NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While last season's 101 losses certainly aren't a selling point, they won't necessarily keep free agents from deciding to join the Chicago Cubs, according to club president Theo Epstein. "We've been pleased with the expressed desire by players to come play in Chicago," Epstein said at the end of Day 1 of baseball's winter meetings. "Dale (Sveum) is making a name for himself as a manager players want to play for. Free agents recognize we had a good clubhouse. Generally free agents believe in the direction we're going. "Elite baseball players are real competitive. They like the thought of being part of the solution and being a member of the team that wins a World Series here. I've had a number of players tell me that directly."
But don't count on slugger Josh Hamilton or top free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke to be wearing a Cubs uniform anytime soon. The rebuilding plan is still in its infant stages. "We're trying to get the organization healthier and healthier with each passing day," Epstein said. "That's our job. We're all competitive and we can all be impatient at times, but we have an understanding what we're trying to get to. So we can't do anything that gets in the way." Which means the Cubs are likely to stick to smaller moves during these winter meetings. They need outfield help, a third baseman and both starting and relief pitching. "We've had a productive day (Monday) so far, but not necessarily closing in on any deal," Epstein said. "We look forward to trying to get something done while we're here." Epstein didn't close the door on non-tendered free agent Ian Stewart, indicating that there aren't many third baseman available. "It's a relatively thin third base market," he said. "We're going to have to be creative. Rely on internal options if we can. Luis Valbuena played a lot there last year. There are couple players in free agency and possible trade (options) as well to fill the position." An announced deal with Japanese right-handed reliever Kyuji Fujikawa is imminent, according to sources, and Epstein didn't reject that notion. He also wouldn't commit to it being the end of Carlos Marmol's career as a Cub, although a deal which fell apart earlier in the offseason almost had him going to the Los Angeles Angels. "Even if we add a set-up type reliever or someone with closer experience, Carlos is our closer," Epstein said. "He had a really good second half of the season. We're just trying to deepen the 'pen and turn it from a weakness to a strength, if possible." As for other additions, Epstein said the Cubs could look at other non-tendered players who became free agents Friday.
"There's a good chance that we do," he said. "There's a couple of interesting names."
The announcement comes after an agreement was reached at the winter meetings in Nashville earlier this month.
Schierholtz, 28, hit .257 with eight doubles, five triples and six home runs in 114 games between the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies last season. He's expected to compete for playing time in right field.
Terms of the deal were not released, but a source close to the situation said Schierholtz will be paid $2.25 million with a chance to make more in performance incentives.
The Chicago Cubs veered from their recent conservative path by signing free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, according to sources.
It's the first contract longer than two years they've given out this offseason. Is Jackson the next Cy Young award winner? Probably not. After all this will be his eighth team since 2003. But Jackson has always had decent stuff. Last year he went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA for the first-place Washington Nationals.
He has been plagued by inconsistency his whole career but he is still better than much of the options for the Cubs, and at least he represents a willingness by management to do something to improve the team now as well as potentially the future. Until now, it was mostly only about the future and that's represented in all the one- and two-year deals they've given out as well as the quantity of prospects they've acquired.
Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Ian Stewart and Nate Schierholtz, for example, are no guarantees to be with the Cubs after next season -- and that might be a good thing. If they prove themselves they can always get a new deal. If not, they open room for others who come along either through the system or elsewhere.
Jackson will be here, unless of course he's traded for more prospects. But he marks the first signing of a player outside the organization in the Theo Epstein era who has the chance to bridge the gap between the Cubs now and when they turn the corner -- if they turn the corner. It's been well-documented the Cubs were seeking Anibal Sanchez as that guy, but he signed with Detroit for a reported $80 million.
Jackson is decent enough. He's not a No.1 starter, but certainly a guy that makes the Cubs better. And while Cubs management hasn't spoken about the deal yet (or the pursuit of Sanchez) their strategy became apparent: take care of a huge need even if they're not ready to win now.
And that's the rub about the Cubs' offseason: After 101 losses it's not hard to improve. Instead of a starting staff that was top-heavy last season with Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, next year's group will have more depth. With Garza and recent addition Scott Baker starting the year coming off injuries, the Cubs will need it.
The competition after Garza, Jackson and holdover Jeff Samardzija could be decent. Baker and newcomers Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva will battle with Travis Wood for those final spots. And that's without any spring training surprises. Health might determine the starting five on Opening Day, but either way, at least the Cubs have more major league bodies than last season. That's a start.
And remember Garza is more likely to be traded next season so extra arms will help. The Cubs got caught short last season after trades and injuries which turned the second half into a death march. If the Cubs want to be somewhat respectable they've made some decent moves. If they want to be a contender, they have a long way to go. But we knew that already.
Heading into and out of the winter meetings earlier this month the Cubs seemed destined for baby steps, but general manager Jed Hoyer cautioned the meetings were only the beginning of the offseason, not the end.
On Thursday, he backed up those words with two more signings -- and one of them actually has a chance to have some meaning for the Cubs when they're good.
CHICAGO -- A person familiar with the situation says the Chicago Cubs are closing in on a minor league deal with left-hander Dontrelle Willis. The person, who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been finalized, says the deal does not include an invitation to major league camp for spring training. Willis, who will turn 31 on Jan. 12, did not appear in a major league game last season. He went 1-5 with a 5.00 ERA in 13 games with Cincinnati in 2011. Willis was the NL Rookie of the Year when he won 14 games for the Marlins in 2003. He went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA in 2005, but hasn't come close to replicating those numbers since that big season.
Although Jeff Samardzija is part of the Chicago Cubs' long-term plans, a long-term contract for the starting pitcher appears to be at least a year away. According to a source with knowledge of talks between the Cubs and Samardzija, the two sides had brief conversations about a long-term deal in early December but decided that, for now, they will work on a one-year deal for 2013.
