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.)

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Report: Cubs’ Lou Piniella to retire at the end of season

June 21, 2007 - Arlington, Texas.Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella watches the action in the game against the Rangers at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, Texas on June 21, 2007. .The Rangers defeated the Cubs 6-5 ..Photo  Jeff Etessam / Cal Sport Media Photo via Newscom

The New York Daily News is reporting that Cubs’ skipper Lou Piniella will retire at the end of the 2010 season.

The 67-year-old Piniella, who led the Cubs to NL Central division titles in 2007 and 2008, is in the last year of his contract and has endured a particularly stressful last two seasons in which so many of his high-paid players, including outfielder Alfonso Soriano, third baseman Aramis Ramirez and pitcher Carlos Zambrano have underperformed to their salaries. This year, the Cubs are mired in fourth place, 10 1/2 games back and Piniella, who is in the last year of his contract, wanted to end to the speculation about his future for the good of the organization.

Earlier this season, he had to suspend Zambrano after the volatile pitcher got into a dugout fight with teammate Derrek Lee in the middle of a game. Last year, Piniella had numerous similar confrontations with temperamental outfielder Milton Bradley, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners last winter.

While Piniella has been one of the most successful managers in baseball history, there’s no doubt that the Cubs need to go in another direction at the end of the year. Their struggles this season can hardly be pinned on Piniella and Piniella alone, but it’s clear that his style has run its course on the North side of Chicago.

Speculation continues to grow that former Cub Ryne Sandberg will take over as the club’s next manager. He has stated that managing the Cubs is his ideal job and after moving through the minor league ranks over the past four seasons, it appears that he’s suited for the position as well. We’ll see what management decides after the season.

Getting back to “Sweet Lou,” this wasn’t the way he wanted to go out (i.e. marred in fourth place in a weak NL Central) but the timing is right. The Cubs will be undergoing a lot of changes this offseason and Piniella isn’t the right fit for a (potentially) young club that needs a lot of massaging.

Piniella on his way out? Not according to GM Hendry.

For those Cubs fans that have been clamoring for Ryne Sandberg to replace Lou Piniella as the club’s skipper, you’re going to have to wait much longer, I’m afraid.

General manager Jim Hendry told the media on Monday that Piniella isn’t to blame for the team’s lackluster start (17-22 heading into Tuesday’s action, good for third place in the NL Central) and that the manager’s job is safe for the 2010 season.

“We’re certainly not here to play the blame game,” Hendry said Monday. “We’re not here to put all the blame on the players that haven’t done as well as we’d like either. It’s been a good, collective rough start, but there has not been one thought in my mind of Lou Piniella not managing the team this year.”

While many of the adjustments he has made with personnel certainly haven’t panned out this season, it’s hardly fair to blame all of the Cubs’ failures this season on Piniella. Two of his best hitters (Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez) have crapped the bed all season in RBI situations (and all situations for that matter) and he can’t find a reliable setup man to get to Carlos Marmol in the ninth. (He tried Carlos Zambrano there but much like his effort in 2010, Big Z was brutal in the role.) The bottom line is that the Cubs haven’t produced and a change in manager won’t magically remedy the situation.

The good news is that Lee has started showing signs that he’s ready to break out of his funk, Alfonso Soriano has actually thrived batting sixth in the lineup and young phenom Starlin Castro (who struggled defensively when he was first called up last week but appears to be settling down) is spanking the ball. If A-Ram (who hit a walk off homer to beat the Rockies Monday night) can shake out of his slump and start producing, then the Cubs can easily turn things around.

Things haven’t been pretty for the Cubs so far, but it’s early yet and the club’s issues aren’t un-fixable. Making a switch in managers would be premature and Hendry knows that. He just has to trust that Piniella can right the ship, just as Lou has to trust his players will snap out of it and start producing.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Cubs to shop Zambrano in offseason?

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs plan to shop starter Carlos Zambrano this winter.

Despite the fact that Zambrano has a full no-trade clause, the Cubs plan on shopping him this off-season, sources said, believing he’ll waive the clause to go to the right team, as Jake Peavy eventually did when the Padres consummated a deal this summer with the White Sox.

Zambrano said recently he’s weary of the media scrutiny after being criticized for playing softball on a scheduled day off during his rehab stint.

“Maybe if I go to a different city next year, if I get traded, I can do what I want,” Zambrano told the Tribune.

Zambrano later said he was kidding and has veto power over any trade.

Zambrano is only 28, but he’s already stated that he wants to retire after the 2013 season when his contract is up. So it makes sense that the Cubs are thinking about moving him while his value is still somewhat high.

That said, good luck trying to move him, Jim Hendry. Big Z still has over $50 million remaining on his contract and there probably won’t be many clubs that will want to take on his salary plus give up multiple prospects.

Sale of Cubs coming soon?

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, the sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family appears to be imminent.

Sources close to the matter described the execution of a definitive agreement as “imminent,” saying the expected a signing could come within days.

The completion of a definitive agreement would mean Tribune Co. would not be able to solicit any other bids for the team, sources said.

Tribune Co., unhappy with the pace of final negotiations with the Rickettses after selecting the family in January as the winning bidder of a protracted auction, opened discussions with another potential buyer several weeks ago. The prospective buyer wasn’t new to the process. It was a group led by New York investor and former Chicagoan Marc Utay, which was one of three finalists in the auction for the team.

The Rickettses have agreed to pay about $900 million for the team, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which broadcasts many Cubs games.

Maybe now that the Cubs will have owners who actually care about the success of the team, the North Siders will open up payroll this winter and spend to win.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the club will have Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley’s ridiculous salaries still on the books. Even so, it’ll be interesting to see if the Ricketts can have a positive influence on the Cubs over the next couple of years.

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