Back to the drawing board

What will he do now? (AP)

The Cubs went into this season with high expectations and were the odds-on favorites to win their third straight NL Central title. Instead, they suffered through a season of injuries, under-performance and distraction created by Milton Bradley, a free agent acquisition who was supposed to solve an important offensive problem.

General manager Jim Hendry pointed out that although it might take him four or five months to finalize a roster for the 2010 Cubs, the team is coming off a disappointing season but not a disastrous one.

"There were a lot of positives, and we don't have a poor situation by any stretch of the imagination," Hendry said. "We have a lot of good guys coming back. We don't have an old team."

The Cubs thought they had solved their need for a left-handed bat when they signed Bradley, a switch-hitting right fielder, to a three-year, $30 million contract. That deal blew up in Hendry's face. Bradley didn't produce as expected, and Hendry suspended him with two weeks to go in the season after several behavior-related incidents.

Injuries to left fielder Alfonso Soriano and third baseman Aramis Ramirez certainly hurt, but so did poor seasons by Soriano, catcher Geovany Soto and second baseman Mike Fontenot.

The Cubs have good starting pitching coming back. Minor injuries kept all but right-hander Ryan Dempster from reaching 200 innings, but with a staff that includes Dempster, lefty Ted Lilly, nominal ace Carlos Zambrano and Rookie of the Year Candidate Randy Wells, the pitching should be in good hands.

The back of the bullpen was a problem until Carlos Marmol replaced Kevin Gregg as the closer. Promising reliever Angel Guzman pulled up lame with a minor triceps injury at the end of the season, but John Grabow came over from Pittsburgh in July and solidified the 'pen from the left side.

A lack of speed and range on defense remain glaring weaknesses on this team, but the smaller dimensions of Wrigley Field offset that somewhat.

Look for Hendry to acquire a middle-of-the-order hitter after he trades Bradley. A leadoff-type hitter also might be on the radar, but with new ownership coming in this fall, Hendry might be hampered financially.

The Cubs finished with winning records three seasons in a row for the first time since 1967-72, and the nucleus is there to get back to the playoffs in 2010. Hendry is on the clock, and he'll need to make wise decisions now more than ever.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Dempster became the only Cubs pitcher to reach 200 innings this season when he pitched five innings in the season finale. The Cubs lost 5-2 to the Diamondbacks, and Dempster's record fell to 11-9 with a 3.64 ERA.

"I'd much rather have taken a 'W,'" said Dempster, who won 17 games last year. "It's frustrating because when you get to something you really didn't think you could get to as far as a personal goal of getting to so many innings, winning a game is more important than any personal stat out there."

--Wells and Lilly led Cubs pitchers in victories with 12 each. Wells, a Rookie of the Year candidate, led Cubs starters with a 3.05 ERA.

--OF Sam Fuld hit his first major league home run in the finale, which also gave him his first big-league RBI. Fuld played in 14 games for the Cubs in 2007 and 65 games this season.

"It took so long, I figured something weird would happen like that," he said. "I didn't know it was going to be a home run. I thought maybe it would be a hit-by-pitch or something like that. It's nice to get that out of the way."

--1B Derrek Lee finished with a .306 batting average, 35 home runs and a career-best 111 RBIs to go along with a .393 on-base percentage and .579 slugging percentage. It's the 20th season in Cubs history in which a player has batted at least .300, hit at least 30 homers and driven in at least 100 runs.

"We didn't play anywhere near how we expected to," Lee said, discounting the personal stats. "It's definitely disappointing."

--RHP Aaron Heilman worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning in the finale. It was his 70th appearance of the season, marking the fourth straight year he has appeared in 70 games. Heilman is arbitration-eligible this offseason, and it's uncertain whether the Cubs will have him back after he went 4-4 with a 4.11 ERA.

--SS Ryan Theriot's batting average dropped from .307 last year to .284 this year. His on-base percentage fell from .387 to .343. He did turn in career bests with seven homers and 54 RBIs.

"I felt like I had a pretty good year last year," he said. "This year, yeah, there are some things I felt I could have done different, probably a little bit better. We'll address that in the offseason and get after it."

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Times the Cubs put their opening-day lineup on the field this year. The Cubs had 15 players on the disabled list a total of 18 times. They also suspended RF Milton Bradley for the final two weeks of the season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't want to talk beyond next year. I've been very appreciative that I could come to a wonderful city like this, a wonderful franchise like this and get a chance to close out my career. It's been everything I've bargained for and even more. It really has been." -- Manager Lou Piniella, on whether he'd consider managing past 2010, when his contract expires.

ROSTER REPORT

The Cubs completed their third consecutive above-.500 season for the first time since they did it six times in a row from 1967 to 1972. But it wasn't good enough to get them into the playoffs, as they missed for the first time since 2006. The Cubs certainly aren't in need of an overhaul. As Piniella pointed out, they need better health and bounce-back seasons from a couple of key players in 2010.

BIGGEST NEEDS: Hendry first must find a taker for Bradley, whom he suspended with two weeks left in the season because of behavior issues. Hendry might have to eat most of the $21 million Bradley has left on his $30 million deal, but at this point, it's time to cut the losses. The Cubs then must find a hitter to bat in the middle of the lineup and produce runs.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Rich Harden, RHP Kevin Gregg, OF Reed Johnson, LHP John Grabow, RHP Chad Fox, OF So Taguchi.

The Cubs got 26 starts out of Harden, who has had a history of shoulder problems. Gregg lost his job as closer to RHP Carlos Marmol. Johnson, unlike Harden and Gregg, has a shot at coming back, but the Cubs have a host of young outfielders who can fill a backup role.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: SS Ryan Theriot, C Koyie Hill, IF Mike Fontenot, RHP Aaron Heilman, LHP Sean Marshall, RHP Carlos Marmol, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Angel Guzman, INF Jeff Baker.

The Cubs have not gone to an arbitration hearing in almost two decades. That could change with either Theriot or Marmol, or both. The Cubs figure to agree to terms with Hill, a dependable backup. They could non-tender Heilman and then offer him a contract at a lower rate than what he could get in arbitration.

MEDICAL WATCH:

Soriano (arthroscopic left knee surgery in September 2009) will rehab back home in the Dominican Republic. The Cubs are counting on Soriano for a strong comeback next year.

Ramirez (dislocated left shoulder) played the second half with the aftereffects of the injury, which occurred in May. Ramirez maintains he does not need surgery, but he must work to strengthen the shoulder.

Lee (neck spasms) will use the winter to rest.

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