Samardzija filed for salary arbitration on Tuesday, along with 132 other major league players.That list included fellow Cubs pitchers Matt Garza and James Russell. A long-term deal for Samardzija could have been in the same ballpark as the contract for Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who signed at four years, $27 million before the 2010 season. Since that time the price for top-line starting has jumped significantly. Samardzija's new teammate Edwin Jackson will make an average of $13 million a season for the next four years despite a 70-71 career record. Samardzija, a former Notre Dame All-American wide receiver, compiled a 9-13 record in 2012 with a solid 3.81 ERA. The Cubs starter made $2,640,000 in 2012.This will be his first year of salary arbitration. The Cubs have Samardzija's contract under control until after the 2015 season. He signed a four-year, $10.8 million contract with the Cubs after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 amateur draft. Calls to Samardzija's agent, Mark Rogers, were not immediately returned.
The Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks recently discussed the feasibility of a trade that would have sent right fielder Justin Upton to the Cubs, according to two major league sources. According to both sources, the Diamondbacks asked for two-time All-Star Starlin Castro in return for Upton. The Cubs, trying to build a solid base of young players in their somewhat depleted system, balked at trading a 22-year-old shortstop for a 25-year-old right fielder and cut off talks. Upton, who has been offered around baseball in trade conversations since the winter meetings in December, vetoed a trade to the Seattle Mariners 10 days ago. While the Diamondbacks appear to want to deal him, general manager Kevin Towers said last week that they expect quality in return. "We are not interested in giving away any of our young talented players," Towers said last Saturday at the Professional Scouts Foundation dinner in Los Angeles. "My job is to get the best players in order to win championships here in Arizona. That said, someone will have to give us equal value if we move one of our top players." Neither Towers nor the Cubs would comment when contacted by ESPNChicago.com. In his contract, Upton has the Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Mariners on his list of four teams to which he could veto a deal. Upton, a young five-tool player, has three years remaining on a contract worth $38 million. He is a career .278 hitter with 108 home runs since breaking into the big leagues in 2007 at age 19.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano says he would like to finish out the last two years of his contract with the team.
The 37-year-old power hitter is, of course, realistic about his role on a team that is building a young base of players for the future.
"I'm very happy what I have seen so far this year," Soriano said. "We have a better rotation and young guys with more experience. I think we have a chance to win more games and try to make the playoffs."
Soriano is coming off of a surprising season in which he set a personal high in RBIs with 104 (third in the National League) and became a team leader as well. Management praised the sometimes-maligned player last season as an important cog to the team and clubhouse.
That said, the Cubs tried to trade Soriano last July to the San Francisco Giants at the trading deadline. Soriano invoked his 10-and-5 veto rights to kill the deal, costing the Cubs a young player in return and some contract relief from the $44 million still owed him. It also cost Soriano a chance at getting a World Series ring as the Giants went on to defeat the Detroit Tigers for their second title in three seasons.
"I said no to the trade, because the weather in San Francisco is not good for my body," he said. "To me the weather is worse there than it is here (in Chicago)."
Soriano, who played the entire 2012 season with a sore left knee, is still on the trading block. The Cubs have had numerous conversations with teams in need of a veteran RBI man. A major league source recently told ESPN Chicago that the Philadelphia Phillies and Cubs had discussions centering on two young pitchers going to the Cubs for Soriano in November. That deal was killed when the Phillies used some of that talent to acquire Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins.
According to Soriano, Cubs management talked to him at the end of 2012 about what would be in the his and the teams' best interests going forward.
"We had a meeting the last day of the season," Soriano said. "After that I haven't talked to those guys, but we need to talk sooner or later. I am ready to play hard either here or with another team because this is my job and this is what I like to do."
The Chicago Cubs announced a new restoration plan for historic Wrigley Field at their fan convention Saturday. The proposed project would be completed over five offseasons, beginning in the fall of 2014 if the teamís ownership can get approval from the city of Chicago.
The project would have an estimated cost of $300 million and would create 2,100 jobs. The proposal states that the project would have an economic impact of $1.2 billion of new revenue for the city and the Cubs, according to the teams study and research. President of business operations Crane Kenney said that the team will not have to play their home games at another venue while the project is being completed. He also said that they are only in the concept stage at this time. The Cubs will need the city's agreement to sign off on the project and funding before work can begin.
New batting cages and clubhouse: This would be the first project undertaken by the team to improve conditions for the players. An underground batting cage would be configured with access to the new clubhouse and dugout.
Expanded concourses in the upper and lower bowls: The renovation would include removing the 98-year-old wooden roof and expanding the area to accommodate new restaurants and clubs for fans.
Telecommunications and upgrades: The plan is to rewire the ballpark and upgrade the entire plumbing system. New wiring will give the Cubs the technical support they need to use all the social media upgrades for fans.
Restoration of the exterior: The team hired a top architect to bring the brick exterior of the park back to its form from 1935. Also, six elevators will be installed in strategic areas of the structure. Two miles of handrails and a quarter mile of concession stands will also be a part of the new construction.
Renovated suites and luxury boxes: The team will expand and enhance the pre-existing 64 suites in the area between the lower boxes and the upper deck without adding any new suites.
LED board: Adding another board in left field similar to the one installed in right field is a consideration. This may also be a precursor to adding a modified digital scoreboard in the future. The scoreboard in center field will not be altered except to have the LED board directly under the scoreboard removed. That LED board was installed in 1983.
Upper deck concession and entertainment: A new area behind the upper deck will be created with extra space for entertainment and concessions after the new steel room is in place. Concession stands will increase by 100 percent. A new fan deck will be placed behind the left field bleachers with a proposed lounge and restaurant attached.