Closer: Kerry Wood
, 0/0 saves, 3.33 ERA in 2007
or Bob Howry
, 8/12 saves, 3.32 ERA in 2007
RH setup man: Carlos Marmol
, 1.43 ERA in 2007
LH setup man: Scott Eyre
, 4.13 ERA in 2007
The new guys
The highly sought outfielder will be the Cubs' first Japanese player after signing a four-year, $48 million deal in December. A left-handed hitter, he breaks up the overload of right-handed hitters in the lineup. Fukudome was a two-time Central League batting champ in Japan, and was a four-time Gold Glove winner. He may not speak much English, but as the new ad campaign says, he'll let his bat do the talking.
Lieber is a familiar face to Cubs fans, having played for the team from 1999-2002. The right-hander is the team's last 20-game winner after a 20-6 season in 2001. He's perfectly suited to Wrigley Field, and has a career 29-18 record and 3.62 ERA in 70 games there. The affable Lieber also may be a big help with the young pitchers.
The Cubs acquired Ascanio from the Braves, and the hard-throwing right-hander is projected as a setup pitcher in the bullpen. Last season, he struck out 71 over 78 innings at Double-A Mississippi with 10 saves. He did make 13 appearances for the Braves, and fanned 13 in 16 innings. The Cubs scouts were surprised the Braves made him available.
Acquired in the Rule 5 Draft, Lahey was 8-4 with a 3.45 ERA at Double-A New Britain last season. He was used in relief, and struck out 56 over 78 1/3 innings in 50 games. A converted catcher, Lahey is a ground-ball pitcher who is durable. He'll be expected to help in long relief.
Prospects to watch
Hart made the Cubs' postseason roster after brief, but impressive, appearances with the big league team. He gave up one run on seven hits over 11 innings, striking out 13 in September. He could be eased into big league life as a reliever.
The Cubs are eager to see how Samardzija does when baseball is his only sport. The former Notre Dame wide receiver will begin the season at Double-A Tennessee, where he finished up the '07 season. Samardzija admits he needs to slow things down on the mound as well as work on his pitch selection.
Eric Patterson: The younger brother of big league center fielder Corey Patterson, he may find himself in the outfield, too. A talented hitter, Patterson batted .297 at Triple-A Iowa last season, and was called up to the Major League team. But his year ended early when he was sent home for disciplinary reasons. The Cubs say they've wiped the slate clean.
Returning from injury
Blanco was limited to 22 games because of a cervical herniated disk. He finished the season healthy, and did play in Venezuela this winter. He'll be delegated to backup and asked to help mentor rookie Geovany Soto.
Guzman's career has been slowed by injuries, and the 2007 was no exception. After a strong Spring Training, he appeared in 12 games with the big league squad, including three starts, and was then shutdown. He needed Tommy John surgery last fall on his right elbow, and spent the winter rehabbing in Arizona. He won't be rushed back, and may provide help late in '08.
On the rebound
Marquis did post a winning record in '07 but for the second straight season, he wasn't consistent. In back to back starts in early May, he gave up seven hits and one run over 17 innings. Then, he went nine starts before notching another win. It was puzzling to the Cubs, and Marquis will face competition this spring from Dempster and Lieber.
The Cubs' medical staff wasn't sure when Prior would be ready in 2008, and the team hoped he would agree to a one-year deal with an option for '09. That didn't happen, and Prior left via free agency, signing with San Diego.
Jones batted .233 before the All-Star break, then got his head together and finished the season strong. Still, he had a major dropoff in power (only five homers). Jones needed a change of scenery, and was dealt to the Tigers.
Chicago-native Floyd was able to enjoy a homecoming, playing in front of family and friends. But the team had to be careful with him to avoid injury, and he was often not available because of nagging aches and pains. He also had a dropoff in power (nine homers).
Ohman didn't help himself with the way he handled a demotion to the Minors in August. The lefty was humbled by the experience, and now is in the Braves' bullpen in exchange for hard-throwing right-hander Jose Ascanio.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
2007 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Lee, .317
OBP: Lee, .400
SLG: Soriano, .560
Runs: Soriano, 97
RBIs: Ramirez, 101
Hits: Lee, 180
2B: Lee, 43
3B: Soriano, 5
HR: Soriano, 33
SB: Theriot, 28
2007 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Zambrano, 216 1/3
W: Zambrano, 18
L: Zambrano, 13
Win %: Lilly, .652 (15-8)
S: Dempster, 28
ERA: Carlos Marmol, 1.43
K: Hill, 183
K/9: Marmol, 12.46
WHIP: Lilly, 1.14
1. Can Dempster make a successful conversion from closer to starter?
After three seasons as the closer, Dempster is switching back to the rotation for the first time, full-time, since 2002. The right-hander has trained hard this offseason, but it won't be easy to go from one-inning outings to seven or eight. He'll be challenged with the addition of Lieber.
2. Who will be the closer?
3. Can Pie hit?
Is Wood durable enough to handle the duties? Wood looked terrific at the end of 2007 and his shoulder feels good so far. Howry wants the job -- but can he get off to a good start? Marmol has two pitches, including a nasty slider. Is that enough?
Pie has a career .301 Minor League average but also strikes out a lot. Can he adjust and utilize his speed more, becoming more of a Kenny Lofton type hitter, rather than keep swinging for the fences? He is an exciting player but needs to show he's ready for the big leagues.
The bottom line
In 2007, the Cubs had to rally to overtake the Brewers in the NL Central, and it took its toll at the end of the year. The key in '08 is to get off to a good start, and Lou Piniella will stress that this spring. During the Cubs Convention in January, Piniella said he sensed the players were "hungry." Getting swept in the National League Division Series last year can help a team develop an appetite. Piniella feels the Cubs are the team to beat, and now they have to prove that.