Wade Miller, Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez, the World Baseball Classic and the Chicago Cubs' new outfield are hot topics this week.
And happy birthday to Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, who celebrates his 75th birthday on Tuesday. At the Cubs Convention earlier this month, Banks vowed that "the Cubs will come alive when I turn 75."
What are the Cubs expecting to get out of Miller? They said he is expected to miss the first month of the season. -- Pat K., Palos Park, Ill.
Miller underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder on Sept. 29 in a procedure similar to the one Wood had one month earlier. Miller is one month behind Wood in the rehab process, so he will open the season on the disabled list and most likely won't be ready until May at the earliest. The right-hander, who was 16-8 with 183 strikeouts in 2001 with Houston, gives the Cubs some insurance in case something happens to one of their starters. See the next question.
Why did Cubs GM Jim Hendry sign an injured player like Wade Miller? I agree he's a good pitcher when healthy, but why sign somebody who won't be ready by Opening Day? Why not sign a player who is ready to go? -- Ben J., Garner, Iowa
Miller (one year, $1 million plus incentives) is a bargain compared with free agent Jeff Weaver (who reportedly wants a multiyear deal at $10 million per year -- and at this writing is still unsigned). Plus, the Cubs believe they have enough arms to start the season. Heading into camp, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, Greg Maddux, Glendon Rusch and Jerome Williams make up the rotation and Wood isn't too far behind. And there are the kids. With five scheduled open dates in April, the bigger problem might be finding starts for the pitchers who are ready to go. As for (I'm guessing here) your next question: What will the Cubs do when everyone is healthy? Answer: These things have a way of working themselves out.
Wood is currently on the Cubs depth chart as a reliever. Is he going to be in the starting rotation at the beginning of the season? If not, why not make Wood the setup man in the 'pen? He has a strong arm when healthy and can throw one or two innings at a time without injuring himself. -- Chris C., Fresno, Calif.
Wood's goal is to get back in the rotation, but he won't be ready by Opening Day. When he is ready to pitch in a game, Cubs manager Dusty Baker has said Wood may be used in the 'pen to help build up arm strength. If I put him on the depth chart now with the other five starters, people might get confused and think Baker is going with a six-man rotation.
I don't understand why the Cubs are entering the season with such a weak-hitting outfield. Many good hitters were talked about as adds to the team, but the only quality player on this club appears to be Juan Pierre. Jacque Jones is a journeyman with worse numbers than his predecessor, and Matt Murton is basically still a rookie with little power. Two years ago, the Cubs outfield produced 100 home runs and 250 RBIs. This year, it looks like 40 home runs and maybe 100 RBIs. -- Jim B., Holland, Mich.
Pierre, Jones and Murton probably won't keep the ballhawks outside Wrigley Field's bleachers happy, though Jones, a left-handed batter, won't have to watch well-hit balls land in what he dubbed "Death Valley" -- the left-center field area at the Metrodome in which a lot of his extra-base hits were caught. The Cubs let Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa go after the 2004 season in part because other areas of their games (defense, baserunning decisions, Sosa's hitting approach) were often troubling. Whether their power output made up for that (the team did wobble home third that year) is an open question.
If Murton, who showed flashes last year, blossoms into a 20-25 homer guy, he, Jones, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez -- plus Pierre at leadoff -- should generate plenty of offense. The key will be if the Cubs, overall, play a better brand of baseball than they did in 2004 (or, for that matter, 2005).
What is Ramirez's health status, and did he do any physical therapy for his sore quadriceps? -- Nick F., Wood Dale, Ill.
All reports are good regarding Ramirez and his workouts. Cubs athletic trainer Mark O'Neal and Tim Buss, the strength and conditioning coach, visited Ramirez in the Dominican to get a firsthand look and reported that the third baseman is strong and running well. Either O'Neal or Buss has talked to the person in charge of Ramirez's workouts every other week this winter to keep track of his progress.
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In 2004, Ramirez passed Ron Santo for most home runs as a Cubs third baseman. In 2005, Lee passed Banks for most by a Cubs first baseman. Who has hit the most home runs at each position for the Cubs? My guess is Gabby Hartnett at catcher, Lee at first, Ryne Sandberg at second, Banks at short, Ramirez at third, Billy Williams in left field, Andre Dawson in center, Sosa in right and Fergie Jenkins at pitcher. -- Tom S., Pekin, Ill.
You're close. It is Hartnett (37 in 1930), Lee (46 in 2005), Sandberg (40 in 1990), Banks (47 in 1958), Ramirez (35 in 2004), Sosa (66 in 1998) and Jenkins (six in 1971). But Dave Kingman is the leader among left fielders, hitting 48 in 1979, and Hack Wilson is tops among center fielders, clubbing 56 in 1930. I don't think Pierre will challenge Wilson's mark.
Are the Cubs -- or any other MLB team, for that matter -- worried about the extra work their pitchers will get during the World Baseball Classic? Are Zambrano and Ryan Dempster doing anything differently to prepare for the WBC and the season? -- Jerry M., Denver
Every Major League team is concerned about how its players will be used in the WBC. There will be pitch-count limits in each round for the starters -- 60 pitches in the first round, 75 in the second and 90 in the third. There also will be restrictions on the appearances by relief pitchers, so one guy isn't throwing on back-to-back-to-back days. The teams will use the designated hitter, so pitchers won't be at the plate.
Zambrano has been working out in Venezuela under the supervision of one of the Cubs trainers, who is there with a Winter League team, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild has been monitoring the sessions.
Team USA manager Buck Martinez says he will take 13 pitchers, six outfielders, eight infielders and three catchers, and that he's looking for versatility and flexibility so he can move the players around if needed. Marcel Lachemann will be the U.S. team's pitching coach, and he'll stay in contact with Major League teams' coaches to keep the players on schedule. I can only assume that the Venezuelan team and Canadian team will keep the Cubs posted on Zambrano and Dempster.
I read that WB and UPN are merging to form a new TV network and that Tribune Co. lost its ownership share of the network but will still run affiliates. What does this mean for the broadcast of Cubs games in the Chicago area and outside the Chicago area, like Notre Dame, Ind.? -- Bob K., Northbrook, Ill., and Notre Dame, Ind.
The Cubs have yet to release their TV broadcast schedule, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.