Roster Report

The Cubs were five outs away from the World Series in 2003 and failed to make the playoffs in 2004 and 2005. Not only did they fail to make the postseason last year, they won just 79 games and finished in fourth in the National League Central behind St. Louis, Houston and Milwaukee. The Cubs need to get back on the upswing or it could spell trouble for general manager Jim Hendry and skipper Dusty Baker.

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).

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).

PROJECTED ROTATION: After Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Greg Maddux, look for lefty Glendon Rusch and right-hander Jerome Williams to grab the last two spots out of spring training. But all bets will be off when Kerry Wood and Wade Miller come off the disabled list after shoulder surgery.

--RHP Carlos Zambrano led the Cubs the past two years with 30 victories and has worked his way to being the ace of the staff.

--RHP Mark Prior is crossing his fingers he can stay healthy so he can return to the form with which he won 18 games in 2003. He's averaged 24 starts a season since '03.

--RHP Greg Maddux suffered his first losing season (13-15) since 1987 last year but has led the Cubs in combined innings pitched (437 2/3) the past two seasons.

--LHP Glendon Rusch worked as both a starter and reliever for the Cubs the past two seasons. He prefers starting and will likely open the season in the rotation. But when Kerry Wood and Wade Miller return from shoulder injuries, his days in the rotation could be numbered.

--RHP Jerome Williams had moments of brilliance and moments in which he struggled for the Cubs in 2005 when he posted a 6-8 record and a 3.91 ERA. If he comes to camp in shape, he should be able to win the fifth starting job.

PROJECTED BULLPEN: After solving their closer situation (trading LaTroy Hawkins in May and giving the job to Ryan Dempster), the team was not satisfied with up-and-down young players in the setup roles. So the Cubs brought in Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry to beef up the middle relief.

--RHP Ryan Dempster signed a three-year extension that, with incentives, could pay him $18 million. Even though his first year as a closer was successful (33 saves in 35 opportunities) he still has to show the baseball world he can do it for more than one year.

--LHP Scott Eyre posted a 2.63 ERA and made a major league-high 86 appearances for San Francisco in 2005. He will serve as the main southpaw setup man.

--RHP Bob Howry posted a 1.48 ERA in day games for Cleveland last year, which is a plus because the Cubs play a majority of home day games at Wrigley Field. He figures to serve as the main right-handed setup man.

--RHP Scott Williamson could be a wild card in the bullpen. After undergoing elbow surgery in late 2004, he made 17 appearances for the Cubs in 2005. They hope he can bounce back to his 2004 form in which he had a 1.26 ERA in 28 games for Boston before the surgery.

--LHP Will Ohman had a 2.91 ERA and struck out 45 batters in 43 1/3 innings in 2005 but may see more action facing a batter or two rather than pitching in a full inning.

--RHP Michael Wuertz made a team-high 75 appearances in 2005 but since the Cubs signed Bobby Howry, Wuertz could be used as a long man.

--RHP Roberto Novoa was up-and-down with the parent club last year but if the Cubs go with 12 pitchers out of camp, he could stick with the club.

PROJECTED LINEUP: Heading into camp, the only job that appears open is second base, where Jerry Hairston Jr., Todd Walker and Neifi Perez will battle. The rest of the lineup features some established power hitters (1B Derrek Lee and 3B Aramis Ramirez) with some young players the Cubs are crossing their fingers can come through (LF Matt Murton and SS Ronny Cedeno).

--CF Juan Pierre finally provides the Cubs with their first legitimate leadoff man since Kenny Lofton (2003) and the offense should benefit from it.

--2B Jerry Hairston Jr. or Todd Walker should assume the No. 2 hole. If Neifi Perez (.298 on-base percentage) wins the second baseman's derby, the Cubs would be well advised to find another second hitter.

--1B Derrek Lee is in the final year of his contract and coming off his best season ever (.335 with 46 homers and 107 RBI). His RBI total figures to go up with an improved top of the lineup.

--3B Aramis Ramirez is an RBI machine, but suffered two quadriceps injuries last year, which held him to 92.

--RF Jacque Jones, who has struggled the last two seasons, needs to prove he's back to past form to stay in this spot or he will likely fall in the lineup.

--C Michael Barrett is one of the top power hitting catchers the Cubs have had in many years, but has just a combined 32 homers in his first two seasons with the team.

--LF Matt Murton showed hitting ability and power (.321 with seven homers and 14 RBI) in 51 games, but how will the 24-year-old do over the long haul?

--SS Ronny Cedeno, like LF Matt Murton, shined in the majors (.300 in 41 games) but needs to prove it over the course of a season. If he does well, he could eventually move up to second in the lineup.

PROJECTED RESERVES: The Cubs' bench figures to be deep and experienced if the five players expected to fill that role stay healthy.

--2B Todd Walker, if he doesn't win the starting job, could be dealt in spring training.

--INF Neifi Perez picked up a lot of playing time as a starting shortstop last year when Nomar Garciaparra was injured and did well in spots, but his value is as a versatile man off the bench.

--C Henry Blanco has a cannon for a throwing arm and any offense he can provide (.242 with six homers and 25 RBI in 54 games last year) is a bonus.

--OF John Mabry has been a solid force for many teams over the years. The fact he can also back up 3B Aramis Ramirez and 1B Derrek Lee makes him even more valuable.

--OF Marquis Grissom picked up a non-roster invitation to camp and the Cubs brass hopes the 38-year-old veteran has some gas left in the tank and figures he can be a positive influence on younger players.

TOP ROOKIES: LF Matt Murton and SS Ronny Cedeno are young but not eligible for Rookie of the Year consideration because they were on the roster too long last year. The only other young player who could crack the 25-man roster when camp breaks is IF Ryan Theroit, who hit .304 for Double-A West Tenn and played in nine games for the parent club. While OF Felix Pie remains one of the top position prospects in the organizations, his major league debut may not come until the middle of the season at the earliest.

SPRING FOCUS: The fight for second base between Jerry Hairston Jr., Todd Walker and Neifi Perez has some intrigue, especially for the players who don't get the job. The health of RHPs Kerry Wood and Wade Miller, who each had shoulder surgeries performed last year, will also be a hot topic. The Cubs will also adapt as several players could potentially bolt camp to play in the World Baseball Classic.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Kerry Wood, coming off Aug. 31 arthroscopic right shoulder surgery, is set for arthroscopic knee surgery. He isn't expected to be ready until May.

The Cubs signed RHP Wade Miller to a one-year deal in January and he comes to the team fresh off of a similar surgery performed in September. He is not expected to pitch for the parent club until 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. The Cubs hope that those troubles are history.


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