Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of the Irishmen here at the CCO…. It is the third week of March and the Cubs last full week in Arizona. Lou Piniella’s crew has just 13 games left in the exhibition season and only 11 more in the desert….Opening Day is two weeks from today.
The Cubs still have decisions to make on spots in the rotation, the bullpen, on the bench and then there is the rumored trade for some guy named Brian Roberts….in case you have not heard. Lou Piniella has stated on numerous occasions over the past few days that he would like to set his roster, rotation and announce who will close games for him once the season starts. So while a majority of the team gets a well-deserved day off, let’s take a look at what questions could be answered in the next seven days…. Over the past week, the handful of players that were not locks to make the Opening Day roster have pulled away from the rest of the pack. In the bullpen, there were two open spots while in centerfield….the competition might not be over just yet. And in the starting rotation, the performances of each pitcher in their next start will help Lou Piniella determine who is in the rotation and who is the club’s long man out of the pen.
- Locks – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill
- To Be Determined – Ryan Dempster, Jon Lieber, Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall
As mentioned last week Sean Marshall should be the odd man out and start the season in Iowa, unless he is included in a certain trade. With the way Jon Lieber has pitched in his last two outings, he is likely the favorite to be slotted right behind Ted Lilly in the rotation. Ryan Dempster took a step back with his outing on Friday and depending on the performance of Jason Marquis on Tuesday, could be looking at heading back to the bullpen.
Dempster has pitched better than most expected this spring but his 2/3 of an inning on Friday was concerning to say the least. Forget his line, the runs he allowed and the hits he surrendered, the stats do not matter. It was the way the inning unraveled around him….and he even admitted as much. Starters have bad innings but it is knowing how to limit the damage that is key to be a successful starting pitcher. Dempster’s next outing on Wednesday is very important.
Lou Piniella has to know by now what he will get out of Jason Marquis, there is no secret. One day he will be great and the next time out he could be horrible….there just doesn’t appear to be a middle ground. But the biggest question heading into the season in regards to Marquis is, would he be willing to accept a role in the bullpen with an occasional spot start? Most think he would not. The Cubs need a long reliever that can come in and hold a team, save the bullpen and give his team a chance to make a comeback. Would Jason Marquis be able to provide Lou Piniella a reliable and effective long reliever?
- Locks – Michael Wuertz, Scott Eyre
- To Be Determined – Carmen Pignatiello, Neal Cotts, Tim Lahey, Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart has locked up a job as a setup man in the pen according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, so that leaves just one open spot in the pen….depending on what the Cubs do with Jason Marquis and Ryan Dempster.
If the Cubs carry another lefty, along with Scott Eyre, Carmen Pignatiello should get the job. Pignatiello is one of just two relievers (Michael Wuertz) to not allow an earned run this spring. Pignatiello has quietly gone about his business and done his job….isn’t that what a reliever is supposed to do? But Pignatiello might be optioned down due to a numbers game, not based on his performance this spring. Neal Cotts on the other hand is likely trade bait or is headed for another season in Iowa. Cotts put together three solid outings before Saturday, but that was probably all Lou Piniella needed to see.
Jose Ascanio should start the year in Iowa and will likely be optioned there soon. Ascanio will end up helping this team, just not on Opening Day. Tim Lahey on the other hand has performed quite well and in his case the Cubs must keep him on the active roster all year or send him back to Minnesota….but in his case there is that whole player to be named later thing in the trade that sent Craig Monroe to the Twins in the off-season. The Cubs have not received that player yet, so could there be something worked out there….if it hasn’t already.
Unless Jason Marquis or Ryan Dempster is traded and based on the announcement Kevin Hart has locked up a job, the bullpen on March 31st should consist of….
- Michael Wuertz
- Scott Eyre
- Kevin Hart
- Kerry Wood
- Bobby Howry
- Carlos Marmol
From all indications over the weekend, Lou Piniella will officially name his closer at some point during the upcoming week. All apparently that is holding back the announcement is having each of the three candidates throw on back-to-back days. While it is all but a given that Bobby Howry and Carlos Marmol will not have any problems with the task, it has to be Kerry Wood that Piniella has to look at more than the other two.
Several reports over the past few days have indicated Wood is the front-runner to land the job. Not only he is capable but the less demanding duties of a closer would help Lou and his staff keep Wood healthy and on the field. Kerry recorded his first save at the Major League level on Sunday and if he is named the closer, hopefully his first official one will be on March 31st.
