Three for Two? Second Base Will Be A Battle

As the Cubs get ready to roll into spring training in mid-February, most of the starting jobs appear to be filled.    But there is one hot spot in which the competition will be fierce -- second base.

   Three qualified candidates will fight for that spot. Jerry Hairston Jr.,
who just agreed to a one-year, $2.3 million deal on Jan. 30, Todd Walker and
Neifi Perez all have qualifications to claim the spot.
   "This is how it should be -- guys fighting for spots," Cubs general
manager Jim Hendry said. "We have three good players going for the spot.
It's not a controversial thing."
   Hairston, 29, hit .261 with 25 doubles, four homers, 30 RBIs and stole
eight bases while getting thrown out nine times for the Cubs in 2005. He
came to the team in a February 2005 deal for Sammy Sosa. He picked up
several starts in center field but figures to see most of his action this
year at second.
   "He was nicked up when he got him and had a few injuries during the
season," Hendry said. "But our people are convinced that he is at the
healthiest he's been since we got him, and people are going to see the real
Jerry Hairston emerge this year."
   Walker is a solid hitter (.305 last year) and adds a left-handed presence
in the lineup. But the Cubs fielded trade offers for him, and there is a
possibility he could be dealt during spring training.
   Perez was supposed to be the backup shortstop last year but managed to
play 154 games because of injuries to Nomar Garciaparra. He plays a
better-than-average defense and hit .274 with nine homers and 54 RBIs
although he struggled when batting first and second in the lineup.

   --CF Juan Pierre avoided an arbitration hearing when he agreed to a
one-year, $5.75 million deal. The Cubs and Pierre could look at hammering
out a multiyear deal in spring training.
   --LHP Will Ohman agreed to a one-year, $610,000 deal and avoided
arbitration. His hearing was scheduled for Feb. 3, and he agreed to the deal
(after seeking $775,000) one day before. Ohman worked his way up to become
the top left-handed setup man in the bullpen last year, but it appears his
role will change after the Cubs picked up Scott Eyre.
   --INF Jerry Hairston Jr. agreed to a one-year, $2.3 million deal and will
battle Todd Walker and Neifi Perez for the starting second baseman's job in
camp. It appears to be the only starting job in question.
   --RHP Jason Simontacchi signed a minor league deal with the Cubs. The
former Cardinals pitcher is coming off shoulder surgery.
   --1B Derrek Lee, who is in the final year of his contract, could be the
biggest name on the free agent market if the Cubs can't sign him to an
extension. Look for the Cubs to open negotiations with Lee and his
representatives in spring training.
   BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Projected new starting outfielders for the Cubs on
Opening Day -- LF Matt Murton, CF Juan Pierre and RF Jacque Jones. Last
year, the Cubs' starting outfield on Opening Day was LF Todd Hollandsworth,
CF Corey Patterson and RF Jeromy Burnitz.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't feel like a rock star, but going through that
crowd, I felt blessed. I'm glad I'm playing in a city and a team that has
this kind of support. I'm so fortunate." -- Left fielder Matt Murton, who
was mobbed by fans at the Cubs Convention in January.

   ARRIVALS: LHP Scott Eyre (free agent from San Francisco), RHP Bobby Howry
(free agent from Cleveland), OF Juan Pierre (trade with Florida), OF John
Mabry (free agent from St. Louis), OF Jacque Jones (free agent from
Minnesota), OF Marquis Grissom (free agent from San Francisco), OF Michael
Restovich (free agent from Pittsburgh), INF Augie Ojeda (free agent from
Minnesota), RHP Wade Miller (free agent from Boston), OF Angel Pagan
(purchased from New York Mets), RHP Jason Simontacchi (minor league free
agent from St. Louis).
   DEPARTURES: RHP Sergio Mitre (traded to Florida), INF Nomar Garciaparra
(free agent, signed with Los Angeles Dodgers), OF Jeromy Burnitz (free
agent, signed with Pittsburgh), CF Corey Patterson (traded to Baltimore).
   IN LIMBO: 2B Todd Walker has been used as trade bait this offseason, but
if he doesn't get dealt, he will have to fight with Neifi Perez and Jerry
Hairston Jr. for playing time.
   MEDICAL WATCH: All eyes are on RHP Kerry Wood's Aug. 31 arthroscopic
right shoulder surgery. Cubs officials are convinced everything is cleaned
out and hope he is ready to open the season in the rotation this year, but
it appears that is overly optimistic and he may be ready in April or May. 3B
Aramis Ramirez missed the final month of the season with a strained left
quadriceps muscle and had various other nagging injuries throughout the
season. RHP Carlos Zambrano also had nagging injuries that never put him on
the DL but forced him to leave some starts early during the season. The Cubs
want to make sure the 265-pound Zambrano stays in shape.

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