Starting pitching has been a strength of the Cubs in recent years, but their depth took a hit Nov. 3…
Cubs Team Report: Nov. 4
Even though the Cubs have a new owner, there is likely to be little change with baseball operations. General manager Jim Hendry and field manager Lou Piniella will be back for 2010. Hendry's contract runs through 2012, and Piniella is on board through '10. However, with the team having missed the playoffs this year after winning the NL Central in 2007 and '08, Hendry could be on notice that things have to trend upward again.
The player-payroll budget isn't likely to grow much for 2010, but the Cubs already have a number of big contracts on the books.
As far as the hitting situation goes, the Cubs suffered big drops in runs scored, walks and on-base percentage, costing the jobs of hitting coaches Gerald Perry and Von Joshua. Hendry said he feels the Cubs have the best in the business in Jaramillo, who says he won't force one approach on all of the hitters.
The biggest concern for Jaramillo will be working with hitters who had down years in 2009, especially left fielder Alfonso Soriano, with whom Jaramillo worked in Texas in 2004-05, and catcher Geovany Soto.
--RF Milton Bradley is still a member of the Cubs even as Hendry tries to trade him. Speculation was rife that Bradley might be able to stay after the Cubs hired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who worked well with Bradley with the Rangers in 2008. Hendry reportedly has fielded interest from several teams for Bradley.
"Just like I told you at the end of the year, we play the cards that we have," Hendry said. "Milton's on the Cubs roster. That's how we go about it until somebody's not on the roster."
Hendry suspended Bradley for the final two weeks of the season for what he deemed conduct detrimental to the team.
--RHP Carlos Zambrano will spend much of his offseason in Chicago instead of his home country of Venezuela. Zambrano was criticized -- and he admitted fault -- for not being in top physical shape during the season, when he went 9-7 with a 3.77 ERA in 28 starts. He vowed to get into top shape by spring training.
--LHP John Grabow, who stabilized the left side of the bullpen after his late-July trade from Pittsburgh, remains a top priority for Hendry to re-sign. Grabow appeared in 75 games between the Pirates and Cubs, and the Cubs figure to offer a multiyear contract.
--SS Starlin Castro is earning rave reviews in the Arizona Fall League. The 19-year-old phenom moved all the way up to Class AA Tennessee this year in only his second season of pro ball in the United States. Castro is not on the 40-man roster, but he could earn an invite to spring training. If he continues progressing, it's possible he could be up by September 2010 and be the opening-day starter in 2011. Ryan Theriot is the incumbent shortstop, but his long-term future could be at second base.
--Soriano will take his rehab from Florida to the Dominican Republic. Soriano underwent arthroscopic left knee surgery in September, and at first, progress was slow. Soriano played in 117 games, hitting 20 homers, but he was hampered in the field by the knee. He says he'll be ready to go by spring training.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Times the Cubs had their opening-day lineup on the field this year, largely because of injuries. In addition to April 6, the Cubs' opening-day eight position players started July 7 and Aug. 7. The Cubs had 15 players on the disabled list a total of 18 times.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't preach home runs. I think every hitting coach tries to teach the game. The game dictates what you do." -- Jaramillo.
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, INF 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.
IN LIMBO: The Cubs still must find a taker for Bradley, who has played for seven teams in nine years and has worn out his welcome almost everywhere.
LF Alfonso 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.
3B Aramis 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.
1B Derrek Lee (neck spasms) will use the winter to rest.
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