Results tagged ‘ Jed Hoyer ’

Cubs introduce reliever Fujikawa

Fujikawa

The Chicago Cubs introduced Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa Friday morning after signing the righty to a two-year deal worth $9.5 million with vesting options for a third year.

“It’s always nice when a player really wants to be a Cub,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. “I think he made that very clear, and we’re very happy to have him. He had a wonderful career in Hanshin for the Tigers, and we hope he has a long and wonderful career here with the Cubs.”

Fujikawa, 32, joins the Cubs after pitching all or part of 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. The right-hander went 42-25 with 220 saves and a 1.77 ERA (136 ER/692.1 IP) covering 562 appearances—all but 14 as a relief pitcher. Fujikawa twice led the league in holds (46 in 2005 and 30 in 2006), twice led the league in saves (46 in 2007 and 41 in 2011), and posted a 1.32 ERA or lower in four of the last five seasons. He won the Central League Most Valuable Set-up Pitcher Award in 2005.

“I know that the team is very young,” said Fujikawa through a translator. “I am a veteran. I will try to led the young players, as well, and try to compete to win for the Cubs. I know what they’ve done last year, and hopefully we can do better next year. I’d like to be part of the building process for the Cubs future.”

Fujikawa made his professional debut in 2000 and saw his first run of success in 2005, when he posted a 1.36 ERA in a league-leading 80 appearances. Two seasons later, the Tigers moved him to the full-time closer role. Last year, Fujikawa went 2-2 with a 1.32 ERA and 24 saves in 47.2 innings.

He was a member of Team Japan in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics and also pitched in the 2008 Olympics, but according to Hoyer, Fujikawa will not pitch in the WBC this year.

The Japanese star features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and complements it with a forkball and a slow curve.

“He’s been known in Japan as a guy who can really pitch with his fastball, which is really important. He’s not a guy who tricks you. He actually comes right after guys,” Hoyer said. “Guys who rely too much on trickery can often be guys the league figures out quickly. And our hope certainly is that because he pitches with his fastball, he’ll be able to pitch to a game plan and be able to establish himself and have a nice run.”

Although Fujikawa ended his Japanese career as a closer, he said he’s happy to pitch in whatever role the team asks of him. Both Hoyer and baseball president Theo Epstein stressed that Carlos Marmol will likely start the season as closer after pitching well in the second half of 2012.

“Our goal is to have the best bullpen possible, and you don’t have a good bullpen by having one good pitcher throwing the ninth inning,” Hoyer said. “[Marmol] goes into the season as the closer. Our goal is to have a seven-man-deep bullpen of good arms, and Kyuji certainly adds to that.”

Hot Off the Presses: Vine Line’s Year in Review

The end of 2012 marks the culmination of many firsts. It was baseball president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer’s first year at the Cubs’ helm. It was Dale Sveum’s first full season as a major league manager. It was Anthony Rizzo’s first year in a Cubs uniform and Jeff Samardzija’s first real experience in the rotation. It was also the first time since 1966 the team lost 100 games in a single season.

In other words, I think everybody is looking forward to saying goodbye to 2012 and popping the proverbial cork on a new year of Cubs baseball.

Although a 61-101 record isn’t what anyone involved with the Cubs was hoping for, everybody knew there was work to be done at the outset of the season. As we look back at the year, there were certainly stretches of good play, breakout performances, walk-off wins and plenty to feel positive about. But no one—from fans to players to the front office—is happy with where the team is right now.

“I don’t think a celebration is in order,” said Epstein on his one-year anniversary with the Cubs. “I have a lot more gray hair now than I had a year ago. My wife reminds me of that all the time. But I do feel really energized by a lot of the things that are going on here.”

In the December issue of Vine Line, the Daily Herald’s Bruce Miles examines how the Cubs fared this year and what they did to strengthen their future prospects. It’s impossible to judge the 2012 calendar year by looking solely at the major league level. When Epstein, Hoyer and company came to Chicago, they talked of the need to restock the minor league system to provide a steady stream of homegrown talent to the big league club. And that’s exactly what the Cubs are doing. Respected hardball website Baseball Prospectus recently released a list of the top 10 prospects in the Cubs organization, and six of the 10 players were acquired or drafted in 2012.

