIONS -- A report Wednesday that the Cubs and pitcher Ryan Dempster talked this week about terms of a possible reunion grossly misrepresented the nature of those talks, according to a source with knowledge of what amounted to a courtesy meeting.

THREE MORE MONTHS FOR MARMOL? -- The Cubs Tuesday night assured Carlos Marmol he'll be the closer when the season opens but have prepared him for the likelihood he'll be asked again to waive his limited no-trade rights for a trading-deadline deal next summer. That's when they project sliding Kyuji Fujikawa into the role. The signing of the Japanese closer to a two-year, $9.5 million deal is expected to finally be officially announced Thursday.

RULE 5 MADE TO BE BROKEN -- The Cubs, who pick second in Thursday's Rule 5 draft, planned to discuss late Wednesday night whether to use the position in a draft-and-trade deal. They've been approached by multiple teams about doing that. If the Cubs decide to use the pick to acquire pitching, one possibility is Class A right-hander Miguel Celestino, 23, from the Red Sox organization.

CUBS QUOTE OF THE DAY: Jed Hoyer, roughly 24 hours after revelations that manager Dale Sveum had been shot by Robin Yount during an off-season hunting accident: "If things we did here don't lead to progress down the road, it wasn't productive. But I don't think you have to walk out of here with deer antlers or anything.''


"Marmol's our closer" and other Cub stuff from Nashville

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Day 2 highlights from the winter meetings:

Nashville -- Trade candidate Carlos Marmol continued to get so-called dreaded votes of confidence in his status as closer Tuesday even as the Cubs closed in on finalizing a two-year, $9.5-million deal for Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa.

A day after team president Theo Epstein said it, Sveum and general manager Jed Hoyer reiterated the point.

``I anticipate if Carlos is on the team, he'll be our closer, and I anticipate Carlos being here,'' said Hoyer who came within a last-minute decision on a bad medical report from trading him for starter Dan Haren a month ago. ``I think he's going to be our closer. Obviously, a trade could happen at any time. But as we put together our 2013 team we're certainly expecting that he's our closer.''

Marmol's $9.8 million salary, command issues in recent years and the Cubs' contention, according to a source, that they won't "give him away" would seem to severely limit his trade market.


MEETINGS BUZZ - The Cubs' search for third base help isn't getting any easier, with the A-Rod-challenged Yankees rumored to be pursuing Jeff Keppinger and with non-tendered Ian Stewart drawing interest from ``seven or eight'' teams, according to a source. ... Sveum said strikeout-prone prospect Brett Jackson has significantly overhauled his swing this off-season and could push again for a big-league spot at some point this season. He'll open the season at Class AAA, Hoyer said. ... Matt Garza, who didn't pitch after July 22 because of a stress reaction near his elbow, starts a throwing program this month, and the club expects him to be on a normal schedule when spring training opens.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - And Dale Sveum thought he had a bad year before October.

Turns out that 101-loss season in his first year as Cubs manager was only the start of the bleeding for Sveum - who suffered minor injuries in a Dick Cheney-like accident while hunting quail in Arizona with Hall of Fame pal Robin Yount earlier this fall.

``It's not that big a deal,'' claimed the famously cool Sveum, who got bird shot in the back and right ear from about 50 yards away. ``Yeah, there was blood. ...

``The bird got up in front of him, and he lost track of where I was and pulled the trigger, and, `Uh-oh.' I was just looking for birds myself. It was behind me, so I got drilled with pellets in the back and one stuck in the ear.''

Sveum downplayed the incident, suggesting he and longtime hunting buddy Yount have had close calls in the past. ``Well, not that close,'' he said.

His first reaction: ``Oh, sh--.''

His second: He started calling Yount ``Dick Cheney.''

The bottom line:

``He got the bird.''

He appeared to be referring to the quail.


Highlights from first day of winter meetings in Nashville as slow-moving baseball business took a back seat to the hiring of Jim Deshaies to replace Bob Brenly as TV analyst:


FUJIKAWA NEWS AND EFFECT ON MARMOL

A source says Cubs have told closer Carlos Marmol he's a trade candidate but "won't give him away."

Without confirming two-year, $9.5 million deal with Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa or using his name, team president Theo Epstein said signing a ``setup-type reliever ... with closing experience" doesn't preclude keeping Marmol as the Cubs try to strengthen the bullpen.

