Exploring the Possibilities – Part Two

After the long weekend it was back to business for baseball on Monday. Jim Hendry completed one of his off-season goals by resigning Kerry Wood to a 1-year contract. The Cubs still have several more questions to answer this winter. With the Winter Meetings six days away, Jim Hendry was on WGN Radio Monday night with Dave Kaplan and discussed several of his team’s needs and what they are looking to add this off-season.

Here is Part Two….

A few highlights from Kaplan’s Interview with Jim Hendry

Hendry stated once the decision was made to move Ryan Dempster back to the starting rotation, they thought they had to bring Wood back. Hendry said he was fearful of losing Wood to another team with the way he pitched in September. The Cubs are looking for Dempster to give them depth in the rotation and Hendry mentioned Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher would compete for jobs in the starting rotation in the spring.

Hendry stated Gallagher is a much better pitcher than he showed last season. He said the Cubs could have made a mistake in promoting Gallagher too early last year. Gallagher had a good season in the AFL (0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 8 games, 2 starts, gave up 2 runs on 12 hits, walked 4 and struck out 13 in 16 innings) and Hendry stated Gallagher is considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.

Hendry mentioned Kevin Hart will also compete for a spot in the rotation as well as Piniella’s long man out of the pen.

With Wood signed, Hendry and Kaplan discussed what other pieces Hendry would like to add. Hendry said his number one target is adding a left-handed power-hitting outfielder. Hendry went on to say he would like to add a left-handed or switch hitting infielder (he did not mention Kaz Matsui by name) and to find a versatile player with speed off the bench.

Hendry discussed Sam Fuld, Felix Pie and Mark Prior….those notes have been added below.

Felix Pie

With Jacque Jones in the Motor City, the Cubs have handed over the starting centerfielder job to the very talented, yet underachieving, Felix Pie. Pie has been the Cubs top prospect, seemingly forever, but his first shot in the big leagues did not match the hype. Pie is a winner and a very good defender. He showed how good he can be in the field but struggled at the plate. Pie hit .215 (38-for-177)/.271/.333 with 3 home runs, 9 doubles, 3 triples, 8 stolen bases and 20 RBI’s in his first 87 games with the Cubs….but he was even worse against southpaws (.111/.158/.111).

Gerald Perry has been with Pie this winter in the Dominican and he has also received visits from Bobby Dernier and Ryne Sandberg. The Cubs would like Pie to shorten his swing but Perry’s work with Pie has not paid dividends yet. Through the first 21 games for Licey, Pie is hitting .208 (15-for-72) with a .278 OBP and a .306 SLG (4 doubles, 1 home run, 7 walks and 8 RBI’s with 16 strikeouts).

Do the Cubs go into next season with Pie being their main option in center or do they try to sign a veteran for Plan ‘B’? A report around a month ago mentioned Sam Fuld could be an option in center if Pie fails to take the job he is being given. Hendry confirmed that report in an interview with Dave Kaplan on WGN Radio on Monday night. But Fuld has yet to record a hit at the big league level and up the middle defense is very important to a team’s success…. Hendry said Pie would compete for the Cubs centerfield spot with Sam Fuld.

Centerfield has been a big question mark for the Cubs for many years and if Pie cannot take the next step, Piniella could continue to have a big hole in his outfield that must be filled. Aaron Rowand and Andruw Jones are available but with both players seeking a long-term contract and both being right handed, neither figure to be in the Cubs’ off-season plans. Pie has proven he has the talent, now it is up to him to take the next step.

Sam Fuld

Sam Fuld turned heads last September with his defense. Fuld made a game saving catch in St. Louis and turned in one of the best catches in the last 20 years at Wrigley Field. Fuld did not record a hit in his first 6 big league at bats but did draw 3 walks and scored 3 runs. Fuld is projected as a fourth outfielder by most and not a starter.

Fuld was very impressive in the Arizona Fall League and finished second in the league in hitting…. .402/.492/.626 with a 1.118 OPS. Fuld hit 11 doubles, 2 triples, 3 home runs, walked 17 times and stole 10 bases in 29 games. Fuld’s play and work ethic in the AFL resulted in winning the Stenson Award. Hendry talked to Dave Kaplan about Fuld on Monday night. He brought up Fuld’s very good defense and the fact he had an excellent fall in the desert.

While Fuld could give Piniella depth off the bench and a solid, late-inning defensive replacement (Baseball America stated Fuld is the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs’ system) he does not figure to be an everyday starter on a team with expectations of playing games in October.