The Cubs announced on Sunday that Kosuke Fukudome would receive playing time in center in the upcoming week. Piniella said it was not a permanent move but one in order to get him experience in center in case they have to use him there during the season. A report on Cubs.com indicated Fukudome could be used in center if someone gets hurt during a game or a double switch.
The Cubs are rumored to still be interested in Marlon Byrd and Bruce Levine mentioned this past Saturday the name Coco Crisp….again. Felix Pie appears to have locked up the starting job but the Cubs will not have a backup in center unless a trade is made. Ronny Cedeno has received a little playing time there this spring.
Here is where is gets very interesting and where a little trade with the Orioles could have the largest impact. Lou Piniella figures to have 5 guys on the bench. Daryle Ward and Henry Blanco are locks….that leaves three spots.
Alex Cintron has outperformed expectations and the minor league contract. Cintron gives Piniella much-needed versatility in the infield, and other than Carlos Zambrano, the only switch hitter on the roster.
With two spots open, Matt Murton figures to make the roster. He gives Piniella a solid right handed bat off the bench that can play both corner spots in the outfield….and most importantly spell Alfonso Soriano in left.
Ronny Cedeno is the huge question mark. He is out of options and has had a bad spring at the plate (.174/.208/.217 with 1 double in 9 games, 23 at bats). Cedeno will either make the team or be traded. Cedeno has developed a sore hamstring over the past few days. Are the Cubs holding him out for a reason? Is he actually hurt? Or are they setting up a possible DL stint to start the season and in turn give them more time to trade him?
Lou Piniella has publicly stated how much he likes the bats of Micah Hoffpauir and Mike Fontenot. Both have hit this spring and Piniella has inserted them into positions in order to get the offense they can provide on the field. If a trade (or trades) is made these two players would benefit the most….but both are likely to start the season at Iowa….as well as Eric Patterson.
The Trade Market
Mark DeRosa said it last week….the players know something is coming. They look around the clubhouse and can see there are too many players and not enough spots. A report mentioned last week that the long-rumored deal for Brian Roberts could take place in the third week of March….well, someone needs to tell Andy MacPhail to look at a calendar and get this done.
Several reports over the weekend indicated the Cubs have not offered a package of Jose Ceda, Donald Veal, Sean Gallagher and Ronny Cedeno for Roberts and many think the deal will get done sometime before Opening Day.
Another unlikely trade that could happen is with the Texas Rangers for Marlon Byrd. The Cubs have offered Matt Murton but the Rangers want pitching prospects and depending on what is left after a Roberts’ deal (if it ever gets done) will have an effect on this possible deal as well. If the Cubs cannot trade Murton, they have no room for Marlon Byrd.
And then there is Jason Marquis…. The Red Sox could be interested, especially with the recent injury to Josh Beckett and with Curt Schilling placed on the 60-day DL. Bruce Levine mentioned over the weekend the possibility of Marquis being traded to the Nationals, but did not indicate for whom. Then there is always Baltimore, right? A wild card in this equation could be the Los Angeles Angels….note this has not been reported by the mainstream media, this is purely speculation.
Rumors surfaced over the winter that the Cubs were interested in Reggie Willits. The Angels have no room for him at the big league level and have said he will start the year in Triple-A (switch hitter, .293/.391/.344 with 20 doubles, 27 stolen bases and a triple in 136 games, 430 at bats in 2007 with the Angels).
With John Lackey out for at least a month, along with Kelvim Escobar, the Angels might be in the market for a proven winner at the big league level….especially one that wins games early in the season.
So is Spring Training winding down, or just getting started? The next week should be very interesting to say the least….get ready.
Andres Blanco was reassigned to minor league camp on Friday so the Cubs active spring roster stands at 41.
- Jose Ascanio
- Neal Cotts
- Ryan Dempster
- Scott Eyre
- Sean Gallagher
- Angel Guzman
- Chad Fox*
- Kevin Hart
- Rich Hill
- Bobby Howry
- Tim Lahey
- Jon Lieber
- Ted Lilly
- Carlos Marmol
- Jason Marquis
- Sean Marshall
- Carmen Pignatiello
- Les Walrond*
- Kerry Wood
- Michael Wuertz
- Carlos Zambrano
- Henry Blanco
- Koyie Hill*
- Geovany Soto
- Ronny Cedeno
- Alex Cintron*
- Mark DeRosa
- Mike Fontenot
- Micah Hoffpauir*
- Derrek Lee
- Casey McGehee*
- Aramis Ramirez
- Ryan Theriot
- Daryle Ward
- Kosuke Fukudome
- Sam Fuld
- Josh Kroeger*
- Matt Murton
- Eric Patterson
- Felix Pie
- Alfonso Soriano