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ESPN ranks Cubs outfield among baseball’s elite

SchwarberHR(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

With a bevy of young superstars and a strong group of valuable backups to spell the starters or play the matchups, the Cubs outfield looks like one of the game’s best on paper. Buster Olney and ESPN agree, as they placed the Cubs second overall in their outfield team unit rankings, revealed Thursday. Here’s some of what they had to say:

The Cubs felt sure enough about Jason Heyward — particularly his defense — to agree to spend $184 million to sign him, and they’re confident left fielder Kyle Schwarber will continue to be a high-impact hitter, with his short swing, power and intense approach.

They’re not quite sure what to make of Jorge Soler, which is why they’ve been reluctant to move him to date for less than what could turn out to be equal value. After playing well in a small sample in 2014, Soler struggled in 2015, especially in chilly conditions and on defense. Chris Coghlan provides depth in the outfield, and starting second baseman Ben Zobrist could always move out there as well.

As of right now, it appears Schwarber, Heyward and Soler will go left to right across the outfield, as well as make some noise in the top half of the batting order. Schwarber debuted as a rookie in 2015 and proved to be a big bat, hitting 16 homers in 232 at-bats. Newcomer Heyward is one of the game’s best defensive outfielders, and though he has made his living in right field for the majority of his six-year MLB career, his athleticism could make for a seamless transition to center. Soler is a bit more of a wild card, but the 23-year-old has never given anyone a reason to think his raw power won’t translate into game action.

Of course, the knock on the group is defense, especially in the corners. But the hard working Schwarber informed the media Wednesday that he has spent a lot of time working on his outfield defense this offseason. And Soler demonstrated that runners should think twice before trying to take an extra base on his arm in right.

Cubs infield ranked best in baseball, according to ESPN

Rizzo_Bryant(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Anthony Rizzo was top five in NL MVP voting in 2015, and Kris Bryant claimed Rookie of the Year honors. Addison Russell established himself as top-tier defensive player with a promising bat, while newcomer and two-time All-Star Ben Zobrist brings World Series experience and a veteran presence. When you put all of them together in one infield, it’s easy to see why the Cubs are getting so much attention.

Buster Olney and members of the ESPN staff released their top 10 MLB infields on Wednesday, and it should come as no surprise the Cubs were ranked No. 1. With a combination of youth, athleticism, leadership and an overall high level of must-see playmaking abilities, it’s hard to argue that lofty ranking. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo finished 10th in the National League MVP voting in 2014, and fourth last year. Third baseman Kris Bryant was the NL Rookie of the Year, after reaching base 230 times in his first 151 big league games. Addison Russell and the Cubs thrived after he took over at shortstop and established a more consistent defensive presence at the most important infield position.

And during the winter, the Cubs added the cherry on top of what appears to be the best and most well-rounded infield in the majors, signing Ben Zobrist to play second base.

Rizzo and Bryant ranked in the top 11 in WAR, home runs, RBI and on-base percentage in the National League last year. Between both middle-infield positions, Russell’s 19 defensive runs saved was sixth in the NL. Zobrist is fresh off a World Series win with with the Royals and had another solid 2015 at the plate, posting a .359 on-base percentage to go along with a top 20 walk rate and a top 10 strikeout rate among all MLB hitters who qualified.

Cubs bullpen among MLB’s top five, according to ESPN

Rondon_Clincher(Photo by Stephen Green)

ESPN continued its team unit rankings Tuesday, moving on to major league bullpens. And if the site’s estimations are any indication of how the 2016 season will play out, the Cubs and their fans should be quite pleased. The North Side organization came in at No. 5 on the list, tops among National League teams.

The bulk of the ninth inning work for the Cubs last season was done by Hector Rondon, who had 30 saves, but seven different relievers registered saves. The Cubs should again have bullpen depth, with holdovers Pedro Strop (81 strikeouts in 68 innings), Trevor Cahill, Justin Grimm, Travis Wood and Neil Ramirez and newcomers Adam Warren and Rex Brothers. Teams like the Yankees might have more dynamic options at the back end, but the Cubs might have more depth than any other team in baseball.

