Piniella Likes Cubs' Off-Season Moves

Give it time, but Cubs manager Lou Piniella says he likes his team so far.

"I like our club; I like the things we've done," Piniella said as a big week of fan appearances and the team's annual Cubs Convention got underway. "We're here to win a division, and we're here to give ourselves a chance to win the World Series."

The Cubs won only 83 games last year after winning 97 in 2008. Piniella pointed again to the rash of injuries to key players that hit his team in 2009.

"If we stay relatively healthy this year, we can add another eight to 10 wins to this thing and give ourselves a chance at the postseason," he said.

Of course, Piniella is still almost three months removed from real games, when his mind is likely to change after a couple of tough losses in a row.

But for now, Piniella is expressing his happiness over the acquisition of center fielder Marlon Byrd, who replaces right fielder Milton Bradley, whom the Cubs traded to the Mariners last month.

On being rid of Bradley, with whom he did not see eye to eye most days, Piniella only would say, "We start anew."

Piniella also said he likes the young players coming up. Of the 19 non-roster invitees (to spring training, 12 are homegrown products. The Cubs also will have all four of their last first-round draft picks in camp (OF Tyler Colvin, 3B Josh Vitters, RHP Andrew Cashner, OF Brett Jackson).

"The other thing I'm excited about is some of our younger kids last year got a wonderful opportunity with all the injuries (to veterans), and we had some of the other kids knocking on the door," he said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Randy Wells goes to spring training as the No. 3 starter behind RHPs Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. Wells did not come up until last May, but he won 12 games. He said he's not taking his slot in the rotation for granted.

"You've got to keep it real," Wells said. "People who lose focus a lot are the ones who struggle." Wells moved up in the rotation because LHP Ted Lilly underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in November.

--RHP Jeff Samardzija said he worked on his secondary pitches during a short stint in winter ball. Samardzija will compete in spring training for the fourth or fifth starter's job.

"I feel great," he said. "I'm excited for spring training. Obviously, you go into spring training with something to prove. But sometimes, it's just stepped up a notch, and you got to be ready to go. I feel great. My body feels great." --C Geovany Soto showed up looking slim and trim at the team's annual convention. Soto said he's determined to rebound to his 2008 Rookie of the Year form after suffering a down sophomore year.

"I feel like I needed to do something," he said. "I feel like I need to go to the next level. I feel like I needed to show my teammates I'm really into to this. I really want to play. I'm going to play hard. I'm committed to this. I want to win."

--LHP Ted Lilly said he has begun light throwing, about two to three times a week, as he recovers from November's arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. The Cubs expect Lilly to miss most of April, but he said he has no timetable for his return.

--Byrd made his first Chicago appearance with the Cubs following his New Year's Eve signing of a three-year, $15 million contract. Byrd may hit fifth, but he said it doesn't matter.

"In the lineup," he said of his preferred spot. Byrd essentially replaces RF Milton Bradley, who was traded away to Seattle after a tempestuous year with the Cubs.

Byrd said he has spoken with Bradley and that Bradley said this: "Enjoy it. I think that's one big thing he regrets, is not being able to enjoy Chicago. He really wanted to come here. He wished it would have worked out. He wished me the best. He said, 'Do what I couldn't do.'"

BY THE NUMBERS: .123 -- Drop in Soto's slugging percentage from 2008 to 2009. In '08, he hit 23 homers and slugged at .504. He hit 11 homers in 2009 while slugging .381.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody talks about the sophomore slump. I don't believe in it. I'm a guy who spent seven to eight years in the minor leagues. I got the opportunity. I caught a shooting star. I grabbed a hold of it. I'm not letting go." -- Wells, on getting ready for his second full season in the big leagues.

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