Cubs, Hairston avoid arbitration

Cubs, Hairston avoid arbitration

Two down, three to go.

The Cubs on Monday agreed to terms with infielder Jerry Hairston on a $2.3 million contract for 2006, leaving three arbitration-eligible players unsigned heading into February hearings.

With Hairston and right-hander Mark Prior under contract, the Cubs have yet to sign outfielder Juan Pierre, right-hander Carlos Zambrano and left-hander Will Ohman. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and team president Andy MacPhail have never gone to arbitration with a player.

The 29-year-old Hairston made $1.8 million last season, his first with the Cubs, and batted .261 with four home runs, 25 doubles and 30 RBIs. He had asked for $2.6 million in 2006, while the Cubs offered $1.95 million.

The Cubs originally acquired Hairston from the Orioles in the deal that sent Sammy Sosa to Baltimore. Hairston was coming off right ankle surgery at the time and was limited to eight stolen bases in 114 games.

Now he says he is healthy.

"I'm back to training, not rehabbing," Hairston said earlier this month at the Cubs Convention. "Now I'm running the way I was three years ago. I feel like a new man.

"It was really demoralizing being on that field at that level thinking there were things you used to do and can't do," he said. "I've taken this offseason seriously. I'm very excited about the year -- very excited."

Hairston could compete with Todd Walker for starting duties at second base, though Walker is an early favorite.

All three of the Cubs' remaining arbitration-eligible players are considered key to the 2006 club.

Pierre, 28, whom the Cubs acquired from the Florida Marlins for three Minor League pitchers, is coming off a season in which he batted .276 with two homers, 47 RBIs and 57 stolen bases in 162 games. The center fielder asked for $6.5 million, while the Cubs offered $5 million.

Zambrano, 24, made $3.76 million last season and led the Cubs with 14 wins. He established career highs in starts (33), innings pitched (223 1/3) and strikeouts (202). Zambrano asked for $7.2 million, while the Cubs countered with an offer of $6 million.

Ohman, 28, is seeking $775,000, while the Cubs offered $500,000. The left-hander had been sidelined by three elbow surgeries, but was 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 69 games last season.

Hendry did not return a call Monday seeking comment.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.