Michael Barrett, Jeff Weaver, range factor, new kids on the scene, the World Baseball Classic and nicknames are hot topics this week. Send your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org -- that's "06" as in 2006 -- and please include your name and hometown.
Is Michael Barrett working to improve his defense and pitcher awareness? It seems that whenever Henry Blanco catches, the Cubs pitchers' ERA is significantly reduced. Perhaps a defensive catcher might be a better option for the Cubs. -- Mitch D., Portland, Ore.
I'm not sure how you gauge "pitcher awareness." Yes, the pitchers' ERA with Blanco was 3.58 compared to a 4.45 ERA when Barrett was behind the plate. Consider this -- pitchers working with Mike Matheny, who is ranked one of the top catchers in baseball, compiled a 4.44 ERA last season. No excuses, but if the starters were healthy in 2005, maybe Barrett's numbers would've been better.
Why don't the Cubs try to sign Jeff Weaver? You said the Cubs don't need more starters, but just to stay healthy. History shows that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have been injured a lot. -- Joe T., Gurnee, Ill.
I don't know what the Cubs' interest is regarding Weaver. If the rumors are true that his agent wants a four-year deal at $10 million a year, then that's not a direction the Cubs want to go. If Weaver were willing to accept a one-year deal, the Cubs might be interested. The Cubs would consider adding another starting pitcher as protection, if the price is right.
What kind of chance does Marquis Grissom stand of making the big-league team? He adds depth to an outfield that doesn't have much, and if any of the starters are having a bad year, he can play all three positions. -- Robert M., Lexington, S.C.
Grissom told Cubs manager Dusty Baker he's willing to do anything, which means he'll pinch-run, pinch-hit, be a sub. He could start against lefties in place of Jacque Jones. Grissom has a career .285 average against southpaws. Baker said Grissom told him, "If I can't play any more, I'll let you know."
The veteran outfielder, Baker said, could be an "Eric Karros kind of guy." That means he'll tell it like it is. The Cubs could use that in the clubhouse. Let's see what happens this spring.
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With everyone the Cubs are rumored to be interested in this offseason, why didn't they try to get Alfonso Soriano? He is head-and-shoulders above anyone they have for second base and doesn't want to play the outfield for Washington. -- Dan R., Ft. Myers, Fla.
The Cubs have made it known they need to be stronger up the middle on defense. Soriano made 21 errors last season and probably doesn't fit in. Also, the Nationals gave up Brad Wilkerson to get Soriano, so they would be looking to get at least that level of player back.
Dusty Baker was recently quoted as saying he would bat Todd Walker second now. Wouldn't you rather put Ronny Cedeno at No. 2? One, it allows Walker's RBI potential to be used later in the lineup and two, it puts more speed ahead of Derrek Lee, and three, it allows Cedeno to bunt Juan Pierre over into scoring position while also trying to get on base, and four, with Walker batting second, the top of the lineup is lefty-heavy (Pierre, Walker, Jones). -- Billy W., LeClaire, Iowa
All good points, although you've got Jones hitting third, and I believe that spot is reserved for Lee. Baker has said he sees Cedeno as a future No. 2 hitter. But in the beginning, Cedeno may bat lower in the order, so he can ease into things. Who will hit in the Nos. 2, 5 and 8 spots in the lineup has yet to be determined, Baker said.
Most die-hard Cubs fans know about stellar prospects such as Angel Guzman, Felix Pie, Rich Hill and John Koronka. Who are the up-and-comers we should be looking for further down the road? -- Cameron B., San Diego, Calif.
Here are some names to keep an eye on, leading off with Eric Patterson, who will likely start at Double-A West Tenn. The second baseman won the Midwest League batting title with a .333 average. Pitcher Carlos Marmol was 6-2 with a 3.99 ERA at Class A Daytona and 3-4 with a 3.65 ERA at West Tenn. Player development director Oneri Fleita compares Marmol to a young Carlos Zambrano. Catcher Jose Reyes hit .257 at West Tenn and has been impressive in winter baseball. Infielder Ryan Theriot impressed the Cubs brass during his brief callup in September. Casey McGehee batted .297 for West Tenn with eight homers and 72 RBIs. And there's first baseman Brandon Sing, who hit .276 at West Tenn, and who will play a little left field. The Cubs have a pretty good first baseman now in Derrek Lee, and Sing may have to show he can play elsewhere to get called up.
