After 14 seasons, the Cubs have apparently decided to leave Boise, and so they will now be looking for a new advanced Short Season (SS-A) affiliate in the Northwest League (NWL) to replace the Hawks. Salem-Keizer and Eugene would be their two most-likely destinations (presuming the Cubs opt to remain in the NWL), since both have an expiring Player Development Contract (PDC) with their current MLB partner. (The Cubs had a PDC with Eugene prior to moving to Boise). 

The Cubs have already renewed their PDC with the AA Tennessee Smokies through the 2018 season, and their PDC with AAA Iowa extends through 2016. But there are three Cubs PDCs set to expire after the 2014 season: 

The Cubs selected the contracts of LHP Eric Jokisch and C Rafael Lopez from AAA Iowa and added both to their MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) last week. Both players would have been eligible for selection in the December 2014 Rule 5 Draft if they had not been added to an MLB 40-man roster by the November 20th roster-filing deadline, so the Cubs decded to give the two a "cup of coffee" in September, since they apparently had already decided to add both players to their 40-man roster.   

Besides Jokisch and Lopez, #1 pitching prospect C. J. Edwards is the only other Cub minor leaguer eligible for selection in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft who is likely to get added to the MLB 40-man roster by the 11/20 deadline (in fact Edwards is a "lock" to get added), but that doesn't mean the Cubs don't have some decisions to make regarding a number of other players in their minor league system.

Cubs finish up their north of the border series versus the Blue Jays and attempt to end a 5-game slide. With Kyle Hendricks on the mound, it seems possible. Although not in the lineup, Anthony Rizzo was spotted taking BP and might be ready to return sometime this weekend.

In non-depressing news of the day, it's is the opening of the Midwest League Finals. Kane County takes on Lake County (Indians affiliate).  Jen-Ho Tseng gets the start and the lineup for the Cougars will be: Dunston Jr. LF, Zagunis DH, Candelario 3B, Balaguert RF, Rogers 1B, Brockmeyer C, Penalver SS, Martin SS. I presume Clint Frazier is Lake County's biggest prospect name if you're looking for such things.

Per Carrie Muskat:

He limped off the field, and tried to convince manager Rick Renteria to let him keep playing. Instead, Castro had an MRI and X-rays, which showed no fracture or ligament damage.

Something is getting lost in the translation from what the Cubs doctors told the baseball staff. Although I don't have a direct quote from the Cubs medical staff, what gets lost in translation is simple to repair.

An ankle sprain is ligament damage. That's what ankle sprains are. Starlin Castro has a grade 2 high ankle sprain. I'll translate that in what follows.

Presenting the TCR, "ABC's" to ankle sprains, after the jump...

First, Bryant takes home the minor league HR crown over his buddy Joey Gallo...for that he got a trophy and $200 per home run. Then USA Today named him the minor league player of the year, thanks in part to that HR crown and an eye-poppin 325/438/661 slash line with 78 total extra-base hits in less than 600 PA's between AA and AAA. And then Baseball America placed him on their 2014 Minor League All-Star team. It's been a helluva nice run for fans with Alcantara, Hendricks, Baez and Soler coming up, but the two best are very likely still awaiting their phone call and bus ticket.

So while 2015 looks like a year of hope instead of despair, the end of 2014 has been a pleasant surprise. The Cubs have played .500 ball over their last 100 games and there's little reason to believe they won't be able to at least match that next season and hopefully surpass it. I have to believe they're firmly entrenched in the spoiler role for the remaining games and as the "team no one wants to play." It would be even more fun if Anthony Rizzo wasn't out for a good time (possibly the rest of the season) or however long Castro will be out, but seeing what the kids can do without the pressure of September is going to make this last month of games fun to follow.

- In minor league news, Daytona trashed Dunedin last night 11-1, Vogelbach and Schwarber hit home runs and the team combined for 7 extra-base hits. Rob Zastryzny went 6 innings, giving up just a run on 4 K's, 1 BB and 5 hits. Boise lost their opener to Hillsboro though, 5-2, thanks in large part to 4 errors. Jake Stinnett started and went 5 innings with 8 K's, 0 BB's, 2 H and just one unearned run. Alex Tomasovich had the lone extra-base hit, a home run, but also contributed one of the errors that lead to one of Hillsboro's runs. All 3 playoff teams go tonight, Daytona goes with Tayler Scott, Kane County throws out Jen-Ho Tseng and Boise begins with Jeremy Null.

11:59 PM (Eastern) tonight is the deadline for an MLB club to acqure a player from another organization or sign a free-agent so that the player would be eligible for the club's post-season playoff roster. 

The player does NOT have to be added to the club's MLB Active List (25-man roster) prior to the 11:59 PM deadline to be playoff eligible, however. He just has to be under club control by the deadline.

Carlos Villanueva is the most-likely Cub to get traded today. He has pitched very well as a "swingman" over the past seven weeks (14 games), and he should have value to a contender because of his versatility (he can start or relieve). 

CARLOS VILLANUEVA LAST 14 GAMES
22.2 IP, 12 H, 1 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 25 K, 2 HBP, 1 HR 
0.62 WHIP 
0.40 ERA
.156 Opp BA

Unless the Cubs sign him to a contract extension (not likely), Villanueva will be an Article XX-B MLB FA after the conclusion of the World Series, and the Cubs would end up with nothing. So I'm sure they would be very interested in finding a trade partner, even if all they get back in return is a "second-tier" prospect.      

There is an outside chance that some other Cub player could draw interest as well, but Villanueva would seem to be the best candidate.

The only stumbling block to any potential trade made this time of year is that Trade Assignment Waivers (see below) must be secured before a player on an MLB 40-man roster can be dealt. 


OTHER POTENTIAL TRADE CANDIDATES:

The Arizona Fall League (AFL) preliminary rosters have been announced, and the Cubs have assigned seven players to the Mesa Solar Sox (MSS). Present minor league assignment is in parenthesis: 

Zach Cates, RHRP (AA Tennessee)
Gerardo Concepcion, LHRP (A+ Daytona) 
C. J. Edwards, RHSP (AA Tennessee) 
Jake Hannemann, OF (A+ Daytona) - see NOTE
Ivan Pineyro, RHSP (AA Tennessee) 
Addison Russell, SS (AA Tennessee) 
Dan Vogelbach, 1B (A+ Daytona) 
NOTE: Hannemann is assigned to the MSS "Taxi Squad," so he is eligible to play in AFL games on Wednesday and Saturday only. 

In addition, Daytona pitching coach Ron Villone has been assigned to Mesa as the Solar Sox pitching coach. (The Cubs were required to supply the MSS pitching coach this year). 

Cates, Concepcion, Edwards, and Pineyro are Rule 5 Draft eligible post-2014, and so the Cubs may be using the AFL to get a better look at Cates, Concepcion, and Pineyro (especially Pineyro) before deciding whether to add any of them to their MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) post-2014. (C. J. Edwards is considered the Cubs #1 pitching prospect, so he is a "lock" to make the Cubs 40-man roster in November no matter how he performs in the AFL).

Russell played for the Mesa Solar Sox while a member of the Oakland A's last year, so this will be his second trip to the AFL, but in a different uniform. He will be sharing shortstop with A's SS prospect Daniel Robertson, who was Russell's rival in the Oakland system prior to Russell being traded to the Cubs in the Samardzija/Hammel trade. Russell missed considerable time this season as the result of a hamstring injury suffered prior to being acquired by the Cubs, so playing in the AFL will give the young shortstop some additional reps before he (presumably) gets moved up to AAA in 2015.

Both Edwards (shoulder) and Pineyro (forearm strain) were on the Tennessee Smokies Disabled List for lengthy periods of time this season, so pitching in the AFL will help them to make up for some of their "lost innings." 

Remember, the AFL rosters announced this week are preliminary rosters only and are incomplete.

In the case of the Mesa Solar Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays have not named any of their four pitchers yet, and because Dwight Smith Jr has been assigned to the MSS "Taxi Squad," the Blue Jays still need to assign another position player as well. The Oakland A's have yet to name their fourth pitcher, and because Jake Hannemann was assigned to the MSS "Taxi Squad," the Cubs need to assign one more position player to the Solar Sox roster. 

- Well, the Cubs let someone else hand out the stupid contract and the Red Sox are the winner. 6/72.5M for Rusney Castillo...a little over $12M per which isn't terrible for a Shane Victorino comp, but I don't think the Cubs had a spot for him for 6 years (or even 3) and certainly not at a price higher than what Jose Abreu or Yasiel Puig got.

- Javier Baez watch: 5 Home Runs, 3 Golden Sombreros

I was curious, so maybe someone else was as well, but the starting pitcher in those golden sombrero games were Chris Archer, Mike Fiers and Madison Bumgarner. Welcome to the Show, Meat!

- Say hi to the new Cubs clubhouse manager (inspired by this story).

- The next wave went a combined 3/23 (Bryant, Soler, Almora, Russell, Schwarber & McKinney) in last night's games with Schwarber having the best day at 1/2 with a HR and 2 BB's. Soler and McKinney had the other hits. MLB Farm is my new best friend.

- Orioles and Cubs for the weekend, Orioles get to see old friends Arrieta and Wada on Friday and Sunday with Maddux-lite going on Saturday, trying to continue his late season Rookie of the Year push. Speaking of the Orioles, it'll be interesting if teams follow their lead in future years. They've done an incredible job of scalping talent at the end of the offseason and off the bottom of the barrel (think Chris Davis). Cubs and many other teams are already doing the bottom of the barrel scraping, but how patient can an organization be? And if everyone is that patient, is the advantage lost?

The Cubs seem to be intent to on playing Monopoly with the entirety of future position prospects as rumors from Buster Olney indicate they may be in the lead to acquire Cuban outfielder/infielder Rusney Castillo. Own the entire board and they'll have to come to you and pay overmarket prices for your property.

I can't say I gave much credence to the Castillo rumors and I certainly wouldn't be surprised by the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers or mystery team swooping in when all is said and done, but it sure would fit with the philosophy of acquiring assets to build the club. Anyway, you can find some good info on Castillo from Baseball America or this SB Nation article, but here's the Cliff Note's version.

He's Cuban, he's 27 years old, hits from the right side. He's just 5'9" and weighs in at 205 pounds, but word is he added about 20 pounds of muscle recently and can hit a few over the fence now, although he's pegged as a line drive doubles hitter. Most envision him as a center fielder, although he played right field as well. He did play the infield a few years back and a select few think he might be able to stick at second base, but that's definitely not going to be his position with the Cubs. The speed is there, grading anywhere from 60-80 with a 50 arm and he seems to have some on-base skills with a 319/383/516 slash line (51 home runs and 76 stolen bases) in 360 games in the Cuban league, although no idea how that'll translate here. If they do, he could be the top of the order threat that the system seems to be missing. He's at the right age to play now and the Cubs, while seemingly bursting with prospects, do have some wiggle room in the outfield the next season or two depending on who pans out and stays healthy.

We'll see how this works out and what money he gets, but he seems to offer some skills that the major league team could use the next couple of years (legit center field skills, speed, lack of strikeouts, on-base skills). Now whether those translate is another question of course, but that's the game of risk vs. reward they play everyday.

The 2014 Arizona Fall League schedule has been released and rosters should be announced later this month.

The Arizona Fall League (AFL) is an MLB developmental league (approximately equivalent to "AA") that operates for six weeks after the conclusion of the MLB regular season. It features a 32-game "regular season" schedule plus an All-Star Game (formerly called the "Rising Stars Game," but now known as the "Fall Stars Game") at the end of the 4th week, and the AFL Championship Game (pitting the winner of the East Division versus the winner of the West Division) at the end of the 6th and final week. 

There are three games scheduled every day Monday through Saturday during the AFL regular season (there are no games on Sunday), beginning with Opening Day on the second Tuesday following the conclusion of the MLB regular season (which is October 7th in 2014) and extending up through the Thursday of the 6th week. (No regular season games are scheduled the day of the Fall Stars Game).  

The Cubs usually assign some of their better prospects to the AFL. Depending on what positions the Cubs are asked to fill on the Mesa squad, I would not be surprised to see some combination of position players and pitchers such as:

The Cubs reportedly will be recalling Matt Szczur (AKA "Scrabble") from AAA Iowa tomorrow (Sunday), and so the 25-year old outfielder should be making his MLB debut sometime soon after that.


There's not much in Cubs news or even anecdotes to pass on at this time. Rosenthal had a video report that Jon Lester's Boston teammates believe he'll sign with the Cubs, but that'll have as much weight as a feather this offseason. The Tigers may be down another pitcher in Justin Verlander, and I wonder if Edwin Jackson would be of any interest. The Cubs would probably have to pay a lot of salary and get little in return, but worth a phone call probably. As for the current team, Operation Draft Pick is moving along nicely...currently in the 4th spot (which will actually be the 5th spot in the draft because of the Astros extra pick). It's a tight race with 45 games to go and with Alcantara, Hendricks and Baez out there with something to prove, I expect them to drift farther back than closer to a #1 pick.

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