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MLB has released the 45-man provisional rosters of the national teams that will be playing in the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC).

Rosters will need to be cut-down to 28 (with at least 13 pitchers) by February 24th. 

There are presently a total of 17 Cubs major leaguers and minor leaguers on the provisional rosters of the WBC teams:  

In what may be a precursor to an eventual trade for San Diego Padres ace RHP Jake Peavy, the Cubs have traded OF Felix Pie to the Baltimore Orioles for LHP Garrett Olson and minor league RHP Hank Williamson. Olson was thought to be one of the pitchers Padres GM Kevin Towers wanted back in a Peavy deal.

The 25-year old Olson was a Supplemental 1st round pick (48th overall) of the Orioles in the 2005 Rule 4 Draft out of Cal Poly (he was selected with the compensation pick Baltimore got for failing to sign their 2004 #1 draft pick, RHP Wade Townsend), and was rushed to the big leagues by the Orioles after being named their Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, logging MLB time in both 2007 and 2008. A scouting report from his senior year in college showed him having three quality pitches, including a fastball that sits at 88-90 MPH but has touched 93, a 12-6 "hammer" curve (his "out" pitch), and a decent change-up. He has performed very well at AAA over the past two seasons (he was a AAA IL All-Star at Norfolk in 2007), although he has been hit hard to the tune of a 6.87 ERA and 1.82 WHIP with 21 HR allowed in 165+ IP in 33 starts so far at the big league level. Olson was a college teammate of Cubs prospects RHRP Rocky Roquet and 3B-turned-RHP Josh Lansford, and he supposedly wants to be an FBI agent if his baseball career doesn't pan out.

Some of you may wonder how a Spring Training roster is constructed.

The template generally looks like this:

No time like the holiday season to be grateful for what we have... and to keep in mind that there is always... Room for One More... 

Today is the day when contracts are tendered to players on MLB Reserve Lists who are unsigned for 2009.

UPDATE: The Cubs lost three players in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft this morning, one in the Major League Phase and two in the AAA Phase.

1. Donald Veal, LHP - selected off AAA Iowa roster by Pittsburgh Pirates with 4th overall pick in Major League Phase.

2. Yusuf Carter, OF - selected off AA Tennessee roster by Oakland A's in AAA Phase.

3. Mark Holliman, RHP - selected off AA Tennessee roster by Milwaukee Brewers in AAA Phase  

The Cubs did not select any players, but they did acquire RHP David Patton from the Cincinnati Reds in a cash transaction after the conclusion of the draft. Patton was selected from the Colorado Rockies by the Reds with the 8th pick in the 1st round of the Major League Phase, and so the Cubs will assume the Rule 5 obligations (Patton must remain on Cubs 25-man roster for the entire 2009 season--or at least 90 days on the active roster if he spends time on the DL--before he can be optioned to the minors).

The 24-year old Patton is 6'3 175, and was selected by Colorado in the 12th round of the 2004 draft out of Green River CC in Washington. He struggled as a starter his first two years in pro ball before turning his career around after a move to the bullpen in 2006. He throws a hard breaking ball and has an above average fastball, and so he could project as an MLB reliever. The only problem is, he spent the last two years pitching in the California League (Hi-A), and has yet to throw even one inning of AA ball, although he did get into nine games with the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the AFL post-2008 (an atrocious 9.24 ERA and 2.13 WHIP in 12.2 IP).  

All three of the Cubs players selected in today's Rule 5 Draft were 2005 Rule 4 Draft picks (Veal in the 2nd round out of Pima CC, Holliman in the 3rd round out of Ol' Miss, and Carter in the 12th round out of El Paso CC), and this was the first Rule 5 Draft for each player.

