Kris Bryant Cubs

When will the Cubs call up Kris Bryant to join Javier Baez?

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DENVER – Yes, Theo Epstein sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t mean the prospects are getting an E-Z Pass to the big leagues.

Who’s next? When’s Kris Bryant getting here? What about Jorge Soler? That’s what players, Cubs fans and the Chicago media wondered after Javier Baez got called up from Triple-A Iowa.

The president of baseball operations didn’t want to go there, dialing into a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon to downplay expectations for Baez, and not broadcast this as the start of something.

“It’s just a promotion of a very talented prospect who’s had an outstanding development year,” Epstein said. “I don’t believe in making grand pronouncements as an organization or making statements. I think we want the talent, and ultimately the performance of our players, to speak for themselves.

[MORE CUBS: Castro thinks Baez can make immediate impact]

“So I’m not going to get into what this means or what this signifies, other than it’s the right step for Javy’s development. And there are others behind him who – at the appropriate time – will follow.”

Insiders say Bryant won’t be called up until sometime after Opening Day 2015. The Cubs won’t want to start the free-agency clock for a Scott Boras client.

“He doesn’t need to do much more,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “But this game is a business, and everyone needs to remember that.”

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez leads tidal wave of prospects about to hit Cubs]

Bryant is a polished, mature hitter who’s generated 36 homers and 94 RBI through 114 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa this season. The Cubs knew the third baseman would be on the fast track after drafting him No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego last year and then watching him emerge as the Arizona Fall League’s MVP.

“It’s his first year in the minor leagues, and he’s done really well,” Rizzo said. “From what I’ve seen, he’s handled himself really well, so just keep getting better. You never know. You never know what can happen.”

Soler’s in a different position because he’s already on the 40-man roster with a $30 million major-league contract. The Cuban outfielder has put up a 1.078 OPS through his first 14 games at Iowa and is expected to be a September call-up.

[MORE CUBS: The future is now as Cubs call up Javier Baez]

“They bring those guys up right now, and next year we’ll have a really young team,” shortstop Starlin Castro said. “We can be together, and we can prove it, because we know we got a lot of talent. We got players that can play at this level.”

Epstein’s hope-and-change message isn’t all talk. The Cubs have two 24-year-old All-Stars in Castro and Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara and Baez at the top of the lineup and a farm system ESPN recently ranked as the best in baseball.

“We’ll continue to add potential impact talent to our big-league club,” Epstein said. “That’s ultimately what it’s all about. We’re not here to top the standings of the prospect rankings. We want to top the National League Central standings, and ultimately have a lot of opportunity in October and a lot of success in October.

“So this is nothing but an appropriate promotion for a player who’s earned it. And we’ll see what the future brings.”

But with this collection of young talent, and the financial flexibility to go shopping for big-ticket items this winter, the Cubs can see the future isn’t that far off in the distance.

A Mexican team wins the Caribbean Series for the third time in four years

Mexican players celebrate their victory in the Caribbean Series baseball final against Aragua Tigres of Venezuela, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Designated hitter Jorge Vazquez hit a game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, lifting Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory and the championship of the Caribbean Series. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman)
Associated Press
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For those who aren’t familiar, Serie del Caribe, or the Caribbean Series, is the highest club level baseball tournament in Latin America, pitting the champions of the winter leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela against one another in a bacchanalia of baseball that, if there was justice in the world, we’d all be watching instead of football.

This year’s installment ended last night with Mexico’s Mazatlan Venados beating Venezuela’s Aragua Tigres 5-4 in the final game at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Jorge Vazquez — who Yankees fans may remember from a few years back — provided the winning margin when he hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

This is the third Serie del Caribe title for a Mexican club in the past four years, with Naranjeros de Hermosillo winning in 2014 and Yaquis de Obregón winning in 2013. Pinar del Río from Cuba won it last winter. This is the first time the Venados have won it.

As we noted yesterday, this was longtime MLB starter Freddy Garcia‘s last game. He gave up four hits and allowed two earned runs over five and a third innings for the Tigres, getting a no-decision.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.