Contenders Kerry Wood, Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol begin their workouts under Piniella's watch on Thursday when pitchers and catchers take the field at Fitch Park. How will the Cubs pick who gets the job?
"You can tell by the stuff and the presence, and also by the amount of strikes being thrown," Piniella said. "We've got veteran type pitchers here who can do it, and we've got the young kid Marmol who fits into the equation.
"We'll have one guy by the end of Spring Training -- probably by three-quarters through Spring Training, we'll have one guy," he said. "We've got people here very capable of getting it done. That's one of the questions here. There aren't that many questions with this ballclub."
Basically, Piniella has to settle on the closer, center fielder, and narrow the list of starting-pitcher candidates from eight to five. Ryan Dempster is switching from the closer role to the rotation, which created the opening.
"Howry, in my mind, can close -- there's no question," Piniella said. "I think this young man is a competitor. I thought that after six weeks of the season, he pitched as well as anybody.
"Marmol has really nice stuff," Piniella said. "Kerry Wood has electric stuff, also, and it's just a question of durability. Can he go out there three, four days in a row if we need him?"
Howry, who was the White Sox full-time closer in 1999, said he prepared for this Spring Training the same as he has in years past.
"It's all going to play itself out," he said. "Only the guys inside in the office are the ones who know who they see as the front-runner. All we can do is go out and pitch."
Dempster will be watching the closer competition as well.
"I think it's a pretty fortunate situation to be in," he said. "Instead of sitting there with your arms up in the air wondering who's going to close because you don't know who can do it, you have three guys who are capable of doing it."
And what does Dempster expect from himself?
"Two hundred innings," he said. "I was always taught that's all I can control. If you go out and log some innings, the rest will take care of itself."
"I'm always disappointed when we don't make the club better when you feel you have the opportunity," Hendry said Wednesday. "We'll keep our options open on how to make the club better.
He still feels the Cubs open camp with a good team, yet admitted to being a little frustrated.
"When you write things up on paper, you have visions of how you'd like it to be on Opening Day," Hendry said. "We're still seven weeks away, but you'd like to have everything the way you wanted it."
Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot said he talked often this winter with second baseman Mark DeRosa about the rumored deal and the implications.
"Brian Roberts is a great player," Theriot said. "If we get him, everybody will be excited to have him in the lineup. He's a solid hitter, can run the bases well and plays good defense. What else could you want? From a non-selfish standpoint, if it makes the team better, that's what we'll do."
Capitol hill: The Cubs coaches and players were watching the congressional hearings involving the Mitchell Report on Wednesday.
"It's unfortunate," Piniella said. "Here we are talking about a new baseball season and the start of Spring Training, and we're rehashing things that happened in the past. Hopefully it goes away and we can concentrate on the season."
Hendry said he hoped this would be the last time Major League Baseball is examined in a negative way by Congress.
"We can all speculate until the cows come home who might have done what, who we think did what, whose numbers are skewed," he said. "You can speculate all you want. I think it's time to move forward, and put a tremendous amount of money and effort into stringent testing and try to get the game cleaned up and move on.
"We should all be talking about improving ballclubs and looking at the Red Sox as the defending champs and giving them their due coming into camp. Unfortunately, in the next few days, we'll keep rehashing what happened in Congress."
To catch a thief: Police have arrested a 44-year-old man for stealing personal items from three Cubs players during a break-in at Fitch Park. Todd Robert Smith apparently walked into the clubhouse at Fitch Park on Jan. 29, and stole items from Jeff Samardzija, Jake Fox and Tyler Colvin, who were on the field at the time.
"We came in from working out and Colvin said, 'Hey, anybody see my sunglasses?'" Fox said. "I started looking around and I had stuff missing, also. The guy came in at the right time, right spot. I heard they got him, and maybe we'll get all our stuff back."
Samardzija lost his wallet and sunglasses, and the thief did charge some items on Samardzija's credit card at a nearby Wal-Mart. Fox said it was more of a headache than anything else.
"That day I didn't have any money in my wallet," he said. "It was just a hassle, canceling all credit cards."
The Cubs now have security stationed at the Fitch Park facility.
Extra bases: Fox is in camp early to work out with the catchers. He's also listed as an outfielder. "I've been working out at all positions since I got here," Fox said. "I told [conditioning coach] Tim Buss he had one month to turn me into an athlete, and I think he did a pretty decent job. I'm ready to fill in wherever they need me." ... Outfielder Sam Fuld, the Arizona Fall League MVP, will be competing with Felix Pie for the center-field job. "The more competition the better," Fuld said. "We're two competitive guys. We're going to go out there and compete, and whatever happens, happens." ... Hall of Famer Billy Williams stopped by Fitch Park on Wednesday. ... Position players must report by Feb. 18, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for the next day.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.