Much like the 2015 starters—as noted in yesterday’s post—advanced metrics rank the Cubs relievers quite favorably compared to their NL counterparts. The Cubs bullpen finished the year with a 5.0 WAR, according to, tops in the league and fourth in all of baseball. Manager Joe Maddon didn’t plug players into specific roles, but more often favored matchups, even in the latter stages of games. The ‘pen’s 3.38 ERA and 1.23 WHIP were both good for fourth best in the NL. The sheer quantity of arms at Maddon’s disposal entering the season will benefit the club as they will have a deep pool of talent to choose from.

Cubs Maddon preps for his Thanksmas dinner

Maddon_Thanksmas(Photo courtesy Chicago Cubs)

For Joe Maddon, the holiday season isn’t over quite yet. On Monday, the Cubs manager and his wife, Jaye, spent the afternoon shopping at a Jewel-Osco for food and ingredients he’ll use at his Thanksmas dinner at the Chicago Help Initiative Wednesday Dinner Program. The evening will kick off the annual Cubs Caravan Tour, which will take place throughout the community.

Maddon will prepare and serve a traditional home-cooked Italian dinner to 200 homeless community members. Cubs players and coaches will serve alongside the skipper to help raise awareness about Chicago’s homeless population.

Jewel-Osco graciously contributed $5,000 to Cubs Charities to help make this effort possible.

Cubs Pat Hughes named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year

Hughes_Pat(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes has been named the 2015 Illinois Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

“I’d like to dedicate this award to the Cubs dramatic 2015 season, and to my tremendous broadcasting partner Ron Coomer,” Hughes said.

This is Hughes’ 10th Sportscaster of the Year honor and his seventh in Illinois, having previously won the award in 1996, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2014. Hughes was honored as Wisconsin’s Sportscaster of the Year for three consecutive years beginning in 1990.

Hughes is entering his 21st season as the radio voice of the Cubs and his third year with Coomer. This year marks Hughes’ 34th consecutive season as a big league announcer.

ESPN estimates the Cubs have the fourth best rotation in baseball

ArrietaCy(Photo by Stephen Green)

Yes, we’re still three months out from the Cubs’ home opener, and there are a few pieces that could be added by clubs through free agency or with a preseason deal. At the same time, organizations’ 2016 rosters are looking more and more complete by the day, which allows for some speculation to take place.

On Monday, Buster Olney and ESPN kicked off their annual team unit rankings, beginning with the top 10 rotations in baseball. The Cubs came in fourth on the list, with an estimated—if not unsurprising—rotation of 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel.

Arrieta was baseball’s best pitcher for the last three months of the 2015 regular season, before he seemed to finally tire in the postseason. While Lester did not conquer his throwing issues to bases, he and catcher David Ross seemed to figure out a way to mitigate the effect of that problem. And before you assign regression to the 37-year-old Lackey, keep in mind that he has had freakish consistency with his average fastball velocity.

Anyone surprised with how high the Cubs were ranked might want to think again. According to, Cubs starters led baseball with a 19.2 fWAR, and had a 1.11 WHIP and a .230 opponent batting average—also tops in the game. Their 3.36 ERA was good for third in the bigs. Adding to their case, the Cubs signed Lackey and his 3.6 WAR from 2015 this offseason and did not lose any major personnel from last year’s rotation. They also retained swingmen Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard and Travis Wood. With a strong front three and added depth at the back end to account for injuries or underperformance, the Cubs could easily replicate their 2015 on the bump.

Hot Off the Presses: The January issue highlights how the Cubs fared in MLB’s awards season


First things first: I am not a huge fan of the offseason. Though I love tracking player movement and watching teams rebuild on the fly—A.J. Preller and Jerry DiPoto have single-handedly kept each of the last two hot stove seasons simmering—give me June temperatures and the crack of the bat any day of the week.