Another Cubs honcho also suggested Fujikawa is not necessarily viewed as the Cubs' closer despite the free agent's stated desire/demand during talks with teams - not to mention his decision to reject favored Angels' offer after they signed Ryan Madsen last week.

The Fujikawa announcement expected Friday following physical this week.

The Cubs don't expect World Baseball Classic vet Fujikawa to play in next spring's WBC after addressing issue during negotiations.

SORIANO, THIRD BASE, CF/RF AND LHPs

-- Epstein says Cubs have told Alfonso Soriano, who has full no-trade rights, they plan to listen to offers for him and keep him updated on any such talks.

-- Epsten said the Yankees' sudden need for a third baseman in the wake of Alex Rodriguez's latest hip injury is ``not really'' going to affect the Cubs' bargain-bin, mix-and-match efforts to cover their third-base need.

``We have our targets,'' he said. ``It's a relatively thin third-base market, and we're going to have to be creative and rely on internal options if we can.''

That means .219-hitting but good-fielding Luis Valbuena, a possible position switch for somebody else, a possible trade or possible free agent signing - none of which offer the obvious, prototype solution to the position, Epstein acknowledged. That might have to wait until the Cubs get somebody like Javy Baez to the big leagues.

Meanwhile, Epstein said he expects to add somebody from the outside to at least join the competition for at least a job share.

Said the Cubs' prez on the third base scarcity this year: ``It'd be good to be Mike Schmidt right now''

--In case you're wondering about Ian Stewart, the Cubs are waiting to hear back from the non-tendered third baseman about whether he's interested in the discount offer they've made after he discovers what's expected to be lukewarm reception from the other teams in need of help at the position.

-- Epstein says the Cubs have looked over the long list of players non-tendered by other clubs Friday and have interest in at least one left-handed pitcher. Washington non-tendered lefties Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan, both of whom the Cubs talked to the Nationals about earlier this year.

--And not surprisingly, the Cubs have sized up the outfield market and shifted their focus from center field to right field, with an eye toward moving David DeJesus to center if they land a suitable right fielder.


Reports say former Houston Astros color analyst Jim Deshaies will replace Bob Brenly in the Cubs television broadcast booth.
Deshaies, 52, interviewed for the vacant post several weeks ago as one of the few former players with no past ties to the team. But the former Astros pitcher worked on Astros broadcasts since 1997 and his work with play by play announcer Bill Brown was regarded highly in the industry.
Deshaies' departure from the Astros was confirmed Monday afternoon by the team, but the Cubs and officials at WGN-TV and Comcast SportsNet had not confirmed the hiring yet.
Brenly had been partnered with Len Kasper since 2005 and on Cubs radio broadcasts in the 1990s. He left in October to return to broadcasting for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Reports: Cubs sign Japanese closer Fujikawa

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The Cubs have agreed to terms with top Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa on a two-year, $9.5 million deal, according to multiple reports Saturday.

The Cubs would neither confirm nor deny the reports involving the 32-year-old right-hander who recently narrowed his choices to the Cubs and Los Angeles Angels from a finalist list that number five two weeks ago.

Fujikawa, whose deal is said to include a $1 million signing bonus and salaries of $4 million each of the next two years (with $500,000 buyout on third-year option), had 220 saves in 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers - with a 1.77 ERA and sub-1 career WHIP.

The Cubs appeared to be in the driver's seat in their pursuit of Fujikawa after the Angels signed free agent closer Ryan Madson early in the week.

And while the signing could signal an impending trade of closer Carlos Marmol, comments by Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer as recently as Friday suggest that might not be the case.

``I think whenever you build a bullpen, you want as man guys who have a chance to pitch late in the game as possible,'' Hoyer said of Marmol - who came within a sketchy medical report of being traded to the Angels for starter Dan Haren a month ago. ``If we bring in somebody capable of closing, that's no knock on Marmol.''

Marmol, who was demoted from the closer role for lengthy stretches each of the past two seasons, has one year, $9.8 million, left on his contract.

Fujikawa visited Wrigley Field on Nov. 15 and met with Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein - telling Japanese media he liked the similarities between Wrigley Field and 88-year-old Koshien Stadium, where his Tigers play (including ivy and rare-for-Japan natural grass).

``We came away very impressed,'' Hoyer said of the meeting.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles also offered contracts to Fujikawa.

Fujikawa's deal reportedly includes a $5.5 million vesting option for 2015 that becomes a club option if it doesn't vest.

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