Gathright Signing Not Good News for Pie

Felix Pie (STAFF PHOTO)

The signing of outfielder Joey Gathright to a one-year contract was a signal by the Cubs.

No, Gathright isn't the primary left-handed bat GM Jim Hendry has promised to deliver this spring. Nor is he going to replace Milton Bradley as Hendry's top choice this winter.

But the signing of Gathright is a clear message to Felix Pie that Pie's days as a Cub most likely are numbered.

In some ways, that's stunning news. Pie, 23, has been the Cubs' top position-player prospect the last few years, and he's even had the "phenom" tag bestowed on him. He was the Cubs' Opening Day center fielder in 2008.

However, his inconsistency at the plate drove manager Lou Piniella crazy, and Pie soon found himself in the minor leagues, getting special instruction. Pie is out of minor league options, and the Cubs don't see him as a role player, so their preferred avenue now is to trade him. He was mentioned in the talks for San Diego pitcher Jake Peavy.

Gathright will be a fourth or fifth outfielder. His on-base percentage was an unspectacular .311 this year, and he provides little or no power. The Cubs like his defense and his speed (he stole bases in 25 attempts for the Royals in 2008). Kansas City decided not to offer him a contract, and the Cubs picked him up for $800,000.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Jeff Samardzija will be among the more interesting players to watch come spring training. After his July call-up, Samardzija spent the rest of the season in the bullpen and pitched creditably, going 1-0 with a 2.28 ERA and one save. He'll compete for a bullpen job in March, but Piniella said the Cubs also will "stretch out" Samardzija to start. It is possible Samardzija could open the season as a starter at Class AAA Iowa. He was used almost exclusively as a starter throughout his minor league career, which began in 2006.

--RHP Chad Gaudin agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal, despite speculation the Cubs might non-tender him. Gaudin hurt his back late last season after coming over from Oakland in the July trade that also brought RHP Rich Harden to Chicago. Gaudin was ineffective after coming back late in the season, and that ineffectiveness kept him off the playoff roster.

The Cubs insist all is fine with Gaudin and between the club and the pitcher. Hendry went so far as to say Gaudin could see time in the eighth inning in 2009 as RHPs Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol battle for the closer's job.

--Keep an eye on former second baseman Ryne Sandberg. The Hall of Famer has been promoted from manager of the Cubs' Class A Peoria farm club to manager at Class AA (Kodak) Tennessee. If Sandberg continue his ascent, he will be in line to replace Piniella as manager someday.

--CF Reed Johnson figures to be a valuable role player again in 2009 after the Cubs signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal on the day they had to decide to tender him a contract. Although he did not appear in any playoff games against the Dodgers, the right-handed hitter batted .303 with a .358 on-base percentage this year as he shared time in center with Jim Edmonds. Johnson, a strong defender, can play all three outfield positions, and he's likely to move among all three.

--INF Ronny Cedeno, Gregg and RHP Michael Wuertz all were tendered contracts, and all are eligible for salary arbitration. LHP Neal Cotts signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal, avoiding arbitration. Cedeno figures to back up Ryan Theriot at shortstop, but he could be trade bait. He never has been a favorite of Piniella, who has grown weary of Cedeno's mental lapses in the field, at the plate and on the basepaths.

INSIDE THE NUMB3RS: 72 -- Strikeouts for Pie in 260 major league at-bats. His walks total is only 21, and the Cubs apparently are out of patience with him.

HE SAID: "You win ballgames with Reed Johnson." -- Hendry.

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