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Cubs quick hits

Cubs quick hits

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs spent more than any other Major League team this offseason, shelling out more than $300 million. Will it pay off? Management promised new manager Lou Piniella that they wanted to win, and would do whatever it takes to do so. Piniella has never managed a team with a $100 million payroll. He's not in Tampa Bay anymore.

Team strength: Adding a 40-40 player like Alfonso Soriano to the lineup is a plus. Derrek Lee is healthy, Aramis Ramirez has power, and all Piniella has to do is figure out the order. They're a little right-handed, but the addition of Cliff Floyd helps. Will they score enough to help the pitchers? Read on.

Achilles' heel: New hitting coach Gerald Perry has to change the mind-set. The Cubs have traditionally clubbed home runs, but they often are solo shots. The team needs to think about improving its offensive approach. When the wind blows in at Wrigley, it helps the pitchers, but the hitters have to know how to manufacture runs.

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Top newcomer: Soriano leads the pack of free-agent additions. Soriano, who signed an eight-year, $136 million deal, gives the Cubs an instant offense-type leadoff hitter. He's the first 40-40-40 (steals, home runs, doubles) player in baseball.

Ready to make the leap: Ryan Theriot has the energy the team needs. He could be the perfect backup player, and can sub at second, short or third. He is key. Theriot could develop into a good No. 2 hitter if there's a spot for him in the lineup.

On the hot seat: New team president John McDonough has said the goal is to win, and not just the division, but win the World Series. That, and a blessing from the Tribune Co., allowed general manager Jim Hendry to spend freely this offseason. After finishing last in the division, the team has nowhere to go but up.

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You can bank on: If the Cubs can figure out a way to get Ramirez off to a good start, imagine what kind of numbers he could put up. He's averaged 35 homers and 105 RBIs the last three seasons with the Cubs. There's no reason he should back off, and hopefully he will want to justify the five-year, $75 million deal he signed this winter.

Litmus test: It's hard to believe but the Cubs opened spring camp with depth on the pitching staff. Can they stay healthy? The team has led the National League in simulated games -- one example was Mark Prior, who made four rehab starts in the Minors last year and just nine in the big leagues. The Cubs have several candidates for Comeback Player of the Year. Can Wade Miller regain his form? Can Kerry Wood make the switch to the 'pen?

Games you don't want to miss: The Cubs-Cardinals series will take on new meaning with Piniella and Tony La Russa, childhood friends from Tampa, Fla., going head to head. First meeting with the defending world champs is April 20-22 at Wrigley Field. There are two long series on the road in May -- May 11-17 (Philadelphia, New York) and May 22-27 (San Diego, Los Angeles) -- that could be tough. The first White Sox Interleague series will be May 18-20 at Wrigley, followed June 22-24 with a rematch at U.S. Cellular Field. After winning 66 games in 2006, every one's important.

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

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