Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 7:22 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. Years ago, the Cubs made some of their most important decisions for 2011, when they tied up their money in Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.
It forced them to be creative this winter, and for all the accounting tricks they still had to get lucky. They are paying Carlos Pena 10 million over a 13-month period. The first baseman got a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal.
They needed Kerry Wood to take a huge pay cut to 1.5 million, when he could have demanded five to six times that amount on the open market. They sacrificed some of their best prospects to get Matt Garza from Tampa Bay in an eight-player trade.
As the Cubs near their budget ceiling, the foundation pieces are in place. Baseball Prospectus projects this as an 80-win team. But inevitably there will be health and chemistry issues, and players that exceed or fail to meet expectations.
Close to 90 percent of the 25-man roster has probably already taken shape. Between Sundays first Cactus League game and Opening Day, this is what the Cubs need to figure out. It always starts with pitching.
The Cubs would love to see Andrew Cashner, a 2008 first-round pick, grab one of the two open spots in the rotation.
Carlos Silva went 9-3 before last years All-Star break and 1-3 with a 11.12 ERA after, so there are durability concerns. Randy Wells is probably the safest bet to be able to make 30-plus starts and throw 200 innings as a fifth starter.
Casey Coleman and James Russell might help form the rotation of the future. Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer are experienced non-roster invitees worth a look.
This may be the teams biggest strength.
Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija appear locked into the bullpen. That leaves two potential spots for whoever doesnt make the rotation. Cashner could slide back into his setup role.
Manager Mike Quade has said that hes open to the idea of carrying four left-handed relievers: Marshall, Grabow, Russell and Scott Maine. The Cubs could choose to take a long-range view with Russell and have him start at Triple-A Iowa.
Quade will be challenged to find enough at-bats for Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin in the outfield. But the Cubs still need a fifth outfielder.
Fernando Perez, who was acquired in the Garza deal, is trying to reestablish himself as a switch-hitter. His speed graded out as an eight, the highest possible score on the organizations reporting system.
Im dying to see this guy play, Quade said.
With his all-out hustle, Reed Johnson built up a lot of goodwill on the North Side in 2008. He also hit .303 in 109 games for a team that won the division title.
A lot of people say that chemistry is overrated, Johnson said. (But) when youre (in a) small clubhouse and you got a lot of media every day, I think that its more important in that situation.
Its a good thing guys like Woody are back. (They) can really mesh the clubhouse and bring guys together. I remember in 08 just going out to team dinners with everybody. It was almost like a voluntary thing and you had 90 percent of the guys (there).
Jeff Baker is a glue guy in the clubhouse, and he will see time at first, second and third base. But hes not prepared to play shortstop, and the Cubs need a backup for Starlin Castro.
That competition should come down to Darwin Barney and Augie Ojeda. At 36, Ojeda is 11 years older than Barney. Ojeda also played for Quade when he managed in Iowa. This is another test case experience vs. potential.
The Cubs have survived so far without any major injuries or physical setbacks.
We open up (Sunday) with everybody getting through the first couple weeks, Quade said. Knock on wood, (were) good and now I can just hope that guys perform like they want to and stay healthy.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.