Renteria says Jose Veras will be Cubs’ closer
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter February 13, 2014 10:16PM
Updated: March 15, 2014 6:37AM
MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs haven’t won more than 75 games in five years. But on the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, first-year manager Rick Renteria handed Jose Veras the closer job.
He didn’t sound as sure about the rest of the bullpen roles.
“Right now, Veras looks like he’s going to be our closer, absolutely,” said Renteria, whose Opening Day bullpen could be almost entirely new since last April.
As for where that leaves Pedro Strop, who was thought to be a closer candidate, or anyone else in the bullpen mix, “These guys are capable of falling into any role,” Renteria said.
“These are discussions that we still continue to have. As we start to get closer to breaking camp, I’m sure those questions will be answered.”
Coming off a last-place finish, the Cubs’ lineup and starting rotation don’t look particularly impressive, but their bullpen has a realistic chance to improve.
“We just went over all the bullpen arms that we have in camp here, and there’s no comparison,” team president Theo Epstein said, “between the quality of power arms that are in camp now and candidates to make the pen — the depth that we’ll have at Iowa behind them — and where we were two years ago.”
Veras, 33, is coming off his first season as a closer, saving 19 games for the Astros before being used primarily as an eighth-inning guy after a trade to the American League Central champion Tigers.
The Cubs signed him as a free agent for one year, $4 million, plus an option for 2015.
Javy glove, will travel
Assuming top prospect Javy Baez makes his major-league debut in 2014 as many expect, he’ll have to move off his natural shortstop position to do it, and that’s why the Cubs plan to play him some at second and third base this spring, general manager Jed Hoyer said.
“[Starlin] Castro’s our shortstop. We have all the confidence in the world that he’ll remain our shortstop,” Hoyer said, adding that moving the two-time All-Star from the position any time in the foreseeable future is “off the table.”
Baez, the 2011 first-round pick who had one of the top offensive seasons in minor-league baseball in 2013, is penciled into Class AAA Iowa’s lineup as the Opening Day shortstop.
Hoyer said Baez, 21, has things to work on offensively and defensively before he gets to the majors. But few expect him to remain at Iowa long.
Not that a natural shortstop should have any trouble adjusting quickly to another infield spot.
“Javy has been amenable to moving around the diamond,” Hoyer said, “and I think he’ll do a good job wherever we put him.”