Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who's in center field?
The plan is to move Kosuke Fukudome from right to center to make room for Milton Bradley. But Fukudome has to convince Lou Piniella that he's the player everyone saw the first two months of last season, not the guy who disappeared in the second half. Or will Reed Johnson get the call? Both are solid defensively.
2. Who will bat 3-4-5?
3. Who will the Cubs miss the most?
Bradley thrived in the No. 3 spot with Oakland, something hitting coach Gerald Perry is well aware of. Does Piniella break up Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez by sliding Bradley in between, or does he have the switch-hitter bat fifth behind Ramirez and ahead of slugger Geovany Soto? Bradley led the American League in on-base percentage, and the Cubs need to take advantage of that.
Kerry Wood? Mark DeRosa? Henry Blanco? Wood's departure gives Carlos Marmol the chance to be the closer. Is Marmol ready? DeRosa played solid second base and was exceptional filling in when Ramirez was hurt or Fukudome struggled. Blanco mentored Soto, and the end result was a rookie who played like a veteran behind the plate. Who will the young catcher lean on now?
97-64, National League Central champions
Projected batting order
1. LF Alfonso Soriano
.280 BA, .344 OBP, .532 SLG, 29 HR, 75 RBI in 2008
2. 2B Aaron Miles
.317 BA, .355 OBP, .398 SLG, 4 HR, 31 RBI in 2008
3. 1B Derrek Lee
.291 BA, .361 OBP, .462 SLG, 20 HR, 90 RBI in 2008
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez
.289 BA, .380 OBP, .518 SLG, 27 HR, 111 RBI in 2008
5. RF Milton Bradley
.321 BA, .436 OBP, .563 SLG, 22 HR, 77 RBI in 2008
6. C Geovany Soto
.285 BA, .364 OBP, .504 SLG, 23 HR, 86 RBI in 2008
7. CF Kosuke Fukudome
.257 BA, .359 OBP, .379 SLG, 10 HR, 58 RBI in 2008
8. SS Ryan Theriot
.307 BA, .387 OBP, .359 SLG, 1 HR, 38 RBI in 2008
1. Carlos Zambrano
, 14-6, 3.91 ERA in 2008
2. Ryan Dempster
, 17-6, 2.96 in 2008
3. Ted Lilly
, 17-9, 4.09 in 2008
4. Rich Harden
, 10-2, 2.07 in 2008 (A's and Cubs)
5. Sean Marshall
, 3-5, 3.86 in 2008
Closer: Carlos Marmol
, 7/9 saves, 2.68 ERA in 2008
RH setup man: Kevin Gregg
, 3.41 ERA in 2008
LH setup man: Neal Cotts
, 4.29 ERA in 2008
The new guys
The biggest pickup in the offseason. The Cubs are hoping he provides another dimension in the middle of the lineup. Bradley has had run-ins with managers, umpires and fans, but says that's in the past and he's eager to start fresh in Chicago. A switch-hitter, he batted .341 with 10 homers against left-handers last year, and .312 with 12 homers against right-handers.
Acquired from the Marlins, Gregg has 61 saves over the last two seasons, including 29 in '08. He enjoys pitching in the ninth and will be competing with Marmol for save opportunities. The right-hander underwent knee surgery after last season ended but was ahead of schedule in his rehab this offseason and able to do his regular throwing program. He held hitters to a .203 average last year.
Miles could be used the way DeRosa was last season and bounce around the infield. He will primarily play second base, sharing time with Mike Fontenot. A switch-hitter, Miles batted .315 against lefties and .317 against right-handers. Wrigley Field hasn't been as kind. He has a career .224 average there.
Although he hasn't started since 2005, Heilman will be considered for the rotation as well as the bullpen. He'll need to get stretched out. He did not pitch more than three innings in 2008. Heilman has spent his entire career with the New York Mets, and the former Notre Dame star was a first-round pick in 2001.
The speedster will be used primarily as a pinch-runner and sub in center field. He had a personal-high 21 stolen bases in 2008, and was caught stealing four times. If you haven't watched the YouTube video of Gathright jumping cars in a parking lot, check it out.
