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posted: 8/17/2013 10:17 PM

Free-agency clock big factor for Cubs

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Shortstop prospect Javier Baez entered Saturday with 31 home runs and 94 RBI between stops at the Cubs' Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee farm clubs this season.

Baez, 20, has been a fast-tracker, it seems, since the Cubs took him with their first-round pick in 2011. Could that track lead to an opening-day roster spot on the big club in 2014?

"You don't count any of that out because we've seen it happen before, obviously," manager Dale Sveum said before Saturday's 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. "When you have that kind of numbers and power, sometimes you do force the issue. It's not in the plans right now, but we've all seen it happen."

The answer to the question is, "probably not." The Cubs have individual development plans for every player in the minor leagues, and they want Baez to improve his patience at the plate and also for him to hit right-handed pitching better.

There also are contractual considerations. Clubs do not like to start a player's arbitration and free-agency clocks any sooner than they have to.

The free-agency clock is the one that seems most important to the Cubs. Players must play at least six full seasons in the major leagues before they can become free agents. If they were to bring Baez up in, say, May of next year, that would essentially buy them an extra year.

Sveum again cited former big-league slugger Gary Sheffield as a comparable to Baez on bat speed. But he also mentioned overall development.

"It's a process no matter where you're developing," the manager said. "(First baseman Anthony) Rizzo proved himself, and he proved himself at the big-league level.

"He's now probably going through a little bit of adjustments here and there. Some of the development is letting guys know that, 'Hey, you're not the lone ranger.'

"Some struggles in your second year or third year or whatever happen to many good players, and some of them had tougher times than others."

Wood workings:

Cubs starting pitcher Travis Wood dropped his third straight decision Saturday and fell to 7-10 with a 3.13 ERA.

Wood and many other pitchers haven't been getting much run support at home. The Cubs have been shut out in five of their last seven at Wrigley Field.

The big blow Saturday was a 2-run homer by Yadier Molina that turned a 2-0 St. Louis lead to 4-0 in the sixth.

"That pitch to Molina in the sixth was something off-speed I thought I overhung, and he put a good swing on it and hit it out of the park," Wood said.

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