Byrd Signing May Create Catch-22

The Cubs' signing of center fielder Marlon Byrd solved one major problem, but what remains is a little sense of deja vu.

Byrd, who signed a three-year, $15 million contract on New Year's Eve, gives the Cubs a dependable bat in center field and a quality fielder.

However, Byrd bats right-handed, and the Cubs lineup will have a decidedly right-handed tilt to it if there are no more major changes before opening day.

When the Cubs were bounced out of the playoffs in three games by the Dodgers in 2008, manager Lou Piniella complained about not having enough left-handed bats in the lineup. So general manager Jim Hendry traded the popular Mark DeRosa and brought in switch hitter Milton Bradley, with disastrous results.

As 2009 finished, Piniella said he didn't care anymore which way players hit as long as they were effective.

The good news for the Cubs is that Byrd's left-right splits don't show any susceptibility toward right-handed pitching. With the Rangers last year, Byrd had an average/on-base/slugging line of .300/.344/.491 against right-handed pitchers with 13 homers and 59 RBIs.

Against lefties, Byrd was .244/.293/.451 with seven homers and 30 RBIs.

The Byrd signing also allows the Cubs to move Kosuke Fukudome from center field back to right, his better position. Fukudome moved to center last year to accommodate Bradley.

"It really helps our overall defensive situation," Hendry said. "Marlon, of course, is an above-average outfielder and coming off very, very good numbers offensively. He hits right-handed pitching very well, which was a factor."


--1B Bryan LaHair, who spent all of last season with Seattle's Class AAA Tacoma affiliate, signed a minor league deal with the Cubs. LaHair's only big-league experience was 45 games with the Mariners in 2008, when he batted .250 with three homers and 10 RBIs. He hit .289 with 26 homers and 85 RBIs for Tacoma last year.

--Byrd hit 14 of his 20 homers last year at Rangers Ballpark, which is considered hitter-friendly. The Cubs expressed no worries about Byrd's numbers being artificially inflated in Texas. Wrigley Field also is an offensive ballpark, especially in the summer when the wind blows out.

"The park situation can be overrated at times," Hendry said. "A lot of people felt that way when Mark DeRosa came out of Texas, and obviously, that didn't prove the same. You've got the best hitting coach in baseball (Rudy Jaramillo) who believes it finally clicked with Marlon here in the last year or two, and he feels strongly that it will continue for the next three or four years."

--SS Ryan Theriot is in his first season of arbitration eligibility, and it will be interesting to see how far apart Theriot and the Cubs are when initial numbers are exchanged. Theriot made $500,000 last year, when he established career highs in at-bats (602), home runs (seven) and RBIs (54). However, Theriot's on-base percentage fell from .387 to .343 from 2008 to 2009. His walks decreased from 73 to 51, and his strikeouts went up from 58 to 93. The Cubs have not gone to a hearing with a player since the early 1990s, but the Theriot case will be one to watch.

--LF Alfonso Soriano will not attend the Cubs' annual fan convention (Jan. 15-17), but the Cubs say that's a good thing. Soriano has been rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee in the Dominican Republic. The Cubs have been checking on him regularly, and they reported excellent progress in early January. Soriano reported early to spring training in his first three years with the Cubs, and the team expects him to be ready from the get-go. He played in 117 games last year.

--LHP Ted Lilly is expected in town for the Cubs Convention, and he's expected to begin light throwing soon after having his pitching shoulder 'scoped in the fall. Lilly is likely to miss most of April.

--CF Brett Jackson, the Cubs' first-round pick in last year's draft, is expected to get an invitation to spring training as a non-roster man. It's likely the Cubs will have their last four first-round picks in camp: Jackson, RHP Andrew Cashner, 3B Josh Vitters and OF Tyler Colvin, who is on the 40-man roster. Jackson played last season in the rookie-level Arizona League and for two Class A clubs, Boise and Peoria, and batted a combined .318 with eight homers and 36 RBIs in 53 games. He could open the 2010 season either at high Class A Daytona or even at Class AA Tennessee. The Cubs say it's likely they'll have more of their own prospects and fewer six-year minor league free agents at spring training.

BY THE NUMBERS: 67-62 -- The Cubs' record against right-handed starting pitchers last year. The team will feature a more right-handed-hitting lineup in 2010, with Fukudome the only left-handed-hitting everyday player.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I came up playing with the Philadelphia Phillies. I had the opportunity to really get to know the fans there. It's a tough place to play, but at the same time, if you embrace the fans, it makes it a lot easier. Fans are what make baseball. Whether they're cheering you or booing you really doesn't matter to me." -- Byrd, on the challenges of playing at Wrigley Field, where Bradley was booed regularly in 2009.

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