The first full squad workout is scheduled for later today as the last few position players reported to Fitch Park on Monday. The biggest surprise from Day 5 of Camp Lou was the Cubs signing Alex Cintron to a minor league deal. Rumors began to circulate the signing of Cintron was a precursor to a bigger deal involving a certain middle infielder but Jim Hendry shot down all of the speculation. According to a report in the Tribune, with Ronny Cedeno splitting time between the infield and outfield this spring, Hendry felt they needed more depth in the infield.
In other news, Kosuke Fukudome continues to make headlines in the mainstream media. Phil Rogers continues to doubt the decision the Cubs made to let Mark Prior walk but likes what he has seen from Fukudome. And just a few days after Kerry Wood was mentioned as the favorite to land the closer’s job, Lou Piniella said Bobby Howry currently is the front-runner to be his closer.
As Spring Training kicks into high gear today, here is a look at the rest of the roster….
Lou Piniella’s infield appears to be set entering Spring Training….of course barring “the trade” that continues to receive so many headlines. The rumors of Brian Roberts being traded to the Cubs have outlived the Hot Stove season and will likely continue throughout Spring Training. The Cubs signing Alex Cintron on Monday did nothing but further the speculation of a deal being completed at some point with Baltimore.
The Cubs have two of the best infielders in the National League in Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee, not only offensively but defensively as well. As long as those two remain healthy, Lou Piniella’s only problem on the corners should be finding the right compliments in order to schedule those all-important days off. Both Lee and Ramirez should hit more home runs than a year ago….while solo home runs count, long-balls with runners on base are always better.
Up the middle is where there are questions. Mark DeRosa is coming off a very good year, one in which he was arguably the Cubs’ first half MVP. As of February 19th, DeRosa figures to get most of his playing time at second base and Ryan Theriot will be Piniella’s Opening Day shortstop.
While Lee’s power numbers were down last season, he had a strong finish (.365/.431/.654/1.085 with 7 home runs, 9 doubles and 14 RBI’s) and should show more power with a full year under his belt after breaking his wrist in 2006. Lee finished last season with a .317/.400/.513/.913 line with 22 home runs, 43 doubles and 82 RBI. His MVP caliber season of 2005 featured a line of .335/.418/.662/1.080 with 46 home runs, 50 doubles and 107 RBI’s. If Lee could finish 2008 with a line somewhere in the middle, the Cubs will win a lot of games. PECOTA predicted a .303/.387/.527 season for Lee with 25 home runs, 34 doubles and 91 RBI’s.
The two biggest questions that have always surrounded Aramis Ramirez….his health and hustle. ‘The RBI Machine’ had a tremendous 2007 season and always seemed to get the big hit when his team needed it the most. Ramirez has enough talent to compete for an MVP Award, but he must remain healthy for an entire season and get off to another strong start.
DeRosa’s biggest value to Lou Piniella is a super-utility man but it is hard to argue the fact he has earned a starting job. DeRosa had a great first year with the Cubs, despite all of the double plays, both in the field and at the plate. Losing Mark DeRosa could be as big a blow to the Cubs chances this season as losing one of the big three.
If the Cubs do in fact pry Brian Roberts from Baltimore, how DeRosa responds will have a huge impact on this team.
Lou Piniella’s ‘spark plug‘ said numerous times throughout the winter that he changed his training regiment. Many have blamed Ryan Theriot’s September swoon on the physical demands of a Major League schedule. And there could be a little truth to those statements. While Theriot finished with a .266/.326/.346/.672 line in his first full year, a closer look at his numbers do reflect a pattern of fatigue. Theriot had a respectable April (.299/.347/.328/.676) and May (.256/.330/.367/.697) but struggled in June as the second half came to an end (.224/.272/.276/.548).
Theriot started the second half with his best month of the year. In July Theriot’s line was .348/.437/.483/.920, dropped in August (.276/.315/.353/.668) and plummeted in September (.202/.257/.263/.520).
Many called for Theriot to be replaced in the starting lineup all winter, but if he can build on last year, he would be a solid hitter at the end of the lineup. Theriot has proven he is a team player….first and foremost. Remember in the NL, the 8th place hitter’s ability to flip a lineup is a very valuable piece of the puzzle.
Where’s the Utility?
