Cubs Lament Losses

By the end of baseball's Winter Meetings last Thursday, most of the talk around Cubs camp centered on who the club had added during the Meetings rather than who they had lost.

The team signed free agent left-hander Ted Lilly to a four-year, $40 million contract and added free agent Daryle Ward to a one-year, $1.05 million deal.

Still, there were some casualties – at the minor league level.

No team ever likes to lose its players in baseball's annual Rule Five Draft (even if its only temporary), but the Cubs lost five such players that way on Thursday. Three players went in the major league phase of the draft – more than from any other team – and two left by way of the minor league phase.

Players acquired in the major league portion of the draft must stay on their new club's 25-man roster throughout the entire season ahead or be offered back to their original club for $25,000.

"That's part of getting better," Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita said. "I always say, I think a few years ago when Baseball America thought we were real good that I never thought we were quite as good as they thought. Now, they don't think we're as good and I don't agree with that, either. When you get better, it's hard to protect all your players."

The Cubs lost pitchers Lincoln Holdzkom and Ed Campusano in the major league phase to the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers, respectively.

Holdzkom, a 24-year-old right-hander, came to the Cubs via trade from the Florida Marlins late in Spring Training and would post a 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings at Double-A in an injury plagued season.

He went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, where he was scouted closely by opposing clubs such as the Astros.

"I'm sure he had some performances in front of a pretty good amount of scouts in the Fall League," said Cubs Director of Scouting Tim Wilken. "I know overall his numbers weren't great in the league, but he did have a couple of performances that were pretty good. I'm sure that's where some of the scouts came to believe that he had a chance."

Holdzkom underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2003 and missed all of 2004. He jammed his shoulder in a game at Double-A this past April and spent almost three months on the shelf before returning to the team. He was a seventh-round draft pick by the Marlins in 2001.

"I didn't really put too much stock into it," Holdzkom said of being drafted. "It was early in the morning when they told me, so I was kind of half-asleep when I got the news, but it's always good to get an opportunity to make a name for yourself."

Campusano, a 24-year-old left-hander, was the first Cubs player taken in the draft (seventh overall by Milwaukee) and was one of two players who Wilken told us earlier in the week stood a strong chance of being taken.

He spent 2006 between Class-A Peoria and Double-A West Tennessee, where he combined to save 25 games, finish 34 and post an ERA of 1.47.

Campusano throws hard (often reaching 94 mph) and features a slider for an out-pitch. Peoria broadcaster Nathan Baliva described the southpaw as a fun-loving clubhouse presence with a closer's mentality.

"He only blew one save for us in 20 or 21 chances," Baliva said. "Even if he does struggle, he has the mindset of, ‘Well, I'll go get it tomorrow.' He keeps the whole team loose. He's the one where even if it's a tough loss, he'll get on the bus after the game and sing a song over the speaker, or tell a joke in his broken English. He's a good one to have around."

The Cubs also lost infielder Jason Smith to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Cubs beat Toronto to the punch by signing Smith last month and inviting him to big league Spring Training. Smith played in 49 games for Colorado a season ago and batted .263.

The 29-year-old was originally a 23rd-round Cubs draft pick in 1996, who has spent the past few years between Triple-A and the major leagues.

"They've had a fair amount of problems in the middle infield," Wilken said when speculating on why the Blue Jays took Smith. "This guy would probably be more of a utility guy for them, but you can see their concentration has been on infielders. They've acquired (Royce) Clayton and now they take Smith in the Rule Five."

Still, if Toronto wanted Smith so badly, why not sign him as a six-year minor league free agent when the opportunity arose earlier this off-season?

"It's not a bad move on their part," Wilken said. "I'm sure they may have talked to him as a six-year free agent, but one would wonder if you wanted a guy that much to play in the big leagues, why didn't you just sign him the first time and put him on the 40-man? It kind of surprised me, but oh well. He's been a pretty good player so maybe things will work out for them."

The Cubs made a brief splash by taking OF Josh Hamilton (the first overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1999 draft) with the third overall selection in the Rule Five Draft. They then dealt Hamilton to Cincinnati for cash considerations.

"The reps were pretty sharp," Wilken said of Hamilton. "Unfortunately, we don't really have the latitude to even get creative, because we still have a fair amount of things on our plate with guys to acquire. We still may end up trying to get more guys off the [40-man] roster."

Before the draft, the Cubs were able to shuffle two pitchers onto the 40-man roster in right-hander Rocky Cherry and left-hander Clay Rapada. Both returned from injury riddled seasons in 2005 and began '06 at Double-A before warranting promotions to Triple-A.

In the minor league phase of the draft, the Cubs lost INF/OF Richard Lewis to Kansas City. The 26-year-old Lewis was a first-round draft pick by Atlanta from Georgia Tech in 2001 that was traded to the Cubs in March of 2004. He batted .329 in 99 games at Double-A that year to win the Southern League's MVP award in his first season with the Cubs.

Lewis was promoted to Triple-A in August of that year and would have been sent up to Chicago as a September call-up if not for suffering a fractured leg on the final day of the Iowa Cubs' regular season.

"He kind of lost a little bit of his step and I'm sure that effected a few things mentally, but he's been back on pace and was doing well," Fleita said of Lewis. "We just felt that when we set our Triple-A roster for the Rule Five, we knew we were going to have to take some guys off the roster to possibly add a man. You have to save those slots and it was an area in the organization where we felt we had depth."

The Cubs also lost right-hander Andy Shipman in the minor league phase of the draft. The 25-year-old was selected by the Oakland Athletics after posting a 3.81 ERA in 46 relief appearances at Iowa in 2006.

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