The Calm Before The Storm?

Henry Blanco: only acquisition to date

Between the winter meetings and the holidays in 2003, the Cubs brought in some new blood with the acquisitions of five new players.<p> But in 2004, the Cubs brought in no new players in that same time frame, and that has some Cubs fans worried.

Since the close of the 2004 season, the Cubs have acquired just one new player -- backup catcher Henry Blanco. They have, however, re-signed some of their own players, including shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and second baseman Todd Walker.

They are still keeping an eye out for an impact outfielder, a closer and a fifth starter. If the Cubs will fill any of those needs from the outside, they will have to do it in January or February. After all, they picked up Greg Maddux last Feb. 18 -- one day before camp opened.

The closing situation has most fans biting their fingernails.

LaTroy Hawkins blew nine save opportunities last season, and Joe Borowski (33 saves in 2003) is coming off shoulder problems that caused a significant dip in his velocity.

It doesn't appear there are any super closers on the trade market, and the Cubs might have to stay in-house. The leading candidate is Ryan Dempster, a longtime starter who doesn't have any closing experience.

The Cubs would also like to find a big-hitting outfielder, and the door for free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran appears to be closing because the Cubs believe they cannot afford him unless they rid themselves of right fielder Sammy Sosa's $17 million salary for 2005. Interest in Sosa has been minimal.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said he would be comfortable if the Cubs started the season with a combination of rookie Jason Dubois and veteran Todd Hollandsworth manning left field. But he also might take a chance and offer former White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez (two knee surgeries in 2004) a creative, incentive-laden deal to bring him from the South Side to the North Side of town.

And while the Cubs are comfortable with Glendon Rusch as their fifth starter, they could be eyeing an upgrade in that department as well.

NOTES, QUOTES

OF Todd Hollandsworth signed a one-year deal worth a base $900,000 with a chance to make $1.2 million based on incentives for the 2005 season. If the Cubs do not bring in another outfielder, he could be in line for the starting left-field spot.

OF Jason Dubois, who hit 31 homers and drove in 99 runs for Triple-A Iowa in 2004, could battle Todd Hollandsworth for the starting left-field spot in the Cubs lineup if the Cubs do not swing a deal to bring another outfielder to town.

OF Magglio Ordonez, who had a successful career with the White Sox before undergoing two knee surgeries in 2004, is on the Cubs' radar screen. Don't look for the Cubs to offer him a long-term deal, but they could come up with a one-year proposal with playing-time incentives.

LF Moises Alou officially finalized a two-year deal with San Francisco on Dec. 27.

BY THE NUMBERS: 61.1 -- Percent of Hall of Fame vote former Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg received in 2004. He is hoping to pick up the requisite 75 percent in 2005.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "A small part of me was mad at myself for not wearing a shin guard, but what were the odds of lightning striking twice? I had gone two full seasons without it happening, and I was completely convinced it would never happen again." -- OF Todd Hollandsworth on injuring his right shin in 2004 for the second time in his career by fouling a pitch off of it.

ROSTER REPORT

The Cubs, whose postseason expectations fell short thanks to a 2-8 finish to the 2004 season, are still looking for a closer, and they will try to get into the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes if they can unload RF Sammy Sosa.

ARRIVALS: C Henry Blanco (free agent from Minnesota).

DEPARTURES: RHP Matt Clement (free agent to Boston), Kent Mercker (free agent to Cincinnati), Moises Alou (free agent to San Francisco).

BIGGEST NEEDS: With the shoulder injury to Joe Borowski and the struggles of LaTroy Hawkins (nine blown saves), the Cubs are keeping an eye open for a reliable closer for 2005.

FREE AGENTS: C Paul Bako, OF Tom Goodwin, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, OF Ben Grieve, INF Ramon Martinez.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Joe Borowski (partially torn right rotator cuff) hopes that a few months off will help strengthen his arm for 2005. Surgery was not needed for the shoulder, but he did undergo arthroscopic surgery to clean out his left knee.

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