But I will say the baseball offseason is by far the best offseason in sports. I don’t play fantasy baseball or football, but I imagine my winter obsession with personnel swaps, team payrolls and front-office maneuverings must rival a full-blown DraftKings addiction. I spend most of the down months glued to Twitter scanning for action and talking to people in the know to get a sense of which way the winds are blowing throughout the league.

That’s why I always look forward to the winter issues of Vine Line. Sure, I miss baseball and interacting with the players—honestly, I start jonesing for Spring Training by about mid-November—but by the first months of each new year, most teams have made a big move or two, and fans have a sense of which direction their favorite organization is heading.

Is the team a contender/acquirer or an also-ran/seller? Rebuilding or reloading? Spendthrift or miserly?

My first winter with the magazine in early 2012 was a little bit of an outlier. At that time, the organization was still transitioning, dumping unwieldy contracts and working on developing the farm system. But by the beginning of 2013, things were coming into focus.

In January 2013, we featured President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein on the cover, and wrote about the Scott Feldman and Scott Baker signings. Though it was impossible to know it at the time, that was a big moment. Feldman would turn out to be one of the most astute and significant acquisitions of Epstein’s tenure, as the veteran right-hander was eventually (and amazingly) traded in a deal for newly minted Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

“There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next,” Epstein said in that 2013 issue. “One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time. … At some point in the future, if we have a bunch of those players who are entering their prime and improving together and we supplement that with some impact signings from outside the organization, we could really see a lot of improvement in a hurry.”

Our January 2014 cover showcased Rick Renteria, who helped forge the foundations of a winning culture at Wrigley Field before being replaced by Joe Maddon, and February 2014 featured new draftee Kris Bryant. Maddon was our December 2014 cover model, and he was followed in January by major free-agent signee Jon Lester.

If you track these moves—and these issues—year by year, you can see the formidable current Cubs core being constructed and Epstein’s words from 2013 proving prophetic. Last season, the Cubs delivered a young wave of talent to Wrigley Field in the form of Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. And that talented quartet complemented the young veteran group of Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo and others that was already in place. Add Maddon and Lester from outside the organization, and it all equaled 97 regular-season wins—an impressive 24-win improvement over the previous year’s 73-89 mark.

This offseason, the evolution of the Cubs has continued with the acquisitions of free agents Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist, the re-signing of last year’s bullpen stalwart Trevor Cahill, and the trade of Starlin Castro for Adam Warren. In the January issue, we discuss these moves and what they mean for the Cubs’ immediate future. We also celebrate the organization’s near-clean sweep of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards, talk to players about coping with the constant demand for autographs and look back at the Cubs’ move to Wrigley Field a century ago.

Of course, the offseason activity is far from over. Keep track of all the hot stove action on Twitter at @cubsvineline. And subscribe to Vine Line at

Also, visit us next weekend at the Cubs Convention, where you can subscribe at a great rate, win autographed memorabilia and more.

31st Cubs Convention to feature more than 75 organizational personnel

Rizzo_Convention(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs will host the 31st annual Cubs Convention next week, from Jan. 15-17, at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, featuring manager Joe Maddon, his coaching staff, players from the current Cubs roster, alumni and prospects. The 2016 Cubs Convention will include autograph opportunities, new panel sessions, enhanced activities and traditional fan favorites during the three-day weekend.

Cubs Convention’s Opening Ceremony begins Friday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m., kicking off the weekend with player introductions on an elevated runway that will provide special VIP access to children 16-and-under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests will find some of their favorite Cubs and young prospects signing autographs for an exciting Surprise Signing Game. The event’s first day concludes with a special Friday Night with Ryan Dempster show, featuring interviews with Cubs players, coaches and alumni, comedy vignettes and interactive games.

