No Christmas Presents for Cubs Fans This Year

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry had hoped to have his 2009 team pretty well set by Christmas, but it looks as if he will be working deep into January or even beyond.

The only big-ticket player the Cubs had interest in was Padres right-hander Jake Peavy, and talks for a trade died at the winter meetings. It's possible Hendry will revisit a trade for Peavy, but nothing is hot on that front.

The market for middle-of-the-pack free agents has been a slow one this winter, and Hendry continues to play a waiting game as he seeks a left-handed-hitting outfielder. Switch hitter Milton Bradley, late of the Texas Rangers, has been Hendry's top target most of the offseason, but Bradley has been talking with several teams.

One problem hampering the Cubs is money. They spent with unprecedented abandon during the past two offseasons, but the imminent sale of the team -- which they hope will be completed by spring training -- has put a crimp in the finances.

Hendry is actively shopping right-hander Jason Marquis, and the Cubs are willing to eat some of his $9,875,000 salary for 2009. Second baseman/outfielder Mark DeRosa isn't on the block, but Hendry will listen to offers to free up $5.5 million more.

One of the problems holding up the Peavy deal was money. Not only did the Padres want the Cubs to pick up the entire $63 million owed to Peavy over the next four years, but Hendry fretted about the salary he'd have to spend to replace the players the Cubs would have to send to San Diego.

A long offseason is nothing new to Hendry. He signed Greg Maddux just as spring training opened in 2004. The next winter, he waited until February to trade Sammy Sosa and sign Jeromy Burnitz.


--DeRosa will play for Team USA this spring in the World Baseball Classic. Of course, DeRosa may or may not be with the Cubs by then. If the right deal comes along, Hendry may trade DeRosa, a versatile player who will make a relatively modest $5.5 million in 2009. This is the second year in a row DeRosa has been in the middle of a roster controversy. Last offseason, the Cubs pursued Orioles 2B Brian Roberts, and his arrival would have pushed DeRosa out of a full-time job. DeRosa expressed unhappiness about the talk right through spring training before having a career year with 21 homers, 87 RBIs and a .376 on-base percentage.

--OF Kosuke Fukudome has been home in Japan this offseason working on "core" body strengthening, according to the Cubs. Fukudome faded badly in the second half, batting .217 after the All-Star break and losing his full-time job. There are no guarantees Fukudome will start every day in 2009, and he may share time in center field. The Cubs say they don't believe Fukudome was "figured out" by opposing teams, but they do feel he may have worn down as the season went on.

--LHP Rich Hill presents the Cubs with legitimate worries. Hill began the 2008 season as the Cubs' fourth starter, but he was sent to the minor leagues in early May, and he didn't return. The command problems that mysteriously derailed his 2008 season continued in Venezuela during winter ball. Hill was 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA. He struck out 16 but walked 23 in 21 innings. Hill remains on the 40-man roster, but the Cubs have not mentioned his name all winter, and he appears a longshot at best to even work his way into the picture come spring training.

--RHP Kevin Hart again has the Cubs encouraged. Hart came up in late 2007 and pitched his way on to the playoff roster. He broke camp with the Cubs in '08 but wound up in the minor leagues, where he regrouped and earned a September call-up. The Cubs say they like the way Hart threw the ball in the minors and down the stretch, saying he regained his aggressiveness. Hart figures to compete for a bullpen spot in spring training. His name also came up in the trade talks with San Diego for Peavy.

--UT Jake Fox is listed on the Cubs' catching depth chart, but he spent most of 2008 in the minor leagues as a corner infielder and outfielder. Fox had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2007. The 26-year-old Fox, a right-handed batter, always has been able to hit. The Cubs love his bat, and if they don't trade him to the American League (where he could DH), they'll give him a long look in the spring and allow him to compete for a bench spot.

INSIDE THE NUMB3RS: 159 -- RBIs for DeRosa since he joined the Cubs in 2007. That places him third on the team behind Aramis Ramirez (212) and Derrek Lee (172) during that time.

HE SAID IT: "We're going to be a big-market club. We've proven that." -- Hendry, on being able to pursue big-name players.

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