Because of the World Baseball Classic taking place from March 3-30, will players like Barrett, Lee and others be in Arizona for any of the Spring Training games? I go every year, and I'm wondering whom I'll see this year. -- Adam R., Galesburg, Ill.
If your only time in Arizona to see the Cubs play their Cactus League games is when the WBC games are being played, then yes, you might miss Barrett, Lee, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and others who have agreed to participate in the tournament.
How will the new smoking ban affect Wrigley? Will there be areas outside the ballpark for smokers? -- Johnny O., Northbrook, Ill.
The Cubs are studying the ban and trying to see how it will affect spectators at Wrigley Field.
I was wondering what the longest night game at Wrigley was? I went to a game in 1997 when the Cubs played the Astros that started at 7 p.m. and ended around midnight. It went 15 innings. I still remember Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the bottom of the 14th. -- Alex S., Eagle Pass, Texas
The Cubs played their first complete game under the lights at Wrigley on Aug. 9, 1988. Since then, the longest game played at Wrigley Field -- day or night -- was the night game of July 14, 1997. The Cubs lost a 9-7, 15-inning marathon to the Astros in 5 hours, 19 minutes. It was the first time the Cubs played past midnight at Wrigley Field, with the game ending at 12:24 a.m.
The latest completion time for a game at Wrigley was on July 26, 2005 -- the night Greg Maddux notched his 3,000th strikeout. That game ended at 1:16 a.m. on July 27.
There has been a bit of debate about who is the Cubs' best option for starting second baseman. In this debate, I've heard a lot of statistics, one of which I don't understand. The range factors of Walker, Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston have been compared, and, while the numbers show a great disparity between the three, I'm not sure what "range factor" means. -- Charlie M., Valley View, Pa.
According to STATS Inc., range factor is putouts plus assists, multiplied by nine and divided by defensive innings played. This stat is used to determine the amount of the field a player can cover. It's better to compare players on the same team, dealing with the same pitching staff and same ballparks -- with a decent sample size -- than it is players on different teams. For example, Atlanta's eight-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones ranked 10th among Major League center fielders in range factor in 2005 behind Milwaukee's Brady Clark, who was fourth. Go figure.
How did the Cubs get the name "Cubs"? -- Robert S., Salt Lake City, Utah
According to baseball historian Ed Hartig, the real name for the Cubs is the Chicago National League Ball Club Inc. Here's some history: Following the formation of the American League in 1900, many of the National League's best players jumped to the AL. Most NL camps in the early 1900s included many, many, many unproven players. This included Frank Selee's 1902 Chicago NL team. The March 27, 1902, Chicago Daily News noted all the young players in camp referring to the team as "Selee's Cubs." An incredible 30 players would make their Cubs debut in 1902.
The name "Cubs" didn't become official until 1907. Until then, each newspaper used whatever nickname they deemed appropriate. The team was called the White Stockings when the club joined the NL in 1876, the Orphans, the Black Stockings, the Spuds (because of their Irish owner, C.W. Murphy), the Nationals (all NL teams were called this at some point), the Colts, the Panamas, the Cowboys and a host of other nicknames.
Frank Chance preferred Cubs and convinced Charles Murphy to make it official in 1907. Even after the nickname become official, some papers still used unofficial nicknames. For example, during Johnny Evers' tenure as Cubs manager, the team was often called the Trojans (Evers lived in Troy, N.Y.). And the nickname "Bruins" was commonly used from the 1940s to the 1980s. Rather than running "Cubs notes," The Sporting News, for example, ran "Bruins Briefs." Good thing they chose Cubs; otherwise, Ernie Banks would be "Mr. Spud."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.