The Cubs have their eighth- and ninth-inning pitchers in Gregg and Marmol. A key this spring will be to determine who bridges the gap between starters and the two. Vizcaino, acquired from the Rockies for Jason Marquis, could be a factor if he can rebound from a disappointing season in Colorado. Vizcaino did have a better ERA in day games than night games last season and held right-handed hitters to a .170 average.
This will be Bako's second stint with the Cubs. He played for them in 2003-04. He gives the Cubs another left-handed option, but he most likely will not spark a fan club the way backup catcher Henry Blanco did.
Prospects to watch
It's hard to call Samardzija a "prospect" because he was unfazed in his call up last season. Guess playing big-time college football helps prepare pitchers for the Major Leagues. The right-hander was 4-1 at Triple-A Iowa before he was promoted July 25, and compiled a 2.28 ERA in 26 games with the Cubs. He did not give up a run over 14 1/3 innings in 13 games in August. He would prefer to start but needs to show he has better command of his pitches.
The right-hander won 17 games last season, including an 8-1 mark in 10 starts for Iowa. A seventh-round pick in 2004, Atkins will get a good look this spring in hopes of being the first guy called up if the team needs a starter.
Colvin most likely won't be ready until late 2009, but the outfielder is coming off Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. That's not that common for an outfielder. He led Double-A Tennessee in hits (138) and RBIs (80), and drove in three or more runs seven times. He needs another season in the Minors, but the Cubs have high hopes for Colvin, the No. 1 pick in 2006.
On the rebound
Harden made 25 starts last season combined between the Athletics and Cubs. That was his highest total since 2004, when he started 31 games for Oakland. Nagging elbow problems limited him in 2006 and '07. The right-hander can silence all the talk about his aches and pains if he can make 30 starts this year.
Fukudome didn't end the season hurt, unless you count his pride. The highly touted outfielder, who signed a four-year deal prior to the 2008 season, batted .217 in the second half. His struggles prompted the Cubs to seek outfield help and sign Bradley. Fukudome was given specific core exercises to do this offseason, and the Cubs sent one of their staff to Japan to check up on the outfielder. He is committed to playing for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic and will be a late arrival.
Wood was the longest-tenured Cubs player but left via free agency and signed a two-year deal with the Indians to be their closer. The Cubs did not want to commit to a multi-year deal with the right-hander, who won Rookie of the Year in 1998, and last season, his first as a closer, converted 34 of 40 save opportunities.
The most surprising departure. DeRosa set career highs with 21 home runs and 87 RBIs, played anywhere he was told and was a leader in the clubhouse. But the Cubs wanted to squeeze another left-handed bat into the lineup and acquired free-agent switch-hitter Miles. DeRosa was dealt to the Indians for three Minor League pitchers.
The least surprising departure. Marquis reached double-digits in wins for the fifth straight season and was durable, but never could convince Piniella he was a big-game pitcher. He was traded to the Rockies for Vizcaino.
The Cubs opted to not pick up Blanco's option year ($3 million), and the "Hank White" fan club will miss their hero. So will Soto. Blanco was the perfect teammate, tutoring the young players and accepting his backup role willingly.
Howry was bumped from his role as primary right-handed set-up pitcher by
Samardzija late last season. He did appear in 72 games, but most of that was early in the
season as Howry seemed to lose his control. A free agent, Howry signed with the Giants.
Ward's role was pinch-hitter but he batted .145 off the bench. Injuries also limited him the last two seasons. The Cubs hope Micah Hoffpauir can take over the role of extra left-handed bat, plus sub at first, and stay healthy.
Felix Pie, etc.:
Both Pie and Rich Hill were dealt to the Orioles in separate deals. They were among four players out of options, including infielder Ronny Cedeno (to Seattle in the Heilman deal) and reliever Michael Wuertz (to the Athletics). Pie was projected as the starting center fielder in '08; the Cubs are still trying to find that guy. Hill led the team in strikeouts and won 11 games in '07, but couldn't find the strike zone last year. The departures of the four creates openings for others in the organization, such as Angel Guzman, Kevin Hart and Micah Hoffpauir.