Cubs

Another year, another non-update on potential Sammy Sosa reunion from Cubs Convention

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AP

Another year, another non-update on potential Sammy Sosa reunion from Cubs Convention

Tom Ricketts actually got more than halfway through his Cubs Convention session before Sammy Sosa was finally brought up. 

You see, the Sosa question has become an annual staple at Cubs Convention, particularly in Ricketts' panel. 

Sosa may be undergoing some bizarre physical changes, but he still resonates with fans of all ages after delighting the Wrigley Field faithful for a decade. 

"I know people won't recognize him..." the fan qualified while still asking Ricketts when Sosa might make his way back to the Cubs Convention.

Ricketts declined to talk about Sosa specifically, but mentioned the Steroid Era as a whole.

"Yeah, I've talked about this a lot over the years and it seems to come up every year," Ricketts said. "I really believe that all the players from that era, who went through that performance-enhancing, steroid era, I think we owe them a lot of understanding.

"I think we have to put ourselves in their shoes and be very, very sympathetic to all the decisions they had to make. And, as it turns out, after testing began in 2002, a large number of players tested positive.

"So I think we all need to be sensitive and understand their situation. But I also believe that players from that era owe us a little bit of honest, and I kind of feel like the only way to turn this page is to put everything on the table.

"And I think that's kind of a better answer. So that's kind of the way I feel. We'll see what happens in the future."

In a media session after his panel, Ricketts was asked again, specifically about Sosa.

"I'm not gonna talk about Sammy in particular," Ricketts said. "I'm just gonna talk about the whole era. I just think we need to put everything on the table and move forward."

OK, so if Sosa admits to PED use, he can come back to the Cubs "family"?

Ricketts wasn't the owner of the Cubs during Sosa's tenure on Chicago's North Side, but "Slammin' Sammy" brought countless millions to the organization, whether he took PEDs or not. (For the record, Sosa reportedly tested positive for PEDs in 2003, but he was never suspended.)

Sure, he's officially entered the Upside Down now, but the Cubs Convention is for the fans and there certainly seems to be no shortage of fans interested in seeing Sammy Sosa...even if people won't immediately recognize him.

Sosa's fellow late-'90s/early-2000s sluggers Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds haven't exactly come forward with any admission of PED guilt and neither guy has any trouble finding a job or role in today's Major League Baseball. 

Ricketts and the Cubs don't employ either McGwire or Bonds, but they did boast Manny Ramirez — a similar product of the era who was suspended for PEDs twice during his career — as a hitting instructor for three seasons through 2016.

Of course, the end of Sosa's Cubs tenure had more to it than just the suspicion of steroid use, with the slugger not leaving on the best terms with the team and his teammates before getting traded away to the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been your yearly Sammy Sosa Cubs Convention update.

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

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AP

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

Chris Gimenez, come on down.

The 35-year-old catcher isn't exactly a household name, but he's been signed by the Cubs to add backstop depth, according to Chris Cotillo and Ken Rosenthal:

The Cubs didn't have much depth in the catching department beyond Willson Contreras and inexperienced rookie Victor Caratini and while Gimenez doesn't light up the stat column, he's a link to Yu Darvish that could give the Cubs a unique advantage in that domain:

Darvish and Gimenez played together with the Texas Rangers in 2014-15 (though Darvish was hurt in 2015) and Gimenez has been shedding some light on what the free-agent pitcher may be thinking this winter. Is this Part II of a David Ross-Jon Lester personal catcher situation?

That may be reading a bit too much into things, as the Cubs were always going to sign a veteran catcher to provide depth beyond the unproven Caratini. They saw how important that was in 2017 when Alex Avila spent roughly a month as the starter when Contreras was hurt.

The link between Gimenez and Darvish is real, but the frontline starter has also made 48 starts over the last two seasons while throwing to a catcher not named Gimenez. And the free agent catching market is pretty thin beyond Avila and Jonathan Lucroy, both of whom should earn starter's money or close to it.

Gimenez has played 361 games in the big leagues over the last nine seasons as a journeyman, with stops in Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Texas, Cleveland (again), Texas (again), Cleveland (again) and then Minnesota last year. He played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey while in Tampa Bay.

Gimenez turned in a career season in 2017 with the Twins, notching new highs in games played (74), at-bats (186), runs (28), hits (41), homers (7), RBI (16) and walks (33).

He has a career .218 batting average with a .309 on-base percentage, .345 slugging and .654 OPS. 

But Gimenez isn't just a catcher. He's made nine appearances as a pitcher over the last few years, including six in 2017, where he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.

Gimenez will probably compete with Caratini for the backup catcher role in Chicago and can lend a veteran presence. He's also the best bet to take for first position player to pitch in a game in 2018.

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

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USA TODAY

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

The Milwaukee Brewers are making sure nobody forgets about them in the National League Central.

While the St. Louis Cardinals continue to make trades and the Cubs remain linked to the top starting pitchers on the market even after signing three pitchers, the Brewers have been rather quiet. All winter, the only noteworthy moves from Milwaukee came in the form of under-the-radar pitcher signings — starters Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo plus reliever Boone Logan.

Beyond that, the Brewers have added a bunch of other low-leverage players — catcher Christian Bethancourt and relievers J.J. Hoover, Ernesto Frieri, Michael Brady and Erik Davis. (Nobody would blame you if you haven't heard of any of those players before.)

But maybe the Brewers have just been saving their cash for one of the big guys, with Ken Rosenthal confirming a report Sunday night Milwaukee is not only one of the teams in on Yu Darvish, but they've even made a formal offer:

The Brewers securing Darvish or one of the other top pitchers — Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb — would be a huge development in their effort to keep pace with the Cubs and Cardinals in the division.

Milwaukee was a surprise contender in 2017 before they faded down the stretch. The main reason they hung around the top of the NL Central all year was a shockingly-effective pitching staff.

However, the Brewers have some serious pitching questions long-term that need to be addressed. Beyond Chase Anderson and Zach Davies in the rotation, there are no sure things. 

Jimmy Nelson underwent shoulder surgery last fall and it's currently unknown when he can be counted on again, though things are progressing ahead of schedule. Junior Guerra — the 33-year-old right-hander formerly of the White Sox — went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts in 2016 but followed that up with some serious struggles in 2017 (5.12 ERA, 1.48 WHIP).

Chacin, 30, was good in 2017 (13-10, 3.89 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), but struggled with health and inconsistent performance in the five seasons prior. Gallardo, 31, has a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the last two seasons. 

All that adds up to a staff that doesn't inspire much confidence behind a high-powered offense led by Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Eric Thames plus up-and-comers Lewis Brinson and Orlando Arcia.

Adding Arrieta or Darvish would certainly go quite far in improving the Brewers' biggest weakness and even Cobb could be a serious game-changer in Milwaukee.

As an interesting footnote to the whole Darvish rumor, the minute after Rosenthal confirmed the report, the Brewers official Twitter account took a shot at the Cubs:

Cubs Twitter — never one to back down from a good-natured social media spat — responded Monday morning with a sick comeback: