7/10/2013 8:46 P.M. ET
Cubs in better position as Trade Deadline nears
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- A year ago at the July 31 Trade Deadline, the Cubs dealt two of their starters, lost another to injury, and then shut down another in early September. They had to scramble to fill in the gaps.
This year, the Cubs have already traded one starter -- Scott Feldman -- and Matt Garza could also change uniforms. But this year, the Cubs feel they are better prepared to handle the moves.
"There's no question the pitching staff we ran out there in September was short," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I think we feel a lot better about that. We have more depth in the Minor Leagues, more depth on the Major League roster. It was hard to watch [last year]. ... Shutting down [Jeff] Samardzija was incredibly hard because we didn't have anyone to fill in for him."
The Cubs expect Scott Baker, who has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, to be ready in about a month. Jake Arrieta, acquired from the Orioles in the Feldman deal, also could start. Plus, they already have Carlos Villanueva, who has gone from the rotation to the 'pen and back to the rotation.
Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley, who both made their Major League debuts last season, also have another year of experience.
"There's obviously no question we're much more equipped than last year," manager Dale Sveum said.
Garza is the prime pitcher on the trade market, and Hoyer acknowledged that he has received a lot of interest.
"There's obviously a lot of incoming phone calls," Hoyer said. "There's a lot about Matt, obviously, but a lot about other players on the team, too. I think in general in the game, phone traffic has picked up. I feel there's a lot of interest in our players. The team is playing well, and a lot of our individual players are playing well. I think that's a big part of it."
Scouts are keeping an eye on closer Kevin Gregg and outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
Baker to throw bullpen session on Thursday
CHICAGO -- Scott Baker, who has been recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, will get a chance to pitch at Wrigley Field this year.
Baker, who has been rehabbing in Mesa, Ariz., will throw a bullpen on Thursday at Wrigley, so the Cubs' staff can evaluate his progress. On Wednesday, the right-hander pitched four innings in his fourth simulated game.
If Baker gets the go-ahead, he could begin his rehab assignment at Class A Kane County.
Baker signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract this offseason with the Cubs, and general manager Jed Hoyer said they've had conversations about a new deal for 2014.
"He's a fantastic person and a real good teammate," Hoyer said. "He's one of those guys who, when he had a setback in Spring Training, he was apologetic to us."
Baker compiled a 63-48 record and 4.15 ERA in 163 games with the Twins. He was 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 23 games in 2011, and then underwent surgery on his elbow in April 2012.
Cubs' winner for Tribute for Heroes announced
CHICAGO -- Richard Bennett of DeKalb, Ill., was named the Cubs representative as one of 30 winners of the "Tribute for Heroes" campaign, sponsored by Major League Baseball and PEOPLE magazine. The campaign was a national initiative that recognizes veterans and military service members and builds upon both organizations' commitment to honoring the nation's heroes.
Bennett will be at Wrigley Field on Friday to be honored in pregame ceremonies.
Bennett and the other winners, who each represent one of the 30 MLB clubs, will be included in All-Star Week festivities in New York. They also will be treated to a private tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a VIP reception on the Intrepid, take part in the All-Star Red Carpet Show Presented by Chevrolet, and the Chevrolet Home Run Derby. They will be honored during the pregame ceremony leading up to the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field, Tuesday, which will be on FOX beginning at 6:30 pm CT.
Fans nationwide cast their votes at TributeForHeroes.com to select 30 winners from a pool of 90 finalists.
Bennett served in the Army's 101st Airborne Division. During a deployment to Afghanistan, his unit came under fire on a daily basis. While on an air assault mission to the Korengal Valley, Bennett ran 35 meters through heavy fire and threw himself on the platoon's fallen medic to shield him from further wounds. That soldier is now recovering from his wounds. Bennett received the Silver Star for his heroics.
Pearl Jam, Epstein make charitable donation
CHICAGO -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, visited the South Chicago Arts Center on Wednesday to announce a contribution of $130,000 from the rock band Pearl Jam and the Foundation to be Named Later in support of education and inspiring under-served young people in Chicago through the visual arts.
As part of Pearl Jam's upcoming sold-out concert July 19 at Wrigley Field, the band is donating $2 per ticket from their Vitalogy Foundation to benefit Chicago visual arts programs Marwen and South Chicago Arts Center. The city of Chicago made the recommendation of the visual arts programs to the band. Approximately $40,000 will be donated to each organization from the foundation.
Given the Chicago connection with the concert, Epstein's Foundation to be Named Later and Chicago Cubs Charities added to the contribution. The Foundation to be Named Later will contribute $15,000 to each organization and another $10,000 will be donated to each organization from Chicago Cubs Charities.
Marwen celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to supporting the development of Chicago's under-served youth in grades 6-12 through free visual arts, college planning, and career preparation programs. Students from 54 of the city's 57 zip codes and from more than 220 schools travel to MARWEN, where they take classes designed and taught by practicing artists.
The South Chicago Art Center's mission is to provide youth with an accessible, safe place to participate in quality visual arts programs.
• Alfonso Soriano has been on a hot streak, and the difference seems to be his hands.
The Cubs outfielder entered Wednesday's game batting .400 in his last 11 games with eight home runs, four doubles and 17 RBIs.
"You ask any hitter, and if they say their hands are working and their hands are fast, you don't have to speed up, you feel you can hit any fastball," Sveum said. "[Tuesday], I think he hit a 96 [mph] high fastball. It comes down to how you feel with your bat speed."
• All-Star Travis Wood will close the first half of the season on Sunday night against the Cardinals, and will likely start the Cubs' second game of the second half on July 20 at Colorado. Sveum said they're still finalizing the rotation order, but Jeff Samardzija was expected to open the series against the Rockies July 19.
• Junior Lake was slowed this spring because of a back injury and was playing at Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs were currently carrying an extra reliever and Lake needs a little more development before he is added.
"We love how he's performing," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday of Lake. "We're excited about his progress. I think right now, it's a little early [to promote him to the big leagues]. Let's get him some consistent playing time.
"A big part of his value is he can play infield and outfield," Hoyer said. "He's such a great athlete. I don't know where he winds up at the end but if he's a guy who can move around a lot, there's a ton of value [in that]. He's an exciting piece of the future."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.