Camp Opens

The Cubs spent more than $300 million this offseason, and the fruits of their spending will be on display when training camp opens.

After the team finished in last place in the National League Central and won just 66 games in 2006, the Cubs had a shakeup with president Andy MacPhail stepping down and the team not renewing manager Dusty Baker's contract.

General manager Jim Hendry survived and was given license by his new boss -- interim president John McDonough -- to go out and get the best talent available. The GM responded by hiring Lou Piniella as the new skipper and bringing in free agents Alfonso Soriano (eight years, $136 million), Ted Lilly (four years, $40 million) and Jason Marquis (three years, $21 million) while keeping Aramis Ramirez for five years and $75 million.

Like any situation in which there is a new manager, camp figures to be different than when Baker ran the show for the past four years. Piniella is perceived as a no-nonsense taskmaster who likes to have fun after the hard work gets done.

At least three Cubs pitchers decided to get in better shape well before camp opened. Kerry Wood lost 30 pounds, Ryan Dempster said he lost 20 and Scott Eyre dropped 15 during the offseason.

Despite the spending spree, a new manager and a team president who is demanding that the team start winning now, the Cubs are far from a team that can be considered a playoff contender -- even in what is considered a weak division.

The top priority before the season starts is to figure out the outfield situation.

All of the starting candidates are pretty good offensive threats, but the defense has the potential of giving Piniella and the Cubs pitchers some sleepless nights.

Soriano figures to get the first crack at center field, and he hasn't played there before. There is no guarantee he will be comfortable there. Jacque Jones is a right fielder whose range is decent but whose throwing arm was woeful in 2006. He would be the second choice for center field. Cliff Floyd and Matt Murton figure to platoon in left field.

Unless the Cubs swing a spring training deal, that doesn't bode well for their top position prospect, Felix Pie. The team brass said the center fielder will get a fair chance to make the team, but even if he plays well this spring, it's still possible he will open the season in the minors. Officials say that Pie is a top defensive player but needs to work on his strike-zone judgment before he is ready for the big leagues.

WHERE, WHEN: Fitch Park, Mesa, Ariz., from Feb. 14-28 and HoHoKam Park in Mesa the rest of camp. First exhibition game is March 1 against the Giants.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: When the Cubs picked up free agent 2B Mark DeRosa as a free agent, many fans said, "Mark who?" Not much is known about DeRosa, who has been more of a fill-in player in his career. But the Cubs handed him the second base job for the next three years. He had a .357 on-base percentage for Texas last year. If he can duplicate that in the second spot in the lineup, he could be a good bridge between leadoff man Alfonso Soriano and power hitters Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: Choose one of four. Outfielder Alfonso Soriano (eight years, $138 million), third baseman Aramis Ramirez (five years, $75 million), left-handed pitcher Ted Lilly (four years, $40 million) or right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis (seven years, $21 million) are viewed by some as being overpaid. A bad season by any one of them could make the Cubs look foolish.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: New Cubs manager Lou Piniella (1,519-1,420) is viewed as a fiery, refreshing departure from laid-back Dusty Baker, but Cubs fans should be warned that Piniella doesn't plan on putting on too many shows yelling at umpires in the late stages of his career. Still, it's believed he will get the most effort out of his players. The only coaching holdover from the Baker Era -- pitching coach Larry Rothschild -- earned his first major league coaching job when Piniella managed Cincinnati in the early 1990s.

NOTES, QUOTES

  • LF Cliff Floyd, who signed as a free agent, is slated to platoon with Matt Murton. The oft-injured Floyd said he is fine with splitting time. "Everybody likes to play," Floyd said. "But you have to do what the team needs you to do. If you want to win, you do what the team needs you to do to win. I want to help the team. If you want to talk about platooning and all of that stuff -- that's not an issue. I'm just going to go out and play the way I can play."

  • INF Ronny Cedeno, last year's Opening Day shortstop for the Cubs who is fighting to make the roster this year, hit .440 (11-for-25) for Venezuela in the Caribbean Series.

  • 1B Derrek Lee, who had a career 2005 season and then missed most of 2006 with a wrist injury, said that during offseason hitting workouts, the wrist was strong. He'll get a better grasp on how strong when he gets everyday work in spring training.

  • RHP Carlos Zambrano, who is asking for $15.5 million in arbitration, has a Feb. 20 hearing, and it's likely that he and the Cubs will go into spring training camp with the issue unresolved. The Cubs are offering a little more than $11 million.

  • OF Felix Pie, who turned 22 on Feb. 8, is a top position player prospect hoping to beat out a veteran for an outfield spot. It's going to be an uphill climb with Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd and Matt Murton aboard, but the Cubs insist that if he's ready this year, they will bring him up.

    BY THE NUMBERS: $255 -- Price for a ticket in a special area behind home plate during "prime" games at Wrigley Field in 2007.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "They talk about the curse and talk about this and that. I don't believe that. I believe that the team will win some games. (General manager Jim Hendry) has done a great job to get this team in a position to win right now. And it's up to the players. It's up to us. And it will happen. I know it will. We have too good of guys and too much veteran leadership to not be a winner. I don't think the fans will be disappointed." -- New Cubs LF Cliff Floyd, who was asked why the Cubs haven't won a World Series in 98 years.

    ROSTER REPORT

    It's time for the Cubs to find out what kind of bang they can get for their $300 million after they spent more than that on salaries for free agents and keeping their own players. They won 66 games and finished in last place in 2006, and they figure to be better this year. But will it be good enough to win what is considered a weak division?

    ARRIVALS: OF Alfonso Soriano (free agent from Nationals), LHP Ted Lilly (free agent from Blue Jays), RHP Jason Marquis (free agent from Cardinals), 2B Mark DeRosa (free agent from Rangers), OF Cliff Floyd (free agent from Mets), LHP Neal Cotts (trade with White Sox), OF/1B Daryle Ward (free agent from Nationals), INF Tomas Perez (minor league free agent from Devil Rays).

    DEPARTURES: OF Juan Pierre (free agent, signed with Dodgers), RHP David Aardsma (trade with White Sox), INF/OF John Mabry (free agent, signed minor league contract with Rockies), OF/2B Freddy Bynum (trade with Orioles), LHP Glendon Rusch (released).

    SPRING FOCUS: Center field will be the center of attention for position players. Alfonso Soriano, who has never played there before, will get the first crack at it. If things don't work out, Jacque Jones or Ryan Theriot could get some time there. Also, there are many candidates for the final spot in the rotation, including recovering sore-shouldered hurlers Mark Prior and Wade Miller.

    PROJECTED ROTATION:

    1. RHP Carlos Zambrano

    2. LHP Ted Lilly

    3. RHP Jason Marquis

    4. LHP Rich Hill

    5. TBA

    RHP Mark Prior, RHP Wade Miller, LHP Neal Cotts and a host of young pitchers including LHP Sean Marshall are in the mix for the final slot in the rotation. Many young pitchers who picked up major league experience because of injuries last year could find themselves starting for Triple-A Iowa this year.

    Lilly (who signed a four-year, $40 million deal) and Marquis (three years, $21 million) are making good money despite unspectacular careers, and the heat will be on them early if they falter.

    PROJECTED BULLPEN:

    RHP Ryan Dempster

    RHP Bobby Howry

    LHP Scott Eyre

    RHP Kerry Wood

    LHP Neal Cotts

    LHP Will Ohman

    RHP Michael Weurtz or RHP Roberto Novoa

    Dempster (nine losses, nine blown saves in '06) will be given the first shot at closing, but he won't be on a long leash. Howry could get the call if Dempster has a bad opening to the season.

    Wood, who is in the bullpen to save wear and tear on his often-injured right arm, has enough electric stuff on his pitches to be a closer, but the Cubs will wait to see how much his elbow and shoulder can take before handing him the job.

    PROJECTED LINEUP:

    1. CF Alfonso Soriano

    2. 2B Mark DeRosa

    3. 1B Derrek Lee

    4. 3B Aramis Ramirez

    5. LF Cliff Floyd

    6. C Michael Barrett

    7. RF Jacque Jones

    8. SS Cesar Izturis

    New manager Lou Piniella is thinking about batting Izturis second, but the shortstop's .295 career on-base percentage might prevent that. Floyd, a left-handed hitter, will split time with Matt Murton, and the left-handed hitting Jones likely would move to fifth in the lineup on those days.

    While some critics feel that Soriano strikes out too often for a leadoff man (160 times in 2006), the Cubs are comfortable enough with his speed and power to leave him there.

    PROJECTED RESERVES:

    LF Matt Murton

    C Henry Blanco

    INF/OF Ryan Theriot

    OF/1B Daryle Ward

    OF Angel Pagan

    If the Cubs go with 11 pitchers, INF Ronny Cedeno, last year's Opening Day starter at shortstop, could be a candidate for the final spot.

    If they go with 12, Theriot could be busy backing up three infield positions, with Ward, and occasionally Floyd, backing up Derrek Lee at first base. Blanco could get more time early in the season for Barrett, who missed September with a serious groin injury.

    TOP ROOKIES: The outfield appears to be set, but hot prospect Felix Pie has been told he will get a fair shot at trying to make the team this spring. He likely will open the season at Triple-A Iowa because the team would rather have him play every day than use him as a backup. 2B Eric Patterson, brother of former Cubs CF Corey Patterson, received an invitation to camp and could give the brass some food for thought for later in the season if he continues to hit at a .300 clip and steals some bases during camp.

    MEDICAL WATCH:

    RHP Kerry Wood (right shoulder) will pitch out of the bullpen in 2007 to save some wear and tear. Team officials say that Wood has thrown well off the mound during the offseason, but they will work him slowly in spring training.

    RHP Mark Prior (right shoulder) said he has felt good during offseason throwing sessions after missing most of 2006. Prior is hoping to pick up the final spot in the starting rotation.

    RHP Wade Miller (right shoulder), who made five starts at the end of the 2006 season after coming back from shoulder surgery in 2005, is hoping his arm will hold up for an entire season. He is vying for the final spot in the starting rotation.

    C Michael Barrett (intrascrotal hematoma) missed the final month of the 2006 season after taking a foul ball to the groin. He said he is ready for the rigors of spring training, but the Cubs probably will give him a little more rest than in past seasons when the games start in March.

    The preceding story was authored by a third-party outlet and obtained by Scout.com through contractual agreement.


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