Cubs in talks with Scott Boras about Prince Fielder

Milwaukee Brewers designated hitter Prince Fielder sits in the dugout before a MLB spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Phoenix, March 5, 2011. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Whoever had Prince Fielder going to the Cubs in their MLB free agent office pool should have an extra spring in their step today.

No, the North Siders haven’t signed the big money free agent to a contract but according to ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine, the Cubs are indeed in talks with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras. Manager Dale Sveum and team president Theo Epstein told reporters on Friday that they haven’t had direct contact with the first baseman but the lines of communication definitely seem to be open.

Ken Rosenthal said on Friday that the Cubs were the favorites to sign Fielder, although the FOX writer was speculating more than reporting. Rosenthal feels as though the Cubs make “far more sense” than a club like the Mariners because Epstein is expected to eventually build a winner in Chicago, even if it takes a few years. Reports state that the Cubs prefer to sign Fielder to a shorter deal than the 10-year contract that Albert Pujols received from the Angels, which could make it difficult to sign the soon-to-be-former Brewer.

In related news, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is speculating that the Cardinals could make an attempt to sign Fielder, but only if it were to a short-term deal. St. Louis has also emerged as a potential landing spot for Carlos Beltran, who is finally starting to receive interest from multiple clubs. (The Rockies are reported to be in pursuit of Beltran as well.)

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Predicting where the big-name MLB free agents will land

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols comes to bat for the first time to a standing ovation during the last game of the regular season, against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on September 25, 2011. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Here are a couple of predictions sure to be wrong this winter. (It’s not that I lack confidence in my prediction abilities. I just have complete confidence that they won’t be right. But hey, let’s have some freaking fun anyway, huh?)

Albert Pujols: St. Louis Cardinals
Do the Cardinals really have any choice but to work out a deal with Pujols? He is their offense, period. Matt Holliday, David Freese and Lance Berkman are all nice players but their games are enhanced with the mere presence of Pujols, who remains the best hitter in baseball. St. Louis is coming off a miraculous World Series run and just lost icon Tony La Russa to retirement. Turning around and losing Pujols to the Cubs or Dodgers is simply unacceptable. I also believe that St. Louis is the only place Pujols wants to play. But he’s already said that he’s not going to take a hometown discount, which he shouldn’t. That said, considering the Cardinals have allowed him to essentially run the clubhouse over the last decade, he might find that the grass isn’t greener on the other side if he decides to leave. This is a marriage that should stick because it works for all parties involved.

Prince Fielder: Chicago Cubs
Seeing as how I don’t buy into the idea of Pujols leaving the Cardinals, the Cubs make the most sense for Fielder if they’re willing to spend. Signing Fielder could be the start of Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project in Chicago. While the Cubs have a couple of bad contracts on their books, Epstein could build his team around Fielder just like he did with Big Papi in Boston. Management would have to approve a $150-plus million contract for this deal to happen, but it’s clear the Cubs want to win. You don’t acquire Theo Epstein and then tell him to sit on his hands. Could you imagine how many home runs Fielder could hit at Wrigley? I think he just hit one deep while typing this…

Jose Reyes: New York Mets
There are plenty of suitors for Reyes, who is young and productive. The Marlins, Giants, Nationals, Phillies, Pirates, Reds, Twins, Rays and Cardinals could all get involved in the Reyes sweepstakes but in the end, I think he’ll return to the Big Apple. He’s a fan favorite and seemed willing to re-sign with the Mets during the season last year but the situation never played itself out. Trading Carlos Beltran during the deadline last year made sense, as does re-signing Reyes to a new long-term deal.

Carlos Beltran: Boston Red Sox
A return to San Francisco certainly makes sense for Beltran. The Giants obviously need hitting and GM Brian Sabean might want to save face after he inexcusably gave away his top pitching prospect for a three-month rental that didn’t even help San Fran make the playoffs. That said, the Giants still have Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito’s awful contracts on their books and once they get done paying Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, they’ll either be unable or unwilling to sign a big-name free agent. Boston, on the other hand, seems like a perfect place for a guy like Beltran to land. They’re always willing to spend and have a void in right field. Plus, they don’t shy away from risks and seeing as how Beltran is a 34-year-old injury concern, he qualifies as a risk. He’ll be their first free agent signing in the post-Epstein era.

C.J. Wilson: New York Yankees
I had the Rangers listed next to Wilson’s name but I have a feeling that the Yankees will do everything in their power to land the top pitcher on this year’s market. They need a top-of-the-rotation arm to complement CC Sabathia and while Wilson struggled mightily in the postseason this year, he still racked up 250 innings over 39 starts and was Texas’ best pitcher. The Yankees have deep pockets and after missing out on Cliff Lee last winter, they’ll pony up for another Ranger this time around.

Other Predictions:

Jimmy Rollins: Phillies
Aramis Ramirez: Orioles
Edwin Jackson: Nationals
Roy Oswalt: Rangers

Wrigley Field empty to start the season – are the fans boycotting?

T-shirt’s are sold outside of Wrigley Field before the Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day game in Chicago on April 1, 2011. The Pirates won 6-3. UPI/Brian Kersey

It was rather surprising to see a half-empty stadium when I turned on the Cubs-Diamondbacks game today (a 6-4 Arizona victory).

If these two teams were playing in Arizona and the D’Backs were 20 games out of first place, then this obviously wouldn’t have caught my eye. But Wrigley Field? That place has been jam-packed for decades, regardless of how miserable the Cubs have been. Going to a Cubs game might as well be like going to the movies for many Chicagoans – it’s viewed as pure entertainment.

As it turns out, the announced attendance for Monday’s Cubs-D’Backs game was 26,292, the lowest attendance the ballpark has experienced since 2002. Granted, the weather has been cool in Chicago and with other sporting events to watch (the NCAA finals, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the White Sox, etc.), it’s not a stretch to think that fans are waiting until May or June to show up to watch their “Cubbies.” (That nickname, by the way, makes me want to punch myself in the kidney.)

But Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times hopes that the empty seats are a sign that Cub fans have finally had enough.

Not showing up to the ballpark is the only power fans have. I’m not sure if they fully understand how much influence they have. When they come to the ballpark in droves year after year, they have no say in whether ticket prices increase or whether the player payroll declines. Their collective voice is heard only as a whisper when the conversation turns to publicly funded stadium renovations.

When fans don’t show up, owners get very, very nervous. Cubs fans rarely flex that muscle. But now? Is that a bulging biceps I see?

Imagine if this were a win-or-else ultimatum from the fan base. Think the Cubs might feel some urgency?

Eh, maybe. The only question I have is: Why now? Why after decades of losing would Cub fans pick this year to finally put their foot down? The Reds have started off strong, but the injuries in St. Louis and the slow start in Milwaukee gives Chicago fans a sliver of hope that their Cubs might be able to do something in the NL Central. I think most true fans are realistic about the Cubs’ chances but even the biggest doubters will still attend the games.

It’s early. Once the weather warms up, Wrigley will be jam-packed again. Besides, even if the fans were boycotting the organization, what is the front office going to do? Thanks to all the bad contracts that they’ve acquired over the years (Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, etc.), they couldn’t change the situation even if they wanted to. This team is stuck right now whether the fans like it or not.

Cubs release Carlos Silva after awful spring

Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Silva delivers a pitch to Houston Astros batter Angel Sanchez in the first inning of their MLB National League baseball game in Houston July 26, 2010. REUTERS/Richard Carson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The Cubs can finally awake from the nightmare that is Carlos Silva, who was released on Sunday after posting a 10.90 ERA while surrendering 32 hits over 17 1/3 innings this spring.

In December of 2009, Chicago traded one past mistake in Milton Bradley to acquire a future mistake in Silva, who told the club on Friday that there’s “no chance” he’d report to the minors if the Cubs couldn’t trade him. He also took a couple of shots at pitching coach Mark Riggins, saying he was “not straight” with him about the team’s plans and that Riggins “had to learn he’s in the big leagues now.” After the team dumped him on Sunday, maybe Riggins can return the favor by telling Silva that he better learn that he’s in the unemployment line now. (Zing! I know, not my best but it played.)

Granted, Silva (9-3, 3.45 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) was effective last year before a heart issue derailed his season. But unfortunately for the Cubs, they’re still on the hook for the $11.5 million owed to him this year so the term “value” doesn’t come to mind here, even when you factor in Silva’s numbers from last season. I guess this is the price you pay when you hand Milton freaking Bradley a three-year, $30 million contract and think you can unload him on the Marines by taking on their contract albatross. But in the end, everybody losses.

On a related note, Andrew Cashner was named the Cubs’ fifth starter after the release of Silva.

Did the Cubs overpay for Matt Garza?

Tampa Bay Rays Matt Garza watches from the dug out in the second inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in New York City on July 17, 2010.   UPI/John Angelillo Photo via Newscom

When a club trades five prospects (including their minor league pitcher of the year) in exchange for a starter, they usually get an ace in return. But not the Cubs.

On Friday, the Cubs traded top pitching prospect Chris Archer, outfielder Brandon Guyer, catcher Robinson Chirinos, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and outfielder Sam Fuld to the Rays in exchange for Matt Garza and two minor league prospects. Garza, who is coming off a career year, immediately fills the No. 2 void in Chicago’s rotation.

The key players for Tampa Bay were Archer and Lee. Archer went 15-3 during two different minor-league stints last season and won the Cubs’ 2010 minor league pitcher of the year award. Lee needs a couple of years in the minors to develop, but he’s regarded as a skilled defender with excellent speed and good range at shortstop.

Considering Garza won’t be viewed as an ace in Chicago, it stands to reason that the Cubs overpaid. But GM Jim Hendry had to do something to improve his rotation and at 27, Garza is already in the prime of his career. He’s also coming off a season in which he compiled a 15-10 record with a solid 3.91 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He averaged 6.6 strikeouts and 2.77 walks per nine innings and hitters batted just .248 against him last season.

He’s switching from the AL to the NL, so one would think that his numbers will only improve (or at the very least, stay the same). That’s huge for the Cubs, who desperately needed a top-of-the-rotation arm to go along with Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. The NL Central isn’t considered a powerhouse division but the Cubs will face Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto and newcomer Jayson Werth on a consistent basis so they needed to beef up their starting five.

Besides, what constitutes being an “ace” anyway? Cliff Lee wasn’t very ace-like in the World Series and Tim Lincecum had an atrocious August before rebounding to help the Giants win a championship Usually when you think of aces, they have overpowering stuff. Well consider that Rays’ pitching coach Jim Hickey once referred to Garza as having “the best stuff on the staff” and the fact that he can throw his curve, slider and change for strikes will only help the 27-year-old at the smallish Wrigley Field. He also no-hit the Tigers last year, so clearly Garza has what it takes to be the “ace” of the Cubs staff, even if he doesn’t take the mound on Opening Day.

The bottom line, perhaps, is that the Cubs acquired a proven player for several unproven commodities. There’s always a risk in a deal like this that a club will get burned when a prospect they traded away turns into a star. But as of January 7, 2011, this looks like a deal that works for both sides.

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