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Cubs manager Lou Piniella and pitching Larry Rothschild have been talking lately about the stress and strain Cubs relievers are under this month, what with the Cubs playing twenty days in a row, the "Dog Days" of August, and the pressures of a pennant race. Both Cousin Larry and Uncle Lou have mentioned that on September 1st, bullpen reinforcements can be added, because that's when the rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40 players. And that's true. They are correct. But actually, they really don't have to wait that long...
With Carlos Zambrano signing a multi-year contract extention today, here are some Cubs 2008 payroll and post-2007 off-season roster projections:
The Daily Herald is reporting that the Cubs have called a 10:15 AM (CDT) press conference where they are expected to announce a multi-year contract extension for RHP Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano, who is eligible to be a free-agent after this season, is presently signed to a one-year contract for a $12.4M base salary, plus another $2M+ in potential incentive bonuses related to All-Star selection (didn't get that), Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, a top three finish in the Cy Young Award vote, a top three finish in the MVP, and MVP in the LDS, LCS, and WS. AZ PHIL UPDATE #1: ESPN Radio 1000 is reporting the deal will be five years for $90M. That means an average salary of $18M per year over the length of the deal. Still unknown are any player options, club options, and/or vesting options that will be built into the contract.
The August 15th deadline has passed, and the first 68 players selected by MLB clubs in this past June's Rule 4 Draft (First-Year Player Draft) opted to sign, including all players selected in the 1st round and the Supplemental 1st round. A total of 98 of the first 100 players drafted ended up signing pro contracts. The Cubs signed 33 of the 50 players they drafted, including the first 18, and 23 of the first 24. #1 pick Josh Vitters was signed with just hours to spare. Notables who got away include 25th round pick Victor Sanchez (third-baseman on the Team USA Junior National Team) and 33rd round pick and University of Texas catcher Preston Clark (the #1 catcher for Team USA who was rated the #5 college catcher going into the draft by Baseball America). Here is the current status of players selected by the Cubs in the draft, as well as players signed as Non-Drafted Free-Agents (NDFA) after the draft, and 5th Year College Seniors and Draft+Follows (DNFs) signed prior to the draft:
Jeff Vorva at The Daily Southtown reports that sources are claiming the Cubs will call-up 24-year LHP Carmen Pignatiello from AAA before tonight's game at Wrigley Field versus CIN, and that RHP Sean Gallagher will be optioned to Iowa, where he can get regular work as a rotation starter. Pignatiello was named Illinois Baseball Player of the Year by Gatorade and the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2000, as he went 14-0 with a 0.79 ERA for Providence Catholic HS in New Lenox, before being selected by the Cubs in the 20th Round of the 2000 Rule 4 Draft. Tiggy led the Florida State League in strikeouts while pitching for the Daytona Cubs in 2003. The Cubs have been operating with one lefty in the pen (Scott Eyre) since Will Ohman was optioned to Iowa a week ago. As you can see by his stats at Iowa, Pignatiello is not just a LOOGY, but he is in fact more effective against left-handed hitters (.163 Opp BA and 0.80 WHIP) than he is versus right-handed hitters (.245 Opp BA and 1.28 WHIP). In his last eight appearances, Pignatiello has thrown 8.0 IP, allowing one run on six hits and one BB, while striking out eight. Tiggy is eligible to be a minor league FA on October 15th if he isn't added to the 40-man roster by that date, so doing it now merely keeps the Cubs from further postponing the inevitable. Pignatiello was eligible to be a six-year minor league FA after the 2006 season, too, but he opted to re-up with AAA Iowa after getting a Cubs slot in the Arizona Fall League and an NRI to Spring Training. To make room on the 40-man roster for Pignatiello, I would think the Cubs will likely transfer injured catcher Henry Blanco (neck) to the 60-day DL. Since Blanco has already spent 60+ days on the 15-day DL (and since time spent on the 15-day DL counts toward time spent on the 60), he can be reactivated at any time. UPDATE FROM ROB: Jake Fox is on his way up too, no word on the corresponding roster move.
Apparently the Baltimore Orioles had some problems with their waiver wire this week, because 1B Brian Dopirak has cleared Outright Waivers without being claimed, and has been assigned outright to Hi-A Daytona.
With the signing of 12th round pick RHP Ryan Acosta (son of the late Cubs pitching coach Oscar Acosta), the Cubs have now signed 30 of their 50 selections in June's Rule 4 Draft, including 12 of their first 13, 16 of their first 18, and 21 of their first 24. The Cubs were able to convince Acosta to forgo his scholarship at the University of Georgia, where he was one the Dawgs top 2007 baseball recruits. Although he was a "two-way player" (SS/RHP) in high school, the Cubs drafted Acosta as a pitcher.
Kerry Wood completed his minor league rehab last night, throwing 1.2 IP (24 pitches) for the AA Tennessee Smokies at West Tenn. Wood had not thrown more than one inning or 17 pitches in any previous rehab outing. box score
The non-waiver trading deadine has passed, and nary a peep from the Cubs.
Paul Sullivan is reporting in the Chicago Tribune that Matt Murton and Rocky Cherry are being recalled. It seems likely that they will be replacing Jake Fox and Billy Petrick, although it is also possible that Mark DeRosa could be placed on the DL. Murton is hitting 340/406/617 (1.023 OPS) with five HR and 20 RBI plus nine doubles and a 10/12 BB/K ratio in 106 PA this month at Iowa, including an eleven game hitting streak and 16 out of 17. Over his last seven appearances, Cherry has thrown 9.0 IP, allowing two runs (both earned) and six hits, walking one while striking out 10. Also, Kerry Wood and Henry Blanco continued their rehab assignments at Peoria last night. box score Woody went one inning (12 pitches), allowing one hit and no runs with two strikeouts, while Hank White went 1-2 with a walk. Cubs GM Jim Hendry will be attending tonight's game at Peoria, presumably to get a first-hand look at the two rehabbing players. It is expected that Wood will be continuing his rehab next week at Iowa, but Blanco could be very close to returning to the big club.

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