Ted Lilly (STAFF PHOTO/PAM DAVIS)
Starting pitching has been a strength of the Cubs in recent years, but their depth took a hit Nov. 3 when left-hander Ted Lilly had arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder.
Lilly, who emerged as the de facto ace of the Cubs staff this year, had been bothered by inflammation in July. He also went 12 days between starts in late September because of lingering shoulder issues. The Cubs said the surgery was just a "cleanup" and that Lilly suffered no significant structural damage to the shoulder.
At the end of the season, Lilly and the Cubs trainers and doctors decided surgery wasn't needed at that time, and rest was prescribed. Unfortunately for Lilly and the Cubs, the shoulder didn't get better, and Lilly had it 'scoped.
The upshot is that Lilly will not begin throwing for four months, which means early March at best. He is likely to open the 2010 regular season on the disabled list, but he and the Cubs expressed confidence will be ready to pitch sometime in April.
"It was something I didn't want to do, but I also started to feel that after a month and it still wasn't getting better, I had thoughts of going into the season and trying to battle through shoulder problems all year, and I just didn't want to do that," Lilly said of opting for surgery.
"The understanding I've been given is that there was no serious labral work done, no significant rotator cuff (damage). When he went in there, it didn't look really bad. It was just one of those things that was causing me problems."
Heading into the free agent and trading season, general manager Jim Hendry has three starters in his rotation: right-handers Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells. Unless Hendry makes a trade or signs a free agent, jobs will be there to be had in spring training.
--RHP Rich Harden is the top free agent the Cubs stand to lose, and the team denies any more urgency to re-sign him, even with Lilly set to miss part of April after having undergone arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November.
"We haven't made any decisions yet on who's coming back or not from the club we ended the season with," Hendry said.
Harden, who has had a history of shoulder woes, made 26 starts this year and was healthy overall. The Cubs have not determined whether they will offer him salary arbitration.
--RHP Jeff Samardzija, a candidate for the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation, was pitching winter ball in Mexico. In his first five starts for Mexicali, Samardzija was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA with eight walks and 22 strikeouts in 24 innings. The Cubs want him to continue widening his repertoire and refining all of his pitches.
--INF Jeff Baker presents the Cubs with an interesting option for 2010. The arbitration-eligible Baker played in 69 games for the Cubs after a July 2 trade with Colorado. Included were 49 games (43 starts) at second base. Baker played well enough (.305 with four homers, 15 doubles and 21 RBIs with the Cubs) to merit a shot at the starting job, but the Cubs may see him as a super-utility player. He could play second, third, first and the outfield, where he figures to see time in spring training.
--INF Andres Blanco is in the Cubs' plans for a backup infielder's spot in 2010. Blanco, who dazzled manager Lou Piniella with his glovework and range at short and second, batted .252 with one homer. Piniella said he'd like to see Blanco improve his on-base percentage. Blanco was playing winter ball in Venezuela, and he was off to a .303 start in his first 18 games with a .349 OBP.
--3B Josh Vitters, the Cubs' No. 1 draft pick in 2007, got off to a good start in the Arizona Fall League, where the Cubs had several highly regarded prospects. Vitters was 18-for-50 (.360) over his first 12 games with a .385 on-base percentage. Vitters hit .316 at low Class A Peoria before being moved up to high Class A Daytona, where he batted .238 while dealing with a hand injury. If Vitters doesn't start the 2010 season at Class AA Tennessee, he'll likely be there before the year is out.
BY THE NUMBERS: 44 -- Victories for Lilly since he joined the Cubs in 2007. That's the most for a pitcher in his first three seasons with the Cubs since Larry French won 51 from 1935-37.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If I would have known I'd be in this situation a month earlier and it wouldn't have gotten better, then I would have preferred to do it a month ago." -- Lilly, on waiting until November to have arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder.