Eight Chicago Cubs players have filed for free agency. In no particular order they are: pitchers Ryan Dempster, Kerry Wood, Bob Howry, Jon Lieber and Chad Fox, catcher Henry Blanco, and outfielders Jim Edmonds and Daryle Ward.
None of these filings are considered a surprise.
Of those players, however, most agree that Dempster and Wood would be nice to lock-up long-term. Dempster tied the Cubs' staff in wins this year with 17 and had a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts, earning a Game 1 start in a short-lived postseason. Wood, despite a down month in September, was otherwise trusty in his first year as the team's closer, saving 34 games and finishing with a 3.26 ERA.
Combined, both were instrumental in helping the Cubs reach the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.
For his part, Blanco would also be a nice player to serve in the Cubs' proverbial cabinet as he has been an adequate back-up catcher through the years, and a mentor to likely National League Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto.
Conversely, hardly anyone is thought to be stumping for the Cubs to bring back Fox, Lieber, or Ward -- players likely nearing the end of their respective careers with little, if any, fanfare.
Howry at least had two similarly effective seasons with the club in 2006 and '07, despite recently suffering through his worst-run campaign since probably right after the last big election cycle in 2000. He finished with a 5.35 ERA in 72 appearances and at age 35 to boot, it is likely the Cubs can find a more competent right-handed setup man for 2009, if they have not already.
And Edmonds made for some nice copy all year as he was seemingly one heartbeat away from riding off into the sunset before the Cubs helped resurrect his career – at least for a few more months. After being released by the Padres he batted .256 and played in over 80 games for the Cubs, splitting the 2008 Centerfield Party ticket with Reed Johnson for much of the year.
There are also minor league players whom the Cubs must cast their votes for.
For the moment, some of those players include: infielders Andres Blanco, Matt Craig, Luis Figueroa and Bobby Scales; catchers Koyie Hill and Robinson Chirinos; outfielders Doug Deeds, Jason Dubois, Josh Kroeger and Andres Torres; and pitchers Mike Burns, Billy Petrick and Carmen Pignatiello.
All of those players can file for minor league free agency.
Of those players, five were drafted and/or signed by the Cubs and Craig, 27, might seem to be the "headliner" of that group, having sported a career batting average of more than .280. It is somewhat hard to fathom whose dog he has kicked en route to an otherwise above-average career as a Cubs minor leaguer. He is coming off his fourth year in Double-A ball with only brief looks at the Triple-A level.
Petrick was the highest-drafted player in this group, going in the third round to the Cubs in 2002. Once considered an elite pitching prospect, injuries have taken their toll on the right-hander over the years and this past season he was nothing more than an afterthought. He made only eight appearances (at Single-A Daytona) and was recently removed from the 40-man roster.
As recently as spring training, Pignatiello was being groomed as a potential left-handed setup man, and he began the season on the Cubs' 25-man opening day roster. But he made only two appearances before manager Lou Piniella sent him to Iowa, where he seemed to only regress for most of the season. Like Petrick, he was recently bumped from the 40-man roster.
As with Petrick and Pignatiello, Chirinos has racked up quite a few years in the Cubs' farm system himself. Previously a career infielder, the 24-year-old Chirinos underwent a position change to catcher this past season and could get more reps there playing winter ball in Venezuela.
Dubois, 29, got a second chance with the Cubs this season after floundering in the Washington Nationals' organization. A 2000 14th-round Cubs draft pick, he went on to hit 25 home runs and bat .307 at Iowa in a shortened season that saw him play in 76 games.
Dubois, who has a strong relationship with the Cubs' front office, could be back with the club next year as well, but likely only in a Triple-A role.
Deeds, 27, joined the Cubs' Double-A team a few days into the minor league season after he was shipped from Minnesota to complete the trade for OF Craig Monroe. As the "player to be named," he surprised even the Cubs' coaches and scouts by having perhaps his best year to date, hitting .325 with average power (12 homers, 37 doubles, 58 RBIs).
Because Deeds is essentially Craig without the switch-hitting attribute (they both play first base), it could be interesting to see which of these two players the Cubs favor more.
Kroeger, 26, has proven himself as an adequate Triple-A outfielder in two years with the Cubs since being let go by Arizona. He's compiled 36 home runs and 150 RBIs the past two seasons while hitting well above .300. It would not be a surprise to see him stick around.
Blanco, Figueroa, Scales and Torres were all added as minor league free agents a year ago and spent their 2008 seasons at Iowa, where they each had productive or semi-productive years. Burns was a late addition to the team, signed by the Cubs in the final week of spring training to provide some depth to their Iowa pitching staff. They each bring a lot of experience to a club despite being viewed as spare parts by many.
Like many voters with their presidential selections, the Cubs say they are still "undecided" on some of these players.
"We have spoken to a number of them, but it will be a few weeks until final decisions are made," said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita.
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