It all started with the 2012 first-year player draft, where the Cubs picked up outfielder Albert Almora (No. 1 on Baseball Prospectus’ list) and right-handed pitchers Pierce Johnson (No. 7) and Duane Underwood (No. 8). But it also included free agent signings like outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 3) and making full use of the trade deadline to fill organizational holes with players like right-hander Arodys Vizcaino (No. 4) and third baseman Christian Villanueva (No. 9).

To say goodbye to 2012, Vine Line and Chicago Cubs photographer Stephen Green also look back at the best photos from the past season. Green, in his 30th year with the team, was there for every moment, from Bill Murray’s Opening Day hijinks to Bryan LaHair’s walk-off single to cap off the year.

We also have a preview of the Cubs Convention, a Q&A with outfielder Dave Sappelt and much more. For these stories, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up an issue at select Chicago-area retailers. We’ve also launched a Vine Line Twitter account at @cubsvineline to keep you posted on Cubs happenings up to the minute.

2013 Cubs Convention passes on sale now

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The MVP awards were handed out Thursday night, signifying the official end of the the 2012 baseball season. But just because Spring Training is still months away doesn’t mean Cubs fans can’t get their baseball fix.

From Jan. 18-20, Cubs faithful will have an opportunity to meet more than 50 current and former players, coaches and front office associates at the 28th annual Cubs Convention. For the first time in the event’s history, it will be held at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers at 301 E. North Water St., and it promises to deliver all the fun and excitement of previous years.

Some of the headliners expected to attend this year include Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams; current stars Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and Jeff Samardzija; and front office personnel like Dale Sveum, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

Individual weekend passes for the event went on sale earlier this month, and there are still some available. Each pass is $60 plus convenience fees. To purchase your pass, visit cubs.com or call 1-800-THE-CUBS.

Guests can also still book rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers by calling the hotel at 800-233-4100. Ask for the Cubs Convention rate of $179/night plus tax. Guests who book a two-night stay will receive a limited edition, authenticated, autographed photo of Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

The convention will run from 1-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m-midnight Saturday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit cubs.com.

2012 Player Profile: Starlin Castro

Castro has proved himself as the Cubs’ top player and will be in Chicago through the end of the decade. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Positions Played: SS (100%)
2012 Batting (AVG/OBP/SLG): .283/.323/.430 in 691 PA
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 3.3
2013 Contract Status: Signed (through 2019, plus club option)

When Theo Epstein joined the Cubs, he said the organization would focus on acquiring impact talent. He did, however, know he had one out of the box in shortstop Starlin Castro.

In August, the Cubs locked up Castro through the end of the decade, buying up three years of his free-agency eligibility (with the option to snag a fourth, in 2020). The idea behind an extension like this is simple: The player gains security from the risks of injury and underperformance, while the team in turn gets cost certainty and the chance to hold a true bargain contract.

Castro’s extension has an additional feature, however—a relatively flat salary structure. The reported annual salaries range from $5 million in the first year to $11 million in the last. The takeaway is that Castro’s contract shouldn’t ever become a burden to the team. It’s common for general managers to backload contracts so that they can maximize their payroll flexibility in the present while, presumably, planning for the future. Instead, Epstein and Jed Hoyer have sent a real signal here of their long-term thinking and intentions to build a consistent winner.

Since Castro’s hit tool already is so strong—somewhere around plus-plus, or a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale—his approach becomes the key to unlocking another level in his game. And there’s reason to believe there was real progress made in that area under manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson.

The 22-year-old’s walk rate by month tells a visible story of improvement. Entering 2012, Castro’s career standard was just over 5 percent, and he was trailing that below-average figure pretty well over the season’s first three months. But starting in July, he made tangible strides in his plate discipline that brought him closer to the NL non-pitcher average of 8 percent walks. His strikeout rate showed an opposite trend overall, peaking at 18 percent in June before dropping to 14, 16 and finally 9 in the last three months.

Let’s take a closer look with PITCHf/x location data, as presented by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus (player card), to see if we can identify a difference in Castro’s first- and second-half approaches.

In the first half of the season, Castro was susceptible to swinging at any pitches middle-in to inside, including those off the plate or above/below the zone. In the second half, he cut his chase percentage in these areas significantly, to the tune of about 13 percentage points. He correspondingly let loose on more pitches in the zone, and he did more damage on pitches low and in.

(Note: The outside edges here are to scale—so they include pitches within about seven inches of the strike zone, not further.)

