Cubs need another front-of-the-rotation starter
Originally Published: November 9, 2007By Phil Rogers | Special to ESPN.com
The beauty of Lou Piniella's first season in Chicago lies in the eye of the beholder.
GM: Jim Hendry
Manager: Lou Piniella
'07 record: 85-77, 1st NL Central
'07 payroll: $99.9M, 8th MLB
Runs scored: 752, 8th NL
Runs allowed: 690, 2nd NL
OPS: .754, 8th NL
ERA: 4.04, 2nd NL
Fielding percentage: .984, T-6th NL
Primary needsRight fielder: Piniella mixed and matched all season in right, finishing the year with a platoon featuring Cliff Floyd and Matt Murton, both of whom are better suited for left. The position was problematic all season. A left-handed-hitting regular would be a fine addition. Front-of-the-rotation starter: When the Cubs went to the playoffs in 2003, they had Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Zambrano -- three potential No. 1s -- in the mix. Lilly and Hill did a good job but there's a big drop-off behind Zambrano, who wasn't a sure thing himself. Left-handed reliever: Scott Eyre was a first-division set-up man in 2006, the first year of his three-year contract, but he didn't earn Piniella's trust last season. He can be a useful part, but an upgrade would be nice.
Free agentsRHP Kerry Wood, RHP Steve Trachsel, LF Cliff Floyd, C Jason Kendall, 1B Daryle Ward and LF Craig Monroe. In the picture: The Piniella-Alex Rodriguez connection is the elephant in the room with the Cubs. It doesn't make a lot of sense to add a fourth right-handed power hitter to a team that will pay Soriano, Lee and Ramirez a combined $40 million next season but the Cubs hit only 151 home runs last year, finishing 11th in the NL. Until Rodriguez signs elsewhere, this bears watching. The Cubs will study the available free-agent center fielders and could make a run at Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
Trade baitRyan Dempster: Marmol seems poised to move into Dempster's spot at the end of games, and Howry is available if Marmol has an allergic reaction to late-inning tension. There's one year left on a contract for Dempster, who could be moved into the rotation or a different role in the bullpen if he's not traded.
Farm aidC Geovany Soto: Lightly regarded a year ago, in part because he was overweight, Soto experienced a breakthrough season in 2007. He was the MVP in the Pacific Coast League and figures to take Jason Kendall's spot as the No. 1 catcher. One scout says he may be one of the top catchers in the NL soon. RHP Kevin Hart: Acquired from Baltimore for second baseman Freddie Bynum a year ago, Hart was the Cubs' minor league pitcher of the year and showed Piniella enough in September to make the playoff roster. He will go to spring training with a good chance to make the team, either as the No. 5 starter or a set-up guy in the bullpen. C-1B-OF Jake Fox: As versatile as anyone in the organization, Fox caught Piniella's eye last spring and could win a job on the bench. He could join Soto and Henry Blanco to give the Cubs three catchers, making it possible to pinch hit Soto when he's not in the lineup.
OutlookWith the Cubs remaining up for sale, it's hard to know what the organization will or will not do. The one thing that seems certain is there won't be as much player movement as there was last offseason, when GM Jim Hendry scrambled to upgrade the roster. A big move is not out of the question, however, for either Rodriguez, one of the free-agent center fielders on the market (Torii Hunter?) or another starting pitcher. Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through Amazon.com or by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).
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