Cubs Still Searching for Left-handed Bat

As a slow off-season careened toward the winter meetings, GM Jim Hendry was sorting his priorities.

No. 1 on Hendry's list, whether it gets done at the meetings in Vegas or afterward, is to land a left-handed bat for the outfield. The problem is, there are few of those bats out there, and the free agent market has been slow to develop.

Another problem is that whomever the Cubs target, that player will have to be able to play right field, and that can be a difficult task at Wrigley Field, especially in the sun.

Switch-hitting Milton Bradley's name has come up after Bradley set a Texas Rangers record with a .436 on-base percentage. Bradley also led the AL with a .999 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). The Cubs had interest in Bradley several winters ago and even sent Dusty Baker, their manager at the time, to visit Bradley and gauge his interest.

All of the other names floated, including Raul Ibanez, Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu, might have difficulty in Wrigley's right field. Also, each might be a little too rich for the Cubs' blood at this stage of the market. Hendry might have to wait until the market takes shape and some of these players find that other teams have little interest in signing them to big long-term deals.

Never known for his patience, Hendry has indicated he'd be willing to wait. That wait also includes right-hander Jake Peavy of the Padres. Hendry still has interest in trading for Peavy, but he'll have to move money off the current roster to do so.


--RHP Chad Fox is back with the Cubs. Fox, a reliever who has had multiple elbow surgeries, signed a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Fox pitched in three games for the Cubs in 2008, his first action since 2005, when elbow problems ended his Cubs season early. Fox is a favorite of GM Jim Hendry, and although he's a longshot to make the club, he could be insurance.

--RHP Jason Marquis figures to draw interest from other teams looking to trade. Marquis has one year and $9.875 million left on the final year of his three-year deal. Marquis has been the Cubs' fifth starter, and as such, he's done a creditable job even though manager Lou Piniella has never been enthralled with him. The Cubs point out that Marquis has won 65 games over the last five seasons. He's also durable. He tossed 167 innings this year, and that number was lower than his previous totals because he was the guy Piniella chose to skip most often in the rotation when off days came into play.

--With RHP Bob Howry having signed with the Giants after not being offered arbitration by the Cubs, the back end of the bullpen has one vacancy. RHPs Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija figure to battle for a setup role to RHPs Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol, who will battle for the closer's job. Gaudin battled back problems late in the year and did not take part in the playoffs. Samardzija came up in late July and intrigued the Cubs with his fastball and split-finger pitch.

--OF Reed Johnson is one of several players eligible for salary arbitration, and he figures to play a big role in 2009. Johnson shared time in center field with Jim Edmonds this year, but he did not get into any playoff action as the Dodgers threw all right-handed pitching at the Cubs in the Division Series. GM Jim Hendry is high on Johnson, who fields well and had a .358 on-base percentage this year. Depending on how the right-field situation shakes out, Johnson could platoon again in center, possibly with Kosuke Fukudome, who might move from right to center.

--RHP Michael Wuertz is a wild card for the bullpen. The 29-year-old Wuertz has been up and down with the Cubs since 2004 and led the team in appearances in '05. Wuertz was demoted to Class AAA Iowa for part of the '08 season, largely because his slider had flattened out. When he's on, he can be hard to hit. He's also insurance in case RHP Chad Gaudin's back troubles linger into spring training.

INSIDE THE NUMB3RS: .360 -- INF Mike Fontenot's batting average after the All-Star break (36-for-100). With the Cubs needing left-handed hitting, Fontenot could see increased playing time in '09, and he has a fan in manager Lou Piniella.

HE SAID IT: "The general nucleus is solid. We'll shuffle the deck in two or three areas and try to get better before we get to camp. But it's not like we need an overhaul." -- Hendry

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