To the back burner will be the pursuit of San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy, and to the front burner will be the search for a left-handed batter who can play the outfield.
Dempster's return gives the Cubs a rotation that includes him, right-handers Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden and Jason Marquis and left-hander Ted Lilly. Lefty Sean Marshall also will be pushing for a job. In other words, the Cubs are pretty much set with their starting pitching, and Peavy now may be moving from necessity to luxury.
Manager Lou Piniella desperately wants a left-handed bat, or even two, to help balance a lineup that tilts heavily to the right side and one that was completely stymied by the Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
Names bandied about have been Kansas City's Mark Teahen, who can play the outfield corners as well as first base and third base, and free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez. The Cubs have trade bait, either for Peavy or for a player such as Teahen. Infielder Ronny Cedeno is expendable, and Marshall's name came up when the Peavy rumors first surfaced.
Although the Cubs' farm system has been much maligned, GM Jim Hendry has been able to dip into it time and time again over the past few years to get the likes of Harden and right-hander Kevin Gregg, whom the Cubs recently obtained from the Marlins in a trade for minor league right-hander Jose Ceda.
--RHP Mitch Atkins, the organization's minor league pitcher of the year, was among three pitchers added to the 40-man roster. Atkins was 8-1 with a 4.47 ERA in 10 starts with Class AAA (Des Moines) Iowa and 9-6 with a 3.76 ERA at Class AA (Kodak) Tennessee. He won 12 starts in a row between Tennessee and Iowa. The Cubs feel he can help the big club as early as 2009, most likely out of the bullpen. He projects to a No. 3-5 starter down the line.
--RHPs Justin Berg and Marcos Mateo also were added to the 40-man roster. Berg was 0-3 at Class AA Tennessee and 4-6 with a 5.68 ERA at Class AAA Iowa, but the Cubs like his long-term potential. Mateo, 24, could be a fast-tracker. He went 1-0 at low Class A Peoria before getting promoted to high Class A Daytona, where he went 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA. The Cubs aren't sure what his role will be long term, but they felt he made enough strides so that they could afford to trade RHP Jose Ceda to the Marlins.
--C Koyie Hill could fit into the Cubs' plans for 2009. A non-roster man in each of the past two spring trainings, Hill saw limited time with the big club each year. He's not an offensive threat, but he handles pitchers well and was instrumental in helping C Geovany Soto in 2007 at Class AAA Iowa. Soto won Rookie of the Year honors this year. The Cubs did not pick up the option on backup C Henry Blanco. They'd like Blanco to come back for less money, but if that doesn't happen, they appear comfortable with Hill as Soto's backup.
--RHP Kerry Wood termed his apparent departure from the Cubs "bittersweet." When the Cubs recently traded for RHP Kevin Gregg, they said Wood probably wouldn't be back. The Cubs want to offer Wood no more than a one-year deal, fearing for his health. There is a possibility Wood could come back. If he doesn't get a multiyear deal from another club, the Cubs no doubt would offer him salary arbitration, even if it's to make sure they get draft-pick compensation if Wood does leave. If Wood accepts the arbitration offer, he's automatically back for at least one year.
--2B Mike Fontenot could figure into the Cubs' plans more prominently in 2009. The Cubs need left-handed hitting, and Fontenot has shown an ability both to get on base (.395 OBP this year) and to drive the ball, with 22 doubles and nine homers. Fontenot can play shortstop, and at 28 years old, he should be able to handle bench duties.
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Cubs pitchers set a major league record this year by leading the majors in strikeouts for the eighth consecutive season. Chicago pitchers struck out 1,264 batters in 2008.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Given as close as we've been the last two years, I thought, 'This is where I want to be.'" -- RHP Ryan Dempster, on his decision to re-sign with the Cubs.
The Kerry Wood era in Chicago apparently is over. Cubs General manager Jim Hendry made a two-pronged…