Cubs

Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

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Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

While new Cubs baseball management has said all the right things about re-signing Kerry Wood as they go about the process of rebuilding a 71-win team, it appears that talking may be as far as they are going to go to get a deal done with the popular pitcher. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations told me late Monday night that Wood's days as a Cub appear all but over.

"Woody wanted to be here despite the rebuilding process but while the Cubs were saying they wanted him back they were unwilling to pay him the market value for a solid set up man," he said. "He has heard from a number of teams that are World Series contenders and they are all willing to pay him a very fair salary to strengthen their bullpen. The Cubs expected him to pitch for another hometown discount. He has already done that for them a couple of times before. There is no reason that he should have to do that again."

Wood joined me on WGN Radio's Sports Night on Monday evening and while he didn't close the door on the Cubs, he sounded like a man ready to move on when I asked him about wanting to keep pitching. Well, thats the thing. Regardless of what happens were still in Chicago, were dedicated to the city and things will work out for me in the city of Chicago because were dedicated to the city, were dedicated to the community, were dedicated to helping children and again were staying here were raising the family here," said Wood. "Im a Texas boy, but I feel like Ive become a Chicagoan, so were happy to be here whether I finish here or whether I dont, we plan on being here a long time.

Wood made 1.5 million in 2011 after giving the Cubs a bargain basement deal to fit into then GM Jim Hendry's budget. It appears that the new Cubs administration expected him to play for basically the same money despite the fact that the team shed several big salaries. Whether or not Wood's Cubs career has come to an end he still plans on making Chicago his family's full time home and continuing his charity work. This is where were raising the family, we may end up in a suburb but well be in the Chicago area, not too far from the city if we do move out, but this is where were raising the family, this is where were raising the kids," explained Wood. "Were gonna stay very involved in the community, this wasnt done for a couple years and is gonna fade away. I dont have a whole lot of plans for after Im done playing so this is gonna take up a little bit of my time. We look forward to making a difference, making a change in some neighborhoods and really just helping out the children of Chicago."

Wood was asked about the fans who may be bitterly disappointed if he is not a part of the Cubs new culture change as well as a part of their rebuilt bullpen. The fans have always been great to me and my family as well and thats part of the reason weve stayed here. The communitys been great to us and the citys been great to us. From a fans standpoint I understand that theyve kind of seen me grow upI signed when I was 18, but I got drafted when I was 17, so thats half my life as a Cub. So I get it, at this point Im the last one left from a 2003 team that went deep into the playoffs, almost got it done. Theres always time for change, and theres always room for it, so well just have to wait and see.

Cubs boss Theo Epstein appeared on WGN Radio's "Cubs Corner" last week and spoke very eloquently about Wood and whether or not he wanted him back on the 2012 team. Kerry Wood, I love this guy. I love what he brings between the lines, on the field and really Ive just admired him his whole career with how he conducts himself and what he means in the clubhouse," said Espstein. "Kerry Wood is exactly the type of guy we want, to build a winning culture here in Chicago. I would be greatly, greatly disappointed if were not able to bring him back, were actively engaged in negotiations, its the off-season its the part of the season where agents get involved and money is part of the equation. I think this one should work out. You have a team who really respects the guy, wants him back desperately, you have a player who loves this city, is a huge part of the community here with the family, the foundation and wants to be back, if we cant work this one out were doing something wrong, wed love to get that one done and I expect to.

When Epstein's comments were played for Wood during the radio interview he said all the right things but in listening to him it was apparent that he is disappointed that his negotiations didn't go more smoothly. "Obviously it's great to hear those things. I mean, that's great. I don't envy the job he has and what he's doing right now. I think he's got a tough job ahead of him. Moves have to be made, some that he's already done. So, he's not in an easy position. But again, hopefully 2, 3, 4 years down the road we're saying that he made all the right moves, and that's why this team is consistently in the playoffs. So we hope that happens."

If Wood's career with the Cubs is indeed over he leaves as one of the most popular players in team history and also one of the classiest. He is very deserving of playing for a team that has a legitimate chance to win a championship and with the Tigers, the Phillies, the Reds, the Angels and others all interested, Wood's options are many. It appears he will make a decision on his next home by Saturday. Will Theo Epstein ride to the rescue and save the day? If he plans on it time is running out so he better move quickly.

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.