Are the Cubs still pursuing Brian Roberts or were they scared off by the steroids? He is exactly what they need to make a strong challenge (apart from a center fielder who can hit). Roberts can lead off, steal, hit for average and field. They should have enough pitchers to make the deal happen. -- Dan W., Naples, Fla.
The Cubs and Orioles are still talking, but some of the players mentioned recently are not involved, so don't believe the rumors. Keep in mind that Roberts is a favorite of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who blocked a trade last year that involved the second baseman. The Mitchell Report revelations are not the holdup -- it's just a matter of finding the right match for both teams, and the reports out of Baltimore are that Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail has very specific requests.
The Cubs don't need a second baseman because they have Mark DeRosa. But one thing Cubs manager Lou Piniella learned in his first season in Chicago is that players like Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee need more days off, and DeRosa's versatility makes him a valuable fill-in at those spots as well as the outfield. What Piniella wants is more speed and another left-handed bat, and the switch-hitting Roberts could provide that.
As for center field, the Cubs head into Spring Training with Felix Pie and Sam Fuld contending for the starting spot. There is another candidate. Read on.
How is the trial of Ronny Cedeno in center field going in winter ball? -- Bill L., Downers Grove, Ill.
Oneri Fleita, the Cubs player development director, said the reports he received were that Cedeno looked like a natural in center. The Cubs apparently decided to test Cedeno in the outfield after watching him out there during batting practice.
Cedeno did play primarily at shortstop this winter in Venezuela, and batted .315 (51-for-162) with three homers and 16 RBIs. He played in a dozen games as a center fielder, and hit .244 (11-for-45) with no homers or RBIs. He made two errors in the outfield, as well. For the winter season, he hit .300 in 55 games.
In your answers, you give stats from Winter League games. Why? It's not like All-Stars are playing on these teams. If a guy bats .300 in Winter League play, what does that mean? All he is doing is beating up on fellow rookies and guys with a few years experience in the big leagues. Yes, he is making contact and getting hits, but it's like comparing high school baseball to the Majors. If available, I'd rather just see last year's stats. -- Doug G., Chicago
I'll keep that in mind, although you can find last year's numbers in the "Stats" section of the Cubs site. What I'm trying to provide are the latest numbers. For example, in the Dominican playoffs currently under way, Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol has 11 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings in six games for Licey, while Pie is batting .296 (8-for-27) in seven games for the same team.
I'll admit sometimes success in winter ball doesn't translate into success in the big leagues. In the 2005-06 winter season, Cedeno was named the Rookie of the Year in the Venezuelan League after hitting .355 for Aragua. He then struggled to hit .245 in '06 with the Cubs. These games do mean something to the players. Major Leaguers currently playing winter ball include Angels pitcher Ervin Santana, Royals outfielder Jose Guillen, Nationals second baseman Ronnie Belliard and Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, and they aren't exactly high schoolers.
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Bottom line, if a guy is playing winter ball, he's getting at-bats and experience, and that will help more baseball-wise than if he was sitting at home playing video games.
I've noticed Ryan Dempster's name listed as one of the candidates for the starting rotation. If he's unable to crack the rotation, will he, 1) get thrown back into the closer mix with Marmol, Kerry Wood and Bob Howry, 2) become a middle reliever/spot starter, or 3) become trade bait for possible bench help? -- Drew N., Pewee Valley, Ky.
Dempster's days as a closer are probably over, but he could be used in long relief if starting doesn't work. This won't be a one-start experiment in Spring Training either.
Can you tell us when tickets go on sale for the Cubs game in Las Vegas, and how they will be sold? -- Chris W., Berkeley, Calif.
The Las Vegas 51s Minor League team has handled the tickets in the past. Call (702) 798-7825 for information. The Cubs close the spring exhibition season March 28-29 in Las Vegas vs. the Seattle Mariners.
With Andre Dawson, Lee Smith and Shawon Dunston on the ballot, will Ron Santo ever be considered a Hall of Famer? He was a great player. It seems they are ignoring him completely. In my opinion, he should've been inducted in the first or second year he was eligible. -- John N., Las Vegas
Santo is on the Veterans Committee ballot -- not the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot -- and those voters include current Hall of Famers. The results of the Veterans Committee's next vote will be announced in February 2009.
How does Jeff Samardzija project -- top-of-the-rotation starter or middle or better in the bullpen? -- Jake T., Chicago
Samardzija is projected as a starting pitcher, and he will likely open the season at Double-A Tennessee.
I have the perfect sponsor for naming rights: Old Style beer. Then, they could name it "Old Style Wrigley." -- Matt M., Valparaiso, Ind.
That's better than some of the other suggestions I've received. I have no updates on naming rights or a potential owner.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.