Veal is still only 24, and was rated one of the Cubs top pitching prospects for most of his time with the Cubs, before falling out of favor in 2008. Veal has a plus-curve and a 93 MPH fastball, but he has struggled with his mechanics throughout his pro career and tends to hit his pitch limit before he can get through five innings. To help him throw fewer pitches-per-inning, the Cubs had him junk his curve in favor of a more-pedestrian slider in 2008, and that could have led to his downfall. I suspect the Pirates will have Veal try and get back to where he was before the Cubs started messing with him. I have projected Veal as a future MLB reliever for some time now (I would compare him to Arthur Rhodes), and I believe that is his best chance to have success at the MLB level. He is very effective against left-handed hitters, and pitching more often but without a pitch limit (as will be the case if he works out of the bullpen) should help him find more consistency with his posture, release point, and arm slot.    

The 25-year old Holliman was a "Friday Night Starter" (ace) at Ole Miss in his college days, and he had some success as a rotation starter the first half  of 2006 and 2007 with the Cubs at Daytona and Tennessee. But then he would hit a wall at about 110 IP and was unable to finish strong. With it becoming increasingly obvious that Holliman lacked the stamina to throw the 180 innings per season needed to remain in the starting rotation, he was moved into a middle-relief role at AA in 2008, and that appears to be his future.

Drafted out of JC ball as a catcher, 23-year old Yusuf Carter was moved to RF his second year with the Cubs. He has a plus-arm and plus-power, but he is also a very raw hitter (226/275/409 hitter in 298 career minor league games) who strikes out a lot and rarely walks. He would have had to win a job as the 4th outfielder at Tennessee in 2009 if he had remained with the Cubs. He is the nephew of retired MLB star outfielder (and ex-Cub) Joe Carter.

When a Rule 5-eligible player is placed on a AA reserve list in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft (as was the case with Holliman and Carter), it usually means the player's club sees the player as having a 50/50 chance of getting released in Spring Training, and so the club is happy to get $12,000 for the player. And since they were selected in the AAA Phase of the Rule 5 Draft, Carter and Holliman will not be offered back to the Cubs. They are gone.

Veal's situation is a different matter, however, as he has to remain on the Pirates 25-man roster for the entire 2009 season (or a minimum of 90 days if he spends time on the DL) before he can be optioned to the minors. So it is possible that the Cubs could get Veal back, if the Pirates decide they can't afford to keep him in the big leagues for an entire season and if the other MLB clubs aren't interested in assuming the Rule 5 requirements. 

 -- AZ PHIL  

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Besides re-signing free-agent RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract, the Cubs have signed three minor league free-agents in recent days, including one player who (as things stand now) actually has a legitimate chance to make the Cubs 2009 Opening Day Roster.

The Cubs have re-signed FA RHP Chad Fox to a 2009 minor league contract, and Foxy also gets an NRI to Spring Training. Because he signed his minor league contract prior to December 11th, he will be eligible for selection in next week's Rule 5 Draft, and I'm sure he'll be in great demand.

While the 38-year old righthander will be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft, he will not be eligible to receive the automatic "no trade" rights through 6/15 that an Article XX free-agent normally would get, because a player has to sign a major league contract in order to qualify for the automatic NTC. 

Fox spent most of the 2008 season on the 60-day DL with some kind of necro-elbow problem (calling Dr. Cubster!), and in fact his presence on the DL gave the Cubs a post-season roster exemption they otherwise would not have had. So it wasn't like he was totally useless. Perhaps the Cubs plan to use him the same way in 2009, or maybe it's simply a matter of Fox having incriminating photos of Jim Hendry at the Tribune Company picnic.

But it's not like Fox spent the entire 2008 on the DL. He did manage to pitch in three games (3.1 IP) with the Cubs this past season, going 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA. And he spent some time on a rehab assignment at Fitch Park, too, where he threw in a couple of EXST intrasquad games.

Kerry Wood... eat your heart out!

 

MLB clubs have until Monday (December 1st) to decide whether to offer salary arbitration to their Type "A" and Type"B" free-agents. 

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