Ronny Cedeno has shown he can hit in the winter and in the spring, it is when the third deck is added that he has his problems. With Cedeno out of options, he will make the team or be traded….it is highly unlikely Jim Hendry would just let him go. Daryle Ward showed his value last season and will likely be Piniella’s only power threat off the bench….unless Micah Hoffpauir really makes an impression. Mike Fontenot has been counted out his entire career and once again appears to be on the outside looking in.
The Storylines of the Spring
- Derrek Lee’s power stroke
- The health of Aramis Ramirez
- Brian Roberts….A Cub or Not?
- Ronny Cedeno….Utility Man or Trade Bait
- The starting job at second base
- Micah Hoffpauir
- Bobby Scales
- Alex Cintron
Lou Piniella could end up having the most athletic Cubs’ outfield in recent memory. Not only can the projected starting outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Felix Pie provide solid defense but they figure to hit the ball with regularity as well. While on paper the Cubs’ outfield appears to be set, unfortunately there are several question marks.
- Alfonso Soriano’s legs
- How Kosuke Fukudome adjusts to life in the Major Leagues
- Can Felix Pie hit at the big league level?
Jim Hendry is still looking to add a right-handed bat into the outfield mix that can play all three outfield spots. Ronny Cedeno will get a look but his inexperience could be costly when the games actually count. Hendry was rumored to be interested in Marlon Byrd, but the Rangers are looking for more than Matt Murton in return. Hendry has stated Piniella needs a right-handed option to platoon with either Felix Pie or Sam Fuld and recently stated he is looking for a little more pop out of that bat than Cedeno can provide.
Piniella said Matt Murton could be the Cubs 4th outfielder and start from time to time in right and left but Murton cannot provide any depth in centerfield.
Alfonso Soriano will not have to learn a new position this spring, which is a plus, but his nagging leg injuries from last year could put a damper on the slugger’s second season on the North Side. Soriano is still Piniella’s best option in the leadoff spot, unless a certain middle infielder is acquired, but if Soriano cannot run….how effective will he be?
Soriano proved last season he can field his position now he must remain healthy and off the DL.
The early reports from Mesa on the Cubs’ new right fielder are very encouraging. Piniella reportedly likes what he has seen in the cages and on the field from Kosuke Fukudome. There were concerns, since the signing, if Dome would arrive to camp fully recovered from last year’s surgery….those doubts seem to have been eliminated. It appears the other question will be addressed once the Cactus League schedule starts next week.
Pie has been dubbed the future of the Cubs for the last couple of years and the starting centerfield job is now Pie’s to lose. Felix Pie has all of the tools and showed last year he is more than capable in the field but at the plate is where he struggles.
Lou Piniella’s patience with Pie could end up being the most important part of his development. Pie just turned 23 (February 8th) and is a proven winner….now he just has to be given time to hit.
The Battle for the Fourth
Oneri Fleita said during the Cubs Convention that Eric Patterson has been the forgotten man during the off-season. Fleita added he fully expects Patterson to compete for the centerfield job and both sides have gotten past what happened last year (Patterson showed up late to the park and was sent back down to the minors). Patterson had just 2 hits in 8 bats in his first 7 games at the big league level but had a very good year at Triple-A (.297/.362/.455/.817 with 28 doubles, 14 home runs and 24 stolen bases).
Matt Murton has value in the big leagues but simply does not fit with the Cubs. Murton needs to play on an everyday basis and recently commented he does not see himself as a bench player. Murton could end up being the right-handed version of Daryle Ward for Lou Piniella depending on how Felix Pie and Sam Fuld perform.
Sam Fuld had a solid season in Double-A and Triple-A last year but made headlines with the catch of the year. Fuld impressed in the Arizona Fall League, won the MVP and, from all accounts, will battle Felix Pie for the job in center. Fuld could be a very good 25th man on a Major League roster but if Pie’s offense is a concern….Fuld’s is non-existent at the big league level. In 14 games last year, Fuld made it to the plate 9 times….3 walks, 3 runs scored, 3 strikeouts and no hits.
The Storylines of the Spring
- Alfonso Soriano’s health
- Kosuke Fukudome’s adjustment
- Can Felix Pie hit?
- Will Sam Fuld perform the way he did in the AFL?
- Can Eric Patterson make noise in centerfield?
- Josh Kroeger and Andres Torres
- Matt Murton….4th Outfielder, Trade Bait or Triple-A?
The Cubs first game of the Cactus League schedule is next Thursday, February 28th against the Giants in Scottsdale. The next 39 days should be very, very interesting….
2008 Spring Training Articles from the CCO