How Piniella uses Fuld will depend on the performance of Felix Pie and if the Cubs fill their need for a productive right fielder. However, Jim Hendry must think of Fuld as the 24th man on the Opening Day roster, not the 22nd.

Kenny Lofton

Should Jim Hendry dig out the phone number of Lofton’s agent and take another flier on the 40-year old outfielder? Kenny Lofton will turn 41 on May 31st and while his skills have diminished, he had a solid season in 2007. Lofton played in 136 games for the Rangers and the Indians. He posted a .296/.367/.414/.781 line with 7 home runs and 38 RBI’s….other than the RBI totals better numbers than the ones posted by Jacque Jones (Jones in the second half .332/.374/.458/.832 with 3 home runs and 46 RBI’s. Lofton in the second half .290/.343/.394/.737 with 1 home run and 18 RBI’s). At the age of 40, Lofton stole 23 bases and was caught 7 times. Ryan Theriot led the Cubs with 28 steals, he was caught 4 times and Alfonso Soriano stole 19 and was thrown out 6 times.

Lofton has not been connected to the Cubs by the mainstream media but could give the Cubs an option in center if Felix Pie struggles….plus Lofton could provide Piniella a veteran lefty off the bench with speed. Lofton made $3.85 million in 2006 and $6 million in 2007, he should ask for another 1-year contract somewhere in between. As long as Lofton remains healthy he would be a low risk for the Cubs….Lofton and his winning attitude always makes him attractive to a contender at the trading deadline.

Carl Crawford

The Cubs are rumored to be interested in trading for Carl Crawford, but the Tampa Bay Rays are notoriously difficult to deal with. Several rumors, a couple of weeks back, indicated Jim Hendry had put together a package to offer the Rays for Crawford. Several players were rumored to be in “the package” but a report late last week indicated the Rays had not put Crawford on the trading block….

What would it take for Hendry to put Crawford in blue pinstripes? Would that even be the right move for the Cubs? Crawford is very talented and his offensive numbers have increased the last four seasons (.296/.331/.450/.781/11/55 in 2004, .301/.331/.469/.800/15/81 in 2005, .305/.348/.482/.830/18/77 in 2006 and .315/.355/.466/.821/11/80 in 2007) but he has not played right field at the Major League level and has only played 10 games in center since playing 30 games for Piniella in centerfield in 2004.

Crawford is signed through the 2008 season with club options for 2009 and 2010. Crawford will make $5.25 million next season….the club option for 2009 is $8.25 million (with a $2.5 million dollar buyout) and Crawford is scheduled to make $10 million in 2010 (with a $1.25 million dollar buyout).

Would giving up a couple of top prospects and creating other holes in other positions be worth trading for a player without any big league experience in right field? Crawford would be an upgrade offensively but learning a new position could have a ‘Soriano-effect‘ on his production at the plate.

Ryan Church

Bruce Miles stated last week Ryan Church is on the Cubs radar. The question with Church is what would it take to pry Church from the Nationals? Jim Bowden and Stan Kasten have a reputation of being difficult to deal with. Church will not turn 30 until next October and has more experience in right field than Carl Crawford. Church is coming off his first full season at the Major League level.

Ryan Church hit .272 last season with the Nationals with a .349 OBP, a .464 SLG and a .813 OPS….15 home runs and 70 RBI’s in 144 games. Church’s lefty-righty splits are a little concerning. Church hit .229 with a .316 OPB with only 1 home run and 19 RBI’s in 118 at bats. Against righties…. .287 with a .360 OBP, a .506 SLG and a .866 OPS in 352 at bats. Church has played 7 career games at Wrigley…. .250 (5-for-20)/.348/.400/.748 without a home run and 3 doubles.

With his limited experience, would trading for Church be a viable option for Jim Hendry, or more of a back-up plan of a back-up plan?

Ryan Theriot

Ryan Theriot became a fan favorite toward the end of 2006. He finished the season strong and started camp last spring hoping to make the Opening Day roster. Theriot not only made the roster but eventually took over the starting job at shortstop and forced the Cubs to move Cesar Izturis to the Pirates.

Theriot had a solid first full season at the big league level (.266/.326/.346 with 3 home runs, 45 RBI’s, 30 doubles, 2 triples, 80 runs scored and 28 stolen bases) but struggled down the stretch (.202/.257/.263/.520 with 4 doubles, a triple and 6 RBI’s). Theriot provided a much-needed spark in the first half (.276/.338/.354) and stepped in for Alfonso Soriano when he missed nearly a month late in the season. Theriot helped led the Cubs back into the race with a spectacular July…. .348/.437/.483/.920 with 2 home runs, 6 doubles and 6 RBI’s.

