CHICAGO -- Who's the Cubs' first-half Most Valuable Player? Manager Dale Sveum picked All-Star left-hander Travis Wood.
"To have basically every start a quality start but one, and that was iffy itself, he's definitely our MVP," Sveum said.
Wood will start Sunday night in the Cubs' first-half finale against the Cardinals. Sveum has talked to National League manager Bruce Bochy, and said it's up to the Giants' manager as to whether he uses Wood in Tuesday's All-Star Game at Citi Field.
"I'll let Bochy know it's OK with us if [Wood] pitches one inning or he wants him to get a left-hander out, whatever he wants to do with him," Sveum said.
Wood leads the Major Leagues with 17 quality starts in his 18 games. This will be his first All-Star Game.
Baker could bolster Cubs' rotation in August
CHICAGO -- Scott Baker, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, will start for Class A Kane County on Sunday. If all goes well, he could join the Cubs' rotation in August.
Baker threw a bullpen at Wrigley Field on Thursday, his final tuneup before he starts against West Michigan in his first game action. He did make one Cactus League start March 17, but was shut down after that, and diagnosed with a strained elbow.
"[Thursday] was better than what I saw the last time, before he had the setback," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He was letting it go his last 10, 15 pitches. I don't think he's ever going to exert himself on the mound too much until it counts. It was coming out of his hand pretty easy. Everything is going really well now."
Baker was expected to make four Minor League rehab starts, and if he continues to progress, will give the Cubs a fresh arm for the final two months of the season. That may be key if the Cubs deal Matt Garza by the Trade Deadline.
Baker just wants to pitch in a real game.
"It's been long, it's been tough, but I'm finally getting to the point where I can start this rehab process," Baker said.
Baker had the surgery in April 2012, and had hoped to be ready for the start of the 2013 season. But after the setback in March, Baker apologized to Cubs executives, including general manager Jed Hoyer.
"My reasoning for that was I don't want anybody to ever think I didn't have the intention of being a serviceable pitcher right from the beginning of the season," Baker said. "I guess [apologizing] wasn't necessary, but I wanted them to know [the setback] happened, and it stinks, but I did everything I could to be ready for the start of the season."
It's been tough to stay connected to what the Cubs are doing while Baker has been rehabbing in Mesa, Ariz. Thursday was only his second trip to Wrigley since signing with the Cubs. He visited a few weeks ago for a checkup with the medical staff.
"It's nice, it really is," Baker said, looking at Wrigley Field from the home dugout. "There's a disconnect in Arizona and it's really hard to explain. You're just not around the guys you want to be around. ... This is where you want to be. You want to be healthy, and you want to be serviceable. Being here makes you feel like you're taking a step in that direction."
Even though Baker hasn't thrown a pitch for the Cubs, Hoyer said they would consider bringing the right-hander back in 2014.
"There's no secret that there's a lot of great things going on here," Baker said. "You go through different phases in your career. I've been hurt and things have been taken away from me, and I want to be with a team and an organization that is trying to win, and there's no question that is going on here.
"I'd definitely be interested to see how it goes. The rest of the season plays a big part in me proving I'm healthy and can be serviceable next year. We'll have to see. It's definitely an exciting place to be."
Wrigley outfield signage unanimously approved
CHICAGO -- The Commission on Chicago Landmarks Thursday unanimously approved two outfield signs that are key to Wrigley Field's renovation plan, including a video scoreboard for left field.
The Cubs made compromises since the matter was last discussed by the commission. Instead of a 6,000-square foot video scoreboard in left field, the Cubs say they will accept a 4,560-square foot scoreboard. The Jumbotron will be 95 feet wide, not 100 feet. Instead of installing a 1,000-square foot see-through sign in right, the Cubs were willing to install a 650-square foot see-through sign.
Alderman Tom Tunney had demanded the Cubs reduce the size of the signage in response to complaints from rooftop owners. Tunney, who represents the Lake View neighborhood the ballpark is located in, gave an emotional statement at the meeting.