Another part of Castro’s game that appeared to improve this season was his defense, where he showed above-average range and more consistent throwing. He got to balls at a higher rate than before, especially relative to the league. A lot of that credit goes to Sveum, bench coach Jamie Quirk and the front-office analysts whose intel better positioned Cubs fielders than in the past. But their indirect effect on Castro’s improved throwing was also apparent. In 2012, Castro made a throwing error on 1.7 percent of his chances (assists plus throwing errors). That was half the rate from 2011.

Now, Castro didn’t universally show improvement this year, as his .283 batting average was the lowest of his career—and it brought his on-base percentage down with it. But there appears to be meaningful under-the-hood development. It’s a positive trend that the Cubs organization is betting continues over the next several seasons.

2012 Player Profile: Matt Garza

Matt Garza altered his pitch selection this season, becoming more effective with his slider. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Innings Pitched: 103.2 (18 G-18 GS)
2012 Pitching (all per 9 IP): 4.17 RA, 7.8 H, 2.8 BB, 1.3 HR, 8.3 K
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 1.2
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Arbitration, Third Year)
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): Four-seam (94), Sinker (94), Change-up (86), Slider (85), Curve (76)

Few major league pitchers show Matt Garza’s fire. And it doesn’t matter if he’s fronting the Cubs rotation or being a top-step teammate. Unfortunately, he had to do a bit too much of the latter in 2012.

It could be said that it was an off year for Garza, but a large part of that was in comparison to his lofty first year in a Cubs uniform. He also missed almost the entire second half of the season due to a stress fracture in his elbow and finished with a 3.91 ERA, a few steps off the 3.32 mark he had in his Cubs debut. This will be an important offseason for the Cubs: Garza is under team control for one more year before he becomes eligible for free agency. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have publicly stated that they’d like to continue pursuing an extension with the soon-to-be 29-year-old, while also saying they’ll keep their options open until that happens.

Garza has perhaps been most notable for how he has reinvented himself as a pitcher since being acquired in a trade two winters ago. He’s induced significantly more ground balls, struck out more hitters and issued fewer free passes since coming over from the Rays.

We can deduce some of the reasons by taking a closer look with PITCHf/x data, as tagged by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus (player card). Our graphs to the right present pitch usage as variants of fastballs (blue) and offspeed pitches (green).

In 2011, his first year as a Cub, Garza threw 62 percent more sliders and twice as many change-ups than he did in 2010. While he more or less went away from the change this season, his slider remains his wipe-out pitch. Garza got swings and misses more than 20 percent of the time with his slider, part of a consistent improvement in the effectiveness of that pitch over his big league career.

Interestingly, this year, Garza also started throwing sinkers to right-handed batters at a much higher rate than he did in 2011. That’s the opposite sort of trend we discussed last week with Jeff Samardzija, who tends to lean on pitches that run away from lefties or righties. Instead, Garza went after righties by busting them inside, and he ended up with the highest ground ball percentage of his career (51%).

He primarily uses his other fastball, a four-seamer, to get ahead of hitters, and he had better control of it (less balls, more called strikes) than he has at any point of his career. Not coincidentally, when the ball wasn’t put into play on the first pitch, he has recorded an 0-1 count 59 percent of the time while in a Cubs uniform—compared to 52 percent with the Rays.

On the flip side, Garza didn’t help himself at all in the field, where he committed 10 errors (eight throwing) in the last two seasons. He also gave up an abnormally high—for him—rate of home runs per fly ball, at 16 percent. That’s a statistic known to fluctuate more randomly than a pitcher’s talent, so we’d expect his rate next year to “regress” back to his 10 percent career rate. A few more long fly balls caught at the wall would lead to a tangible decrease in ERA once again, particularly with Garza’s other components looking solid.

Will Garza be a long-term piece for the Cubs building effort or one used to acquire more organizational depth? One thing is for certain: As Hoyer said in Spring Training, the Cubs “need more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas.” It’s easy to see why.

1000 Words: Jorge Soler at Wrigley

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs brass got a glimpse of the future on Saturday, as Cuban import Jorge Soler paid his first visit to Wrigley Field. As it turns out, it was actually the power hitting outfielder’s first visit to any major league stadium. Soler signed a $30 million deal with the Cubs in June and finished the season at Single-A Peoria, where he hit .338 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 20 games.

Now Playing: Anthony Rizzo Safe at Home

Since his June 26 call-up to the big leagues, Anthony Rizzo has certainly lived up Cubs fans’ expectations. In just 57 games, his highlights include driving in the game-winning RBI in three of his first five games, hitting a dramatic walk-off home run against the Cardinals and capping an improbable rally last night with a key ninth inning double to tie the game 11-11 with Milwaukee.

Rizzo’s early success with the Cubs made us wonder about the goals he set for himself heading into the season. Vine Line looked back at our Spring Training conversation with the slugging first baseman in which he talked about coming to the Cubs, saying goodbye to the minor leagues and playing at Wrigley Field.

Cubs, Castro finalize deal

All season long the Cubs front office has stressed the importance of keeping the organization’s core of young talent intact. They made a big step in that direction Tuesday, finalizing an extension with shortstop Starlin Castro.

The Cubs and the 22-year-old agreed to a seven-year contract extension worth $60 million with a club option for the eighth year. The deal will keep the shortstop in pinstripes at least until he turns 30.

“The way it was looking, Starlin was going to be a free agent far too early,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “He’s one of the players we’re building around and we’re excited to have him as a Cub for a long time.”

Castro, a two-time All-Star, led the National League in hits last season and is one of the game’s most exciting players.

“It’s great, especially for my family. Now my family is going to be better,” Castro said. “It’s life-changing.”

The Cubs signed the Dominican-born shortstop in 2006. He played 125 games as a 20-year-old in 2010 and has led the NL in hits with 486 in that time.

“I feel really, really happy because it’s the organization that signed me when I was a little kid and I don’t want to go nowhere,” Castro said.

Deadline dealing

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s first non-waiver trade deadline as members of the Cubs passed at 3 p.m. CST Tuesday with a flurry of activity. The front office made three trades in the last 24 hours, and they waited until the last minute to complete a deal sending away the team’s biggest trade chip, Ryan Dempster. Here’s a recap of the Cubs’ moves and a summary of what they received in the deals.

Cubs send left-handed starter Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson to the Braves for right-handed pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman

What they got:

Arodys Vizcaino: Baseball America rated the right-hander the Braves’ No. 2 preseason prospect and the 40th best prospect in all of baseball. Vizcaino, who has a live arm with a fastball that touches the high 90s, was the centerpiece of the Braves 2009 deal that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees. He’ll miss all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but should be ready to go by early next season.

2011 stats: 5-5, 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 97 IP at three minor league levels;
1-1, 4.67 ERA, 17 K, 17.1 IP for Braves

Jaye Chapman: The 25-year-old has climbed his way through the minor league ranks since he was drafted in 2006. In two seasons at Triple-A Gwinnett, the reliever has struck out more than one-fourth of the batters he’s faced, and he’s only allowed three home runs in 2012.

2012 stats: 3-6, 3.52 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 53.2 IP at Triple-A Gwinnett

Cubs send catcher Geovany Soto to the Rangers for right-hander Jake Brigham

What they got:

Jake Brigham: A sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft, Brigham went 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A Frisco this season. Baseball America rated him the seventh-best righty reliever in the Texas farm system. Last season, he went 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 21 appearances.

2012 stats: 5-5, 4.28 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 124.0 IP at Double-A Frisco

Cubs send right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks and infielder Christian Villanueva

What they got:

Christian Villanueva: Baseball America rated Villanueva the Rangers’ eighth-best prospect prior to the season. The publication called him “an easy plus defender with soft hands and easy actions.” The 22-year-old stole 32 bases last season in Low-A and finished with a .278 batting average.

2012 stats: .285/.356/.421, 10 home runs, 59 RBI, 9 SB, 425 PA at Single-A Myrtle Beach

Kyle Hendricks: The 2011 eighth-round draft pick had a 5-8 record with 2.82 ERA in 20 starts for Single-A Myrtle Beach this season, earning him a spot on the Carolina League All-Star team. He spent last season at both Low-A Spokane and Double-A Frisco.

2012 stats: 5-8, 2.82 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 15 BB, 130.2 IP at Single-A Myrtle Beach

Red Sox Nation storms into Wrigley

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For just the second time ever during the regular season and first time since 2005, the Red Sox will take to the Wrigley Field grass this weekend. The all-time regular-season series is knotted at 3-all, but the Cubs took two of three at the Friendly Confines back in 2005.

The series marks a reunion of sorts for Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein. Epstein acted as the Red Sox’s general manager from 2002-11 before taking his position with the North Siders and is largely responsible for the current makeup of Boston’s lineup. GM Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod also spent time over the last decade in Sox upper management.

While both squads currently sit at the bottom of their respective divisions, there’s no shortage of excitement when these historic teams get together.

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