Saturday’s program continues with fan favorites such as the return of Cubs Feud and Cubs Jeopardy, which features unique trivia with Cubs alumni. Popular reoccurring Saturday sessions will be back, including Baseball Management, Cubs Business Operations Update, Joe Maddon & His Coaching Staff, Kids Only Press Conference presented by Advocate Children’s Hospital, Life Off the Field, Meet the New Cubs and Ricketts Family. The evening will conclude with long-time Convention favorite Cubs Bingo presented by Budweiser and led by Wayne Messmer.

Sunday’s program concludes with additional autograph sessions and panels including Down on the Farm and Once a Cub, Always a Cub.

In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes several new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:

  • Fans can check out the Cubs in Cooperstown panel for a chance to listen to Cubs Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams chat about their lives in baseball and what it means to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber will share their first-season experiences in the big leagues with fans during the Rock Star Rookies panel.
  • Cy Young winners Jake Arrieta, Fergie Jenkins and Rick Sutcliffe will answer fan questions and relive their award-winning seasons as part of the Cy Young Winners.
  • Clark’s Clubhouse will host fun games, face painting, caricatures, balloon artists, a coloring station, inflatable T-ball and inflatable speed pitch.
  • Cubs Charities, located again this year on the main lobby floor, will feature a variety of items and opportunities for sale, including private player meet-and-greets, baseballs, ball cubes, autographed mystery baseballs, grab bags and a garage sale. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation will host a raffle as well.
  • Guests can visit a dedicated social media area, featuring giveaways, charging stations, an interactive photo print station and special player visits throughout the weekend.

The list of confirmed players, coaches, alumni, team executives and broadcasters includes:

Current Players:
Andury Acevedo, RHP
Arismendy Alcantara, INF/OF
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Javier Baez, INF
Dallas Beeler, RHP
Rex Brothers, LHP
Kris Bryant, INF
Trevor Cahill, RHP
Jeimer Candelario, INF
Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
Justin Grimm, RHP
Jason Hammel, RHP
Kyle Hendricks, RHP
Jason Heyward, OF
Pierce Johnson, RHP
Eric Jokisch, LHP
John Lackey, RHP
Jon Lester, LHP
Miguel Montero, C
Edgar Olmos, LHP
Neil Ramirez, RHP
Clayton Richard, LHP
Anthony Rizzo, INF
Hector Rondon, RHP
David Ross, C
Zac Rosscup, LHP
Addison Russell, INF
Kyle Schwarber, C
Jorge Soler, OF
Pedro Strop, RHP
Matt Szczur, OF
Dan Vogelbach, INF
Adam Warren, RHP
Travis Wood, LHP
Ben Zobrist, INF

Cubs Alumni:
John Baker, C
Jose Cardenal, OF
Ryan Dempster, RHP
Bobby Dernier, OF
Scott Eyre, LHP
Randy Hundley, C
Fergie Jenkins, RHP
Jon Lieber, RHP
Ted Lilly, LHP
Bill Madlock, INF
Dave Otto, LHP, Broadcaster
Ryne Sandberg, INF
Scott Sanderson, RHP
Lee Smith, RHP
Tim Stoddard, RHP
Rick Sutcliffe, RHP
Steve Trout, LHP
Billy Williams, OF
Kerry Wood, RHP

Coaching Staff:
Joe Maddon, Manager
Mike Borzello, Catching Coach
Chris Bosio, Pitching Coach
Tim Buss, Strength & Conditioning Coach
Eric Hinske, Asst. Hitting Coach
Brandon Hyde, First Base Coach
Gary Jones, Third Base Coach
John Mallee, Hitting Coach
Dave Martinez, Bench Coach
Chad Noble, Bullpen Catcher
Lester Strode, Bullpen Coach

Team Executives:
Tom Ricketts, Chairman
Laura Ricketts, Board Member
Todd Ricketts, Board Member
Theo Epstein, President, Baseball Operations
Crane Kenney, President, Business Operations

Baseball Staff/Broadcasters:
Jed Hoyer, EVP/GM
Jason McLeod, SVP, Scouting & Player Development
Randy Bush, Assistant GM
Shiraz Rehman, Assistant GM
Jaron Madison, Director, Player Development
Ron Coomer, Radio Broadcaster
Jim Deshaies, TV Broadcaster
Pat Hughes, Radio Broadcaster
Len Kasper, TV Broadcaster

A percentage of the proceeds from Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised more than $4 million for Cubs Charities.