The Chicago Sun-Times said the compromise on the signage came after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped in and brokered negotiations between the Cubs and Tunney.
Last month, the Landmarks Commission approved a master plan for 45,000 square feet of new or existing Wrigley signage, but did not approve the proposed scoreboard or sign the Cubs wanted in left and right fields, respectively.
The signage will help pay for the $500 million renovation plan the Ricketts family has planned for Wrigley Field that includes a hotel on Clark and Addison Streets. The remodel will take five years, and not interrupt play at the 99-year-old ballpark.
Thursday's decision clears the way for the Chicago Plan Commission and City Council to consider the full plan to renovate Wrigley field and redevelop land in the Wrigleyville area. The Plan Commission meets next week.
The video scoreboard will be nearly three times the size of Wrigley's current center-field scoreboard. The commission approved a script see-through sign for right field that will be about 80 percent larger than the current Toyota sign now in left.
Cubs vice president Mike Lufrano said Thursday the team wanted six outfield signs, but dropped that number in deference to Tunney, owners of the rooftop clubs surrounding the ballpark, and the community. Lufrano said the revenue from the new advertising will help pay for the renovations and "keep Wrigley Field competitive for modern-day baseball."
Tunney argued the signs were too close to the homes in the neighborhood.
"The Cubs often point to large signs at Fenway, at U.S. Cellular and other [stadiums]," Tunney said. "Those signs back up to expressways, not other people's living rooms."
The Landmark Commission heard testimony during Thursday's five-hour hearing, ranging from residents to rooftop club owners.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and Emanuel want the deal approved by the end of July so construction can begin this offseason.
Bowden replaces Raley in bullpen swap
CHICAGO -- The Cubs added a fresh arm to the bullpen on Thursday, selecting the contract of right-handed pitcher Michael Bowden and optioning lefty Brooks Raley back to Triple-A Iowa.
Raley pitched 4 1/3 innings on Wednesday night against the Angels, the longest outing by a Cubs reliever this season. He was the 42nd player used this season, setting a franchise record for most players used before the All-Star break.
"We had Raley here in case something like [Wednesday] happened, and it happened," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said on Thursday. "[Bowden] kind of solidifies the bullpen right now."
Bowden was a victim of bad timing. The right-hander began the season with the Cubs and posted a 3.78 ERA over 14 games in relief. But he was designated for assignment to make room for Matt Garza, who began the season on the disabled list. Bowden compiled a 2.41 ERA in 13 games with Iowa, striking out 28 over 18 2/3 innings.
"It's part of the game," Bowden said of the roster move in May. "A move had to be made and, unfortunately, it was me. I just tried to go down there and worked to get back here as soon as possible."
Bowden said things "clicked" at Iowa.
"I was throwing the ball a lot better," Bowden said. "I think my arm was a little tired earlier in the year, so I've finally got to where it needs to be and I've just executed my pitches better and my mechanics are allowing me to throw with a little more conviction."
• Cubs outfielder David DeJesus, on the disabled list with a sprained right shoulder, could increase his rehab and play in games in Arizona, starting Monday.
DeJesus, who injured his shoulder crashing into the outfield wall June 14 at Citi Field, was hitting off a tee on Thursday. Manager Dale Sveum said they will evaluate the outfielder on Sunday to see if he is able to swing at full speed, and if so, DeJesus would likely go to the team's facility in Mesa, Ariz., for the All-Star break to play.
There is no timetable for DeJesus' return.
"He's really close," Sveum said.
• Luis Valbuena moved from third base to left field for two innings on Wednesday. He's played four games in the outfield in his career, but Sveum felt Valbuena could handle it. Valbuena seems to be able to deal with anything.
"He's been our most consistent player the last two years," Sveum said. "The at-bats he has, to have good at-bats against left-handed pitching, like the hit he got off [Matt] Thornton the other night, he's one of those consistent guys. You put him in the lineup and don't have to worry about him doing anything stupid. He's a consistent player."
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.