Inside The Ivy: What is your impression of the overall flow of the clubhouse as the team gets set for 2005?
Phil Rogers: Well, I was only there for the very start of camp, but it doesn't seem a lot different. Mark Prior seems to be moving toward more of a leadership role, and there's an overall feeling of determination after the disappointment last year. From what I can also tell, most of the players aren't sorry to see Sammy Sosa go.
Inside The Ivy: How well do you think Jeromy Burnitz will fill Sosa's shoes?
Phil Rogers: In a good year, Burnitz will duplicate Sosa's numbers from 2004, which I think is very possible. I think fans are going to like him a lot because he busts his butt and presents himself well. What you see is what you get, but I wouldn't look for him in the All-Star Game or home-run hitting contest.
Inside The Ivy: What are your thoughts on Ron Santo's recent rejection by the Veterans Committee? And do you think 2007 may be his year?
Phil Rogers: I'm not surprised Santo didn't get in, but I guess it's somewhat encouraging that he got more votes. Personally, I think three-quarters is too high of a standard with Hall of Famers voting, especially when the players they're considering have been bypassed already. The Hall faces an interesting decision on holding another such election in '07 or lowering the standard.
Inside The Ivy: In your opinion, who should be the team's No. 5 starter?
Phil Rogers: Matt Clement? Seriously, I think they could miss Clement more than Sosa. If [Joe] Borowski can be the closer, it gives them the flexibility to use [Ryan] Dempster, but I'd stick with [Glendon] Rusch at the start of the season, using both Borowski and Dempster out of the bullpen. I think having a strong bullpen is more important than the fifth spot. I also wouldn't count out Sergio Mitre or even Jon Leicester, especially if Leicester can be stretched out.
Inside The Ivy: If you had to speculate, who would you say will be the closer once Spring Training ends?
Phil Rogers: I'll stick with Dempster, but it sounds like Borowski has a shot, too. A trade is also possible. The name I'd keep an eye on is Danys Baez of Tampa Bay.
Inside The Ivy: Have you heard anything more on trade talks?
Phil Rogers: No, nothing specific. I had been expecting the Cubs to wait until June or July to make a move, but I have heard they have the flexibility to make a big move in Spring Training if something presents itself.
Inside The Ivy: Are Aramis Ramirez's current contract talks a cause for concern at this point?
Phil Rogers: Sure. It looks like the Cubs will get him signed, but there are there no guarantees. As young as Ramirez is, the length of the contract could be an issue. The Cubs seem unlikely to go beyond four years, but he could get a huge, long contract from someone if he duplicates his 2004 performance and then goes onto the free agent market. It seems to me that Ramirez and his agent, Adam Katz, are in a strong position with Sosa and Moises Alou gone, and Nomar Garciaparra uncertain after 2005.
Phil Rogers: I expect it to be a semi-platoon with Dubois and Hollandsworth as the two main guys. I know there's talk about wanting to get Dubois 400 at-bats. I think he's going to get a good look in the first half of the season anyway. I'd look for Kelton to be included in any trade the Cubs make.
Inside The Ivy: As a pre-season pick, if the team generally stays injury-free, predict the Cubs' record and place of finish in the Central this year.
Phil Rogers: I think they should win 95 games and nip the Cardinals in the Central.
Inside The Ivy: Any World Series predictions at this point?
Phil Rogers: Well, I might change them before I get around to putting it on paper in the Tribune, but I think both AL East beasts are overrated in the starter department. I'll call it Minnesota vs. Atlanta. Bold, huh? That middle infield, up-the-middle group [of Atlanta's] is awesome. Tim Hudson could win 25 games and a Cy Young.