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Offseason could be busy one for Cubs

Offseason could be busy one for Cubs

CHICAGO -- The Cubs will continue to focus on the team rather than finding a new owner this offseason.

General manager Jim Hendry said it's business as usual for him and his staff as they head into the offseason earlier than anticipated. Hendry had hoped to push back the organizational meetings back until early November. Instead, the Cubs were ousted in three games by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series, and the front office, scouts and player development personnel now will meet Oct. 19 in Arizona.

Among the items to be addressed are whether or not the team keeps pitchers Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood, both free agents. Dempster is coming off a successful transition back to the rotation, winning a career-high 17 games and posting a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts. Wood made the switch from starter to closer and saved 34 games. The only problem he encountered was a nagging blister that sidelined him about a month.

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Both are key reasons the Cubs repeated as NL Central champs and both have good relationships with Hendry. However, other teams may try to tempt the two with long-term deals.

Several players are tied up contract-wise, such as Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee, and how much Hendry has to spend is to be decided shortly before the meetings. It could be close to the 2008 figure of $118 million.

There is no deadline regarding the sale of the team. The Tribune Co. announced in April 2007 that the Cubs were for sale, and Major League Baseball had hoped to resolve the situation by the end of this calendar year. However, because of the current economic situation, Tribune chairman Sam Zell may decide to wait to get a better price.

When Hendry decided to pick up pitcher Rich Harden's option year for 2009, he didn't consult with the prospective buyers.

"That would be crazy," said Mark Cuban, who heads one of five groups that has bid for the Cubs. "I just have my fan hat on and they've done a good job so far. Sports are a crazy business. If there was a template, we'd all be champions, right?"

So, the focus for Hendry and his staff is on the roster and getting the right mix for manager Lou Piniella, whose option was picked up for 2010. There's a need for more left-handed hitting in the lineup, plus the Cubs have to find reliable middle relief and sort out the starting rotation options. And center field remains unsettled following Felix Pie's struggles at the Major League level.

It could be a busy winter.

CONTRACT ISSUES

Free agents: RHP Ryan Dempster, OF Jim Edmonds, RHP Chad Fox, RHP Bob Howry, RHP Jon Lieber, 1B Daryle Ward, RHP Kerry Wood.

Eligible for arbitration: IF Ronny Cedeno, LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Chad Gaudin, OF Reed Johnson, RHP Michael Wuertz.

Club options: RHP Rich Harden ($7 million; picked up Oct. 8), C Henry Blanco, $3 million ($300,000 buyout).

Player options: None

Non-tender possibilities: None

CATCHERS

Geovany Soto, .285, 23 HRs, 86 RBIs

The Cubs expect Soto to follow up his sensational rookie season with another solid year. Henry Blanco was a mentor to Soto, but whether that's worth the $3 million option owed him will have to be determined. Blanco started 45 games.

FIRST BASE

Derrek Lee, .291, 20 HRs, 90 RBIs
Micah Hoffpauir, .362, 25 HRs, 100 RBIs (Triple-A)

Hoffpauir is a solid left-handed bat with no place to play. He could be a better-than-average backup, but Lee never likes to take a day off.

SECOND BASE

Mark DeRosa, .285, 21 HRs, 87 RBIs
Mike Fontenot, .305, 9 HRs, 40 RBIs

DeRosa did seem to play more right field than second base in the final month because of Kosuke Fukudome's struggles. Fontenot is a solid left-handed option.

SHORTSTOP

Ryan Theriot, .307, 1 HR, 38 RBIs, 22 SBs
Ronny Cedeno, .269, 2 HRs, 28 RBIs

Theriot improved from a year ago, although his numbers did go down again in the final month of play. Cedeno hit .378 in the first month but didn't maintain that pace.

THIRD BASE

Aramis Ramirez, .289, 27 HRs, 111 RBIs

DeRosa is the backup at third to Ramirez, who notched his sixth 100-RBI season in the last eight years and set career highs with 44 doubles and a .380 on-base percentage.

OUTFIELD

Alfonso Soriano, .280, 29 HRs, 75 RBIs
Kosuke Fukudome, .257, 10 HRs, 58 RBIs
Reed Johnson, .303, 6 HRs, 50 RBIs
Felix Pie, .287, 10 HRs, 55 RBIs (Triple-A)

The Cubs head into the offseason again unsure about center field. Johnson made a positive impact and Jim Edmonds (19 homers, 49 RBIs with Cubs) did better than expected. Pie starred in the Minors but hasn't been able to make the transition. He is still young. Soriano is signed through 2014, Fukudome through 2011. Fukudome batted .217 after the All-Star break, and one option the team may consider is adding a Japanese hitting coach.

ROTATION

RHP Carlos Zambrano, 14-6, 3.91 ERA, 188 2/3 IP, 130 K's
LHP Ted Lilly, 17-9, 4.09 ERA, 204 2/3 IP, 184 K's
RHP Rich Harden, 5-1, 1.77 ERA, 71 IP, 89 K's (Cubs)
RHP Jason Marquis, 11-9, 4.53 ERA, 167 IP, 91 K's
LHP Sean Marshall, 3-5, 3.86 ERA, 65 1/3 IP, 58 K's

Dempster earned the Game 1 start in the NLDS after winning a career-high 17 games. A wild card in the mix is lefty Rich Hill, who won 11 games and led the team in strikeouts in 2007. Hill struggled with his control and back problems in '08. Another option to be considered is right-hander Angel Guzman.

BULLPEN

RHP Carlos Marmol, 2-4, 2.68 ERA, 82 Gs, 114 K's
LHP Neal Cotts, 0-2, 4.29 ERA, 50 Gs
RHP Michael Wuertz, 1-1, 3.63 ERA, 45 Gs (Triple-A)
RHP Jeff Samardzija, 1-0, 2.28 ERA, 26 Gs (Cubs)
RHP Chad Gaudin, 9-5, 4.40 ERA, 50 Gs (Cubs/A's)
RHP Kevin Hart, 2-2, 6.51 ERA, 21 Gs (Cubs)

If the Cubs don't re-sign Wood, who had 34 saves in his first season as a closer, then Marmol would likely get the job with Samardzija as the No. 1 setup man.

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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