MESA, Ariz. – “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” talks the game the way he plays the game.
Shane Victorino walked into the Sloan Park media room on Friday and spoke with reporters for more than eight minutes, running through all the different thoughts in his head after the Cubs offered him a chance to keep rehabbing at the team’s complex and then go to Triple-A Iowa for a month on a minor-league deal.
At the age of 35, Victorino is still undecided, but he didn’t clean out his locker, either, planning to go through an extended spring training to see if he can come close to approximating the hard-charging outfielder who won four Gold Gloves and two World Series rings with the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox.
Victorino – who’s also been on the disabled list 11 times in his career – revealed an MRI on his left calf showed “a Grade 1 plus, low Grade 2 strain” that limited him to 10 Cactus League at-bats.
“Nobody’s told me: ‘Hey, you’re no longer that player from a performance standpoint,’” Victorino said. “It’s all about health.
“I never got that opportunity to go out there and show the skills that I worked so hard this offseason for. So, yes, there is still an itch. But there’s so many details that we got to work out.
“There’s no promise on that side, either. They could (have said): ‘Hey, Shane, you’re hurt again and we no longer need you.’ That’s why I appreciate (this opportunity).”
With Victorino out of the Opening Day discussion, Theo Epstein’s front office and Joe Maddon’s coaching staff will keep focusing on the edges of their roster:
• The Cubs assigned nine players to minor-league camp, including the first player drafted here by the Epstein administration (outfielder Albert Almora), the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2015 (Ryan Williams) and a link to the Dusty Baker/Lou Piniella days coming back after six seasons in Japan (outfielder Matt Murton).
The spring roster is at 36 with the latest round of cuts, including pitchers Brandon Gomes and Jean Machi, infielders Kris Negron and Jesus Guzman, and outfielders John Andreoli and Juan Perez.
• With Neil Ramirez out of minor-league options, the Cubs might be leaning toward adding an eighth reliever to their bullpen. The dream would be Ramirez stays healthy and recaptures what made him so dominant as a rookie in 2014 (1.44 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 43-plus innings).
Even if you can’t count on that, the Cubs have seen enough signs of life in four scoreless outings – against two clunkers that pushed his Cactus League ERA to 12.60 – to be intrigued.
“Neil has pitched really well,” Maddon said. “He might actually force us to do something. But we’re still discussing. It’s not done yet.”
• What if a pitch hits Anthony Rizzo in the wrong spot and the Cubs lose their All-Star first baseman for an extended period of time?
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That would be a nightmare scenario for a Cubs team that relies on Rizzo in the middle of their order and the middle of their clubhouse. But the Cubs could create an insurance policy while Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant blocks Jeimer Candelario at third base.
Candelario, a 22-year-old switch-hitter who will begin this season with Iowa, has put up a 1.117 OPS this spring, the kind of eye-opening performance that might also make him an attractive trade chip at the July 31 deadline.
“He doesn’t have to worry about any of that stuff, man,” Maddon said. “Things take care of themselves normally. He’s young. Just keep playing. Just keep getting better.
“He’s going to play some first base, also, in case there’s a need. Just keep hitting like that. We’ll figure it out after that.
“I think he’s (going to be) an impactful Major League Baseball player.”