Cubs announce MasterCard Presale, general on-sale dates for 2016 Spring Training tickets


The general sale for single-game tickets to Cubs Spring Training games at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, begins this Saturday, Jan. 9, at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST. This year, fans can secure tickets to their must-have dates one day earlier through the online MasterCard Presale, beginning Friday, Jan. 8, at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST through 10:59 p.m. MST/11:59 p.m. CST. Fans using a MasterCard can purchase single-game Spring Training tickets in advance of the general on-sale date at a 15 percent premium in excess of face value, while fans using other forms of payment may purchase tickets at a 20 percent premium.

The Cubs open their 2016 Spring Training home schedule by hosting the Los Angeles Angels Friday, March 4, at 1:05 p.m. MST. The team has added a split-squad home game vs. the Kansas City Royals at Sloan Park Monday, March 7, at 1:05 p.m. MST, increasing the home schedule to 15 games. The complete 2016 Spring Training schedule is available at

Tickets may be purchased online at, over the phone at 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827) or in person at the Sloan Park ticket office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST. There is a limit of 10 tickets per game for a maximum of five games per order.

“After another season with record-setting attendance, we’re very excited to begin our third season of Spring Training games at Sloan Park,” said Justin Piper, general manager of Spring Training business operations. “We expect an enthusiastic response to the team’s exciting offseason and encourage fans to purchase their tickets early once again.”

Details for purchasing single game tickets follow:

Purchasing Tickets In-person
Tickets may be purchased at Sloan Park, located at 2330 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Mesa, Arizona. The ticket office opens Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. MST. Standard hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST, Monday through Saturday, as well as during Sunday home games.

Purchasing Tickets by Phone and Online
Tickets may be purchased through the general sale over the phone by dialing 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827) or online by visiting beginning Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST.

Fans looking to participate in the online MasterCard Presale can purchase one day earlier, beginning Friday, Jan. 8, at 10 a.m. MST/11 a.m. CST through 10:59 p.m. MST/11:59 p.m. CST.

Fans may direct ticket and additional Spring Training questions to For continuously updated information and to take a virtual tour of Sloan Park, please visit

Cubs claim LHP Olmos off waivers from Baltimore

Olmos (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The Chicago Cubs today claimed left-handed pitcher Edgar Olmos off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles and released infielder Brendan Ryan from the roster. Additionally, right-handed pitcher Yoervis Medina has been claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The club’s 40-man roster remains at 40 players.

Olmos, 25, was claimed off waivers by Chicago from Seattle on Dec. 4 before he was claimed off waivers by Baltimore on Dec. 10.

Olmos went 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA (7 ER/14.0 IP) in six appearances with the Mariners last season, including two starts. He spent the majority of the season with Triple-A Tacoma where he went 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA (13 ER/33.0 IP) in 20 games (two starts). The southpaw has a career 1-1 record with a 5.21 ERA (11 ER/19.0 IP) in 11 major league contests, as he made five appearances with the Marlins in 2013, his only other major league stint.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Olmos was originally selected by the Marlins in the third round of the 2008 draft out of Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, California. He is 16-38 with a 4.44 ERA in 199 career minor league games (73 starts) over eight professional seasons.

Ryan, 33, was acquired from the Yankees on Dec. 17 to complete the trade in which the Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Adam Warren and a player to be named for infielder Starlin Castro.

Medina, 27, was designated for assignment on Dec. 17. He went 1-0 with a 4.71 ERA (11 ER/21.0 IP) in 17 relief appearances between Seattle and the Cubs last season.


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