Cubs add free agent reliever Eyre

Cubs bolster bullpen with lefty Eyre

CHICAGO -- Scott Eyre's agent had heard from nearly every team regarding the free agent left-hander, but in the end he decided to go to the team that looked like it was having a good time.

The Chicago Cubs added the lefty to the bullpen mix on Thursday, signing Eyre to a two-year contract with a player option for a third year. If Eyre exercises the option, the contract is worth $11 million.

"We're thrilled to have him," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Thursday night. "He was a priority, certainly one of the better left-handers in the market. We felt we weren't going to be involved in the [Billy] Wagner chase, and B.J. Ryan will be a closer for someone.

"We felt Scott was the best guy on the market for us," Hendry said. "He had a terrific year and he's proven he can pitch almost every day. We felt it was important to add a quality lefty in the pen. It puts us in pretty good shape here that [Will] Ohman and Scott can be the two guys."

Adding Eyre doesn't eliminate Ohman from the picture. Ohman posted a 2.91 ERA in 69 games this season, his first full year in the big leagues after three elbow operations.

"Ohman earned the opportunity to be on the ballclub next year," Hendry said. "This is not a negative to Will in any way, shape or form."

Despite the Cubs' 79-83 season, they seemed to be enjoying the game, Eyre said.

"I've played against them for the last 3 1/2 years in the National League," Eyre said Thursday night. "They have a good core team, and should've been better than [they were] last year. I talked to Glendon [Rusch], I talked to Jerome Williams. They have a good time. Other teams watch other teams during batting practice. That's something I like -- I like to have fun."

Eyre, 33, was 2-2 with a 2.63 ERA in a career-high 86 games with the San Francisco Giants, striking out 65 over 68 1/3 innings. Left-handers hit .182 against him last season, while right-handers didn't fare much better, batting .213.

Eyre and Cubs manager Dusty Baker were together in 2002 in San Francisco. The Giants claimed him off waivers and the lefty was impressive, posting a 1.59 ERA in 21 games. Hendry said Eyre's relationship with Baker had a lot to do with him choosing the Cubs.

"In our conversations, Scott has always spoken highly of Dusty and vice versa," Hendry said. "We certainly weren't thinking we were the only show that he'd go to, but we felt we were in the upper echelon group."

Baker runs the same kind of clubhouse that he did in San Francisco, and that was enough for Eyre. The pitcher and his wife wanted to be closer to their home in Bradenton, Fla., and apparently Chicago was a good fit.

"[The decision] had nothing to do with the Giants' contract offer," Eyre said. "They couldn't move their team closer to my home and I wasn't going to move."

The bullpen was one of the areas Hendry wanted to address this off-season. Cubs relievers compiled a 4.24 ERA and were 21-27 this season. The addition of Eyre should help. He led the National League in relief appearances, and ranked fourth in the NL in relief batting average with runners on, holding hitters to a .167 average in those situations.

"He's got a lot of the same attributes makeup-wise that [Ryan] Dempster has," Hendry said. "He's a gutsy guy, wants the ball every day. He's not intimidated if it's a right-handed hitter or left-handed hitter. His efforts the last few years have been tremendous. We felt he was the perfect fit for us from the left side."

Hendry and Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild met with Eyre in Florida, and the face to face meeting also influenced the pitcher.

"That was big," Eyre said. "[Hendry's] a fun guy. We had a glass of wine, we talked, we joked. He told me stories about different things. Larry got to my house about 45 minutes before Jim did, and we talked about how things go in Spring Training. [Rothschild] said all the right things that I wanted to hear. He's not going to make us run 30 laps before we pitch. He said, 'If you're ready to pitch every day, you do whatever you want.'"

Hendry still has other areas to address. He said the Cubs may add another reliever, most likely right-handed, and it could be through a trade.

"We'd like to have enough inventory of quality people on the pitching staff that we have excess," Hendry said.

The Cubs are still talking to representatives for free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal and Hendry said the team also is interested in adding a starting pitcher.

"We're also looking into other possibilities to help our ballclub, maybe closer to the Winter Meetings as far as possible trades go," Hendry said. "We would not be opposed to adding another starter in the right situation."

Eyre came up through the Chicago White Sox system and was a starter before he was switched to the bullpen in 1999. He was dealt to Toronto for pitcher Gary Glover in November 2000. The Giants acquired him in August 2002.

Even though he's back in Chicago, Eyre said he never felt comfortable during his first stint.

"I really never felt that I was in Chicago before because I was up and down with the White Sox," he said. "I was in the big leagues in Chicago, but I never felt I belonged there. Now I feel I belong and I feel I can do a good job."

He's also learned how to deal with attention deficit disorder (ADD), which he was diagnosed with in 2002.

"Without taking my medication, it's hard for me to do two things at once, and pitching and getting people out is two things at once for me," he said. "Since I started taking the medication in April '02, the results have been completely different. You can say maybe I grew up, but I don't believe that."

Eyre has appeared in at least 70 games each of the last four seasons. He's had limited exposure to Wrigley Field, appearing in eight games there, including one start. Three of those games came this year in consecutive relief appearances on July 25-27. Eyre totaled 2 1/3 scoreless innings, and gave up two hits while striking out one.

"The last three years, I've pitched in close to 80 games every year," Eyre said. "I like pitching; I like being out there. The more I pitch, the more I feel like an everyday player."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.