Q&A with Len Kasper: Part II

With the 2006 season coming to a close, Len shares his thoughts on some of the key topics heading into next year, and more.

Picking up with where we left off with pitching ... the Cubs have an option on Kerry Wood that they'll almost certainly decline. How definite is his future in the bullpen?

I think he would be in the bullpen. He's already admitted that when he comes back, he's going to have to be a reliever. If you're the Cubs, I think you bring him back if he would accept a deal that's close to the minimum with a lot of incentives and at no more than one year. I like Kerry personally a lot and think he can be a very good short reliever. He would give you a backup plan in case of some more struggles from Ryan Dempster.

Speaking of Dempster, what do you make of his struggles in the second half?

I would say that in Demp's case, I think the way this season has gone overall for the Cubs mitigates his struggles just a little bit for this reason: he's had stretches where he has gone a week, two weeks without a save opportunity. That's really tough for a closer when you're not getting regular work. Then when you do get that opportunity, there's even extra pressure because you've lost eight out of 11, nine out of 12, and then a closer blows one save and it just really seems to snowball on the entire club. He's had his problems this year, but I think with Howry and Eyre, you have a good backup plan in case Demp does struggle down the road. I really do think he's going to be fine; I just think that he goes through some struggles now that a lot of closers around baseball have gone through.

Aramis Ramirez has an out-clause in his contract after this season. How good are the chances that he'll test the market this off-season?

Based on the numbers that he's put up, I think there's about a zero percent chance that he's going to decide not to opt out. Financially, he's making about $11 million or $11.5 million a year. With the season he's had, there is no downside on a personal level for him to opt out of his contract, or at the very least renegotiate it with the Cubs. He would probably get more years and would certainly get more money. The question now becomes whether you have to pay him $13, $14 or $15 million per and give him two more years. That's an answer that only Jim Hendry can give, but I would be shocked if Ramirez doesn't opt out of his contract at this point.

He's just put up too good a season and there are going to be some teams out there who will be willing to pay him more than he's making right now. And to be honest with you – and I said this about Derrek Lee before as well as Carl Pavano when he signed that big contract with the Yankees – it is a short shelf life for a major league player. You don't have a lot of time where you can really cash in and I don't blame Ramirez for doing it if Aramis decides to opt out of his contract. I don't think anybody in their right mind would blame him or call him selfish at all. This may be the last opportunity he has to really make that big, big kind of money that can put him in that elite category. With the year he's had, Steve, I think he's going to do it and you just hope the Cubs are able to hang on to him.

What's the most likely scenario here: Felix Pie begins 2007 in center field for the Cubs, or Juan Pierre is brought back?

That's a good question. In the case of Pierre, I think you've seen the last three to four months that he's been the Juan Pierre of old: the guy who had three 200-hit campaigns and led the league in hits two years ago. He's going to command top dollar on the free agent market, so again it's going to come down to how much money the Cubs want to spend on their center fielder and leadoff hitter. Based on the fact that we haven't seen Pie at the big league level at all, I think it's slightly unreasonable to expect that if Pierre goes somewhere else, that Pie will be the starting center fielder on opening day. I think if Juan Pierre doesn't come back, the Cubs will go out and trade for or sign a free agent center fielder. I would guess that Pie would be ready to be in the big leagues at some point next year, but because we haven't seen him here in September, I would doubt that he'd be looked at as the opening day center fielder next year.

There's a new Harry Caray documentary out. Have you seen it and if so, what were you thoughts?

I saw about the second half of it and it was great. Harry was a man of the people; he was a man in the booth; he was the voice of the fans; and he always had fun. He knew the game so well inside and out and he was such an entertainer. He was the face of this franchise for so long and just to hear him call the big home runs that he called, and even the heartbreaking calls that went against the Cubs, there was never anybody like Harry and there will never be anybody like Harry ever again. I'm very honored and proud to be in a chair that he once occupied, but again, there will never be another broadcaster again like Harry Caray.

We hear so much about players and what they work on in the off-season. What about yourself? Do you take on other broadcasting roles?

No, I'm a family man. My wife and my 5-year-old son love Chicago. My son just started kindergarten so I'm basically just going to be a dad; take my son to school and pick him up. I'm going to go out to dinner and a movie with my wife as often as possible, watch some NFL football on Sunday and some college football; go check some Blackhawks hockey; play some tennis; catch up on my non-baseball reading. And you know, I'm online every day. Even during the off-season, I check out the baseball news of the day and keep up with all the Cubs' news, plus head down to Wrigley Field once a week or thereabouts and have lunch with somebody from the front office or television station. I just kind of hang out and get my batteries charged for the next season. I'm very fortunate that I have that opportunity to spend time with my family because during the season, I don't have that much time to be at home.

How often do you get approached in public when you go out?

Oh, it happens quite a bit. I think it's more about the job than it is about me. Being on WGN so much, and being so visible and having that connection with the Cubs, certainly people start to recognize you. Everybody has been great. Some times, somebody will just come up and say, ‘Hey, how about that game today?' It's just kind of an acknowledgement that they know that I'm there doing the games every day. The fans are so wonderful and I check out all the blogs and websites and Inside The Ivy is right on my list. I like to be in touch with the fans. I like to know what the fans are thinking and what they're saying about this team. They're so passionate and so wonderful. It's been a painful season on the field for a lot of reasons, and I just want this team to be better so that the fans can enjoy and be proud of what the Cubs are putting on the field every year.

Thanks very much for your time. Always a pleasure talking with you.

Thank you, Steve. Anytime.

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