How is Geo Soto doing? Is he maintaining his slimmer physique? What's the story on the backup catcher?
-- Jim S., Ottumwa, Iowa
At the Cubs Convention last month, Soto looked trim and fit (he was seen lifting his shirt to show off his abs to fans). The tough part for Soto is staying in shape all season.
As for the backup spot, that will be something to watch this spring. The candidates include Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger and non-roster invitees Jason Jaramillo, Blake Lalli and Michael Brenly. Jaramillo is the only one with extended Major League experience (119 games over three seasons with the Pirates). Clevenger, a converted shortstop, and Brenly, son of Cubs TV broadcaster Bob Brenly, both need to play every day, so they will likely be in the Minor Leagues this season. Castillo has been slowed by injuries, but he has shown he can hit, batting .286 in 61 games last season at Triple-A Iowa with 15 homers. What he needs to develop is a good relationship with the pitchers.
As much as fans didn't like Koyie Hill's offense, or lack of, what was key was that the pitchers trusted him. Since 2007, the Cubs were 106-88 in games he started.
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How strong do you think the Cubs' pitching will be in 2012? What will the rotation look like from one through five?
-- James K., Bettendorf, Iowa
I can't give you the final five -- that's what Spring Training is for -- and you probably know that Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad and Randy Wells are in the mix. What's encouraging about that group is that Garza, Dempster, Maholm and Volstad made at least 25 starts last season. Wells made 23, and Wood had 18 in his second big league season.
Jeff Samardzija and Andy Sonnanstine both will be stretched out in Cactus League games, too. They'll also look at Casey Coleman, Trey McNutt and Jay Jackson. As for how strong, let's just say they're not the Phillies. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18, and that's when the fun begins.
I've heard rumors the Cubs will have to send Brett Jackson to the Red Sox in return for Theo Epstein. I really don't like this idea. Is there any chance of this actually happening?
-- Alex G., Newburgh, Ind.
There has been speculation that the Cubs will have to give up a "significant" player, and Jackson would definitely qualify. However, there's no update.
The Cubs feel the precedent was set when they sent a Class A pitcher to the Twins as compensation for Andy MacPhail in 1994. It's up to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to resolve. Last week at a fundraiser in Boston, Epstein said he felt the matter would be settled soon.
I see the Cubs signed Adrian Cardenas off waivers. What are the chances we see him making the team at any point this year? I realize his defense isn't the best, but he does have a .304 batting average in six Minor League seasons.
-- Kyle W., Thorp, Wis.
The Cubs are trying to find the right pieces for the bench, so Cardenas may have a chance there. He is primarily a second baseman but also has played third, shortstop and left field. Cardenas, 24, is a good contact hitter, and batted .314 last season at Triple-A Sacramento, with a .374 on-base percentage. He also hit .344 against lefties, and .323 with runners on, all good numbers.
The Cubs currently have Jeff Baker as the backup infielder. Blake DeWitt was designated for assignment to make room for Cardenas on the 40-man roster, but if DeWitt is not claimed by another team, he could be back in the Cubs' camp this spring as a non-roster invitee.
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.