But Theriot’s second half (.257/.315/.339/.654 with 15 doubles, a triple, 2 home runs and 20 RBI’s) has raised a lot of questions….the Cubs’ concerns with Theriot have forced them to look at adding Kaz Matsui as a possible upgrade. Not only did Theriot struggle at the plate but showed signs of fatigue in the field as well. While Theriot’s range and arm were in question, his play at short appeared to get progressively worse at the season wore on.

Theriot plays the game the way it should be played….he appears to give a 100% every time he takes the field.

Theriot’s home-road splits are very concerning but should improve with more experience. Theriot hit .298/.340/.389 with a .729 OPS at Wrigley while hitting just .230/.311/.298 with a .609 OPS on the road.

Should the Cubs attempt to upgrade this position, in an incredibly weak market, or give Theriot another shot to improve on his first full season? Adding Matsui would give Piniella flexibility…. but would Matsui be an upgrade over Theriot?

Mark DeRosa

Mark DeRosa had an impressive first season for the Cubs. DeRosa played six different positions and in one game against the Astros in July, played three different positions. DeRosa was arguably the Cubs’ first half MVP (.291/.365/.452 with a .817 OPS, 7 home runs, 17 doubles, 2 triples and 49 RBI’s), he did slow down in the second half with his power numbers declining (.295/.378/.386 with a .764 OPS, 3 home runs, 11 doubles, 1 triple and 23 RBI’s). His final line for the year was…. .293/.371/.420/.792/10/72/28 doubles/3 triples. DeRosa’s biggest flaw at the plate, that most be improved upon, was his propensity to ground into double plays.

Would DeRosa better serve Piniella once again in the super utility role, or would he be better off playing everyday at 2nd base? By the numbers, DeRosa did better at the plate with regular starting time at one position down the stretch. But a player that can play multiple positions, especially at Wrigley, could play a big role in August and September. Having DeRosa fill in for Aramis Ramirez, play a few games in right, sub for Derrek Lee and spend some time at 2nd base should keep DeRosa fresh at the plate. However, allowing the middle infielders to gain a comfort level would be hard to accomplish under the scenario of DeRosa floating from position to position on a daily basis.

Jim Hendry has loaded his roster with middle infielders for the last several years. The Cubs currently have 5 on their 40-man roster…. Ryan Theriot, Omar Infante, Ronny Cedeno, Mike Fontenot and Mark DeRosa with both Eric Patterson and Alfonso Soriano being converted infielders. Continuing to run players in and out of those positions will cost the Cubs a lot of games during the season. Lou Piniella must find a double play combination and stick with it, as much as possible, throughout the year.

But defining Mark DeRosa’s role, sooner rather than later, is key as Hendry attempts to sculpt a roster to go to camp with in February.

Mark Prior

Will the Cubs non-tender Mark Prior? There have been several reports indicating the Cubs could let the former staff ace walk. It has been reported the Cubs would like to sign Prior to a 1-year contract with a club option for 2009, instead of paying him for another season with the possibility he could get healthy and walk. The Cubs paid Prior, through arbitration, $3.575 million last year….will they work a deal out before the deadline on December 12th?

Jim Hendry discussed Mark Prior on WGN Radio Monday night. Hendry said he has talked with Prior’s agent a couple of times in recent weeks. Hendry mentioned it is hard to determine when Prior will be ready to pitch again at the Major League level. Hendry reminded Kaplan it is easier to tell how a pitcher is recovering from Tommy John surgery than from shoulder surgery.

Hendry stated no final decisions have been made concerning Prior’s future with the organization but it will be discussed over the next few weeks. Hendry mentioned he must weigh the cost for resigning Prior this year, plus trying to negotiate a possible contract for 2009….Hendry reminded Kaplan that Prior would be a free agent after 2008.

There are two more players that could have been discussed in further detail. While Mike Fontenot gave the Cubs a spark, his future with the Cubs has to be considered as cloudy at best….and then there is Neal Cotts. The Cubs traded for Cotts and he could not regain his form from 2005. Cotts opened the season on the 25-man roster but spent the majority of the year with Iowa as younger players were added to the 40-man roster. Cotts was passed over time and time again. Cotts is arbitration eligible and his future on the North Side should be decided by December 12th.

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt