Weekend Update … New Rumors to Fill the Same Holes in the Cubs Roster

Jim Hendry still has work to do this winter … and will turn his attention to smaller additions to round out his roster for Twenty-Ten. The Cubs have several holes, a weak bench and a projected everyday lineup that should produce, as long as several key players have ‘bounce back‘ years.

As predicted, the Cubs are “banking on bounce back years” from several players as pointed out by a report on Cubs.com. But Hendry is looking at a couple of players to add to the mix.

Here’s the latest from the mill that includes an addition … former Cub and Southsider, Jon Garland plus notes from Marlon Byrd on Talkin’ Baseball.

Marlon Byrd Reaction

Bruce Levine and Jonathan Hood began their weekly talk show by discussing the signing of Marlon Byrd. While Bruce Levine liked the signing, Keith Law of ESPN did not.

Law pointed out that Byrd is “a nice fourth outfielder who could play everyday for a non-contender but he doesn’t handle centerfield well enough to play it every day on a team with aspirations of playoff contentions and doesn’t hit well enough to play every day in an outfield corner.” (Click here for Keith Law’s view of the Byrd signing).

Levine thinks the fans will be happier with Marlon Byrd than Milton Bradley. Levine joked about the discount the Cubs received on Byrd compared to Bradley (Byrd and Bradley share the same agents, the Levinson Brothers, and they got both Bradley and Byrd a third year from the Cubs).

Marlon Byrd is an underrated centerfielder according to Levine and he pointed out that Byrd’s career has improved each of the three years under Rudy Jaramillo. Levine is not sure where Byrd will hit. He has heard anywhere from fifth to seventh and that will depend on which Alfonso Soriano shows up.

Byrd should be able to help the Cubs’ offense but Aramis Ramirez is the big key to the Cubs in Twenty-Ten. Ramirez must stay healthy and produce. Levine pointed out that Ramirez can opt out of his contract following 2010 … he has a small window in November that he can decide to become a free agent and void the final two years of his contract.

Levine talked about the other options for the Cubs in centerfield … outside of Byrd. He called the Jacoby Ellsbury rumors “ridiculous” and pointed out the Cubs were in talks with Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel.

The Cubs weighed the options on all three outfielders and felt Byrd was the best of the three. Podsednik is below average defensively but above average getting on base. Ankiel has the biggest upside of the three. He is younger and better defensively but the Cubs are concerned about him mentally.

Levine pointed out Ankiel struggled at the plate last year. Coupled with the fact he could not rebound from the problems he had pitching, the Cubs are concerned if Ankiel will be able to mentally comeback from struggling again.

The question about Jim Hendry backloading Byrd’s contract was brought up later in the show. Levine said the Cubs needed the flexibility for the upcoming season (Byrd will earn $3 million in 2010, $5.5 in 2011 and $6.5 in 2012). Hendry still needs $7 to $8 million to work on his bench and bullpen … plus the arbitration eligible players. According to Levine, both Ryan Theriot and Carlos Marmol will receive significant raises in 2010 … from around $450,000 to $500,000 in 2009 for each to near $3 million each in their first year of arbitration.

Marlon Byrd on Talkin’ Baseball

The Cubs’ new centerfielder joined Bruce Levine and Jonathan Hood on Saturday morning. Levine began the interview by asking how he chose the Cubs.

Byrd said the Cubs are right there with the Yankees as one of the most storied organizations in the game … plus the fact he has a chance to win with the Cubs and make it to the post-season.

Byrd said another reason he signed with the Cubs was because of Rudy Jaramillo. Byrd called Jaramillo the best in the game and credited Jaramillo with getting his career back on track. Byrd explained he learned something every day from Jaramillo in the three years they spent together.

Marlon Byrd knows three of his new teammates personally. Alfonso Soriano, from their days in D.C., Geovany Soto from their PCL days and Derrek Lee from playing against him when Lee was with the Marlins. He explained he knows other players on the Cubs just not the same way as the other three … he is looking forward to getting to know all of his teammates.

Levine asked about Jaramillo’s five-step program. Byrd said Jaramillo makes it very easy and simplifies hitting. Jaramillo stresses rhythm, timing, staying square, seeing the ball and transferring in the box.

Byrd thinks he is equipped to handle the added pressure that comes with playing for the Cubs. He thinks it will be similar and not too different than in Philadelphia. Byrd added that he’s gotten used to dealing with the media over the years.

Byrd’s relationship with Milton Bradley was brought up. Levine liked the fact that Byrd stuck up for Bradley in his talk with the Chicago media on Thursday … and pointed out it showed what kind of character Byrd has for doing so.

Byrd explained that he has a great off the field relationship with Bradley. Their kids play together, their wives are good friends but he knows about the other side of Milton. The two spoke after Byrd agreed to terms on Thursday and Bradley told him to do what he could not do in Chicago.

Marlon Byrd credited getting the opportunity to play every day last year as the reason for his career year. The original plan was for Byrd to be the Rangers’ fourth outfielder when the season began but Josh Hamilton’s injury forced him into the lineup on a daily basis. Byrd said once they put him in the four-hole he was able to get comfortable, get into a routine and found a rhythm.

Byrd thinks the transition to day baseball will be pretty easy for him. He said he’s an early riser in the off-season and likes the fact he will be able to be home at night … and put his kids to bed and wake up with them in the morning.

Marlon Byrd was very humble and sounded up beat throughout his time on ESPN 1000. Byrd finished the interview by saying he can’t wait to get to Mesa and get started.

(Link to the Podcast of Byrd’s Interview on ESPN Chicago)

The Bench

Like most, Bruce Levine is concerned with the Cubs bench. He feels there is no balance in their every day lineup and they must add balance to their roster with the bench. He pointed out the importance of building a roster from the back forward, like Kenny Williams does, and due to the fact it took a long time to move Bradley, Hendry is two to three weeks behind.

The Cubs would like to add a left-handed bat to the bench and he feels they will fill the need via a trade … and not a free agent signing.

Ryan Spilborghs is still on the Cubs radar. They have talked to the Rockies about him but he would not fit their need for a lefty on the bench. Levine did not mention any other names.

The Pitching Staff

There should be more concern over Ted Lilly’s recover from shoulder surgery than there has been according to Bruce Levine. Levine continues to hear they are expecting Lilly back in mid to late April but it is unknown at this point. A shoulder is a tricky thing and the Cubs will not know until Lilly begins throwing when he will return.

Levine indicated, once again, the Cubs have talked to the agent for Jose Contreras and continue to discuss bringing in Ben Sheets. The other name the Cubs have discussed is Jon Garland.

Garland is a free agent and is not getting a lot of “sniffs” this winter according to Levine. He thinks Garland still has a lot to offer and could fill a need for the Cubs.

Garland posted an 11-13 record in 2009 (between the D’Backs and Dodgers) with a 4.01 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Garland has totaled at least 200 innings in five of the last six seasons (2008 was the only year since 2004 that Garland has not totaled 200 innings … he pitched 196 2/3 for the Angels while posting a 14-8 record in 32 starts). Garland has made at least 30 starts in nine of his ten big league seasons (made his debut in 2000 and started 13 games for the Sox).

Jon Garland’s Page from Baseball Reference

Another name Levine threw out was John Smoltz. Levine did not mention the Cubs specifically being interested but said he thinks Smoltz would be a good fit while they wait for Ted Lilly .

Smoltz could make the five or six starts Lilly will miss at the beginning of the season … and would not cost that much to sign.

Bruce Levine mentioned the Cubs interest in Jason Frasor again on Saturday morning … and he feels that is one of the players the Cubs could add.

David Patton will be in the bullpen mix this spring according to Levine. Patton’s slider has graded out as a 60 and they were very impressed with him last year … despite the fact Lou Piniella did not want to use him when rules forced Patton to remain on the roster.

Jim Hendry is looking to “pad the bullpen over the next two weeks” likely with trades instead of free agent signings according to Levine.

Jeff Samardzija, Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. Levine feels Marshall’s time has come and he’s earned a chance for a spot in the rotation. He pointed out that Marshall has done everything the Cubs have asked him and if they aren’t willing to give him a chance, then he should have one with another organization.

Jim Hendry

Bruce Levine mentioned all of the negativity surrounding Jim Hendry right now. Levine said the criticism is justified but pointed out the fact that many people have forgotten about the back-to-back division championships.

The bar has been raised on the North Side over the last six to seven years when an 83-win season has been labeled as a failure according to Levine and Hood.

Carlos Zambrano

Jonathan Hood asked Bruce Levine about all of the Carlos Zambrano rumors. Levine mentioned the reports from Joel Sherman in the New York Post and said there is no doubt that the Cubs have had conversations about Zambrano. But how many feel Zambrano is worth $18 million a year right now?

Zambrano is coming off a down year and if he’s somewhere between a 16-game winner and a nine-game winner that would put him at 12 wins … how many would pay that much for a 12-game winner?

Big Z has a lot of wear and tear on his arm and will be playing at 29 years old … Levine joked about 29 as being the age that Z is listed at. Right now Zambrano is not worth what the Cubs are paying.

Levine thinks Zambrano will bounce back and win around 15 games.

The Last Word … While Ernie Banks might say the “Cubs can Win in Twenty-Ten” the theme for Lou Piniella’s crew for the upcoming season will clearly be “Bounce Back in Twenty-Ten” as forecasted by the CCO earlier in the winter.

A report from Cubs.com and recent interviews with Jim Hendry focused on players like Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, Mike Fontenot and Carlos Zambrano having bounce back seasons … as well as keeping the rest of the roster, namely Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee healthy and in the lineup on a daily basis.

The Cubs are still looking for ways to improve before the season begins but right now, as Bruce Levine pointed out, what you see is what you get with the Cubs roster.

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Well, that’s the latest … and I am sticking to it!

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe