Cubs Bullpen Has Room for Improvement

The Cubs aren't in a crisis situation yet with their bullpen, but they are looking for all the help they can get, both from within the organization and through possible trades.

Right-hander Carlos Marmol enters the season as the closer, and John Grabow is the top left-handed setup man.

On the right side, things are thin, and they recently got thinner. All winter, general manager Jim Hendry was searching for a veteran righty to set up Marmol and to help out right-hander Angel Guzman, a talented but oft-injured pitcher.

Already in recent weeks, Guzman had undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. While throwing last week, Guzman experienced "discomfort" in his right shoulder and had to be shut down.

Neither the Cubs nor Guzman said the injury is serious, but it is a red flag considering Guzman had to be shut down at the end of last season with triceps soreness.

The Cubs will give a long look this spring to right-hander Esmailin Caridad, 26, who had a 1-0 record and 1.40 ERA in 14 games last year. The organization likes Caridad's live arm, and manager Lou Piniella said recently that Caridad would have to pitch himself off the team in the Cactus League.

Hendry has examined all of the free agent options, but he told reporters that if the Cubs add a veteran righty to the bullpen, the acquisition likely would come via a trade.

WHERE: HoHoKam Park, Mesa, Ariz. The Cubs have committed to Mesa for another 25 years, provided the city and the state of Arizona come up with a funding package for a new, state-of-the-art facility on the east side of town. HoHoKam opened in 1997, but the Cubs want a new complex to rival the ones on the west side of the Phoenix valley.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: The Cubs took a chance when they signed OF/INF Xavier Nady to a one-year, $3.3 million contract late in the offseason. Nady played in only seven games for the Yankees last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow for the second time in his career. The Cubs have always liked Nady's right-handed bat and say he's ready to hit now. He'll be playing for a big contract in 2011 and beyond.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: The Cubs are sticking their necks out by giving 2B Mike Fontenot another chance after a disappointing season in 2009. Fontenot batted only .236 with a .301 on-base percentage last year, and he's yet to prove he's an everyday player. The Cubs need his left-handed bat in a right-handed dominant lineup. If Fontenot falters again, they'll hope Jeff Baker can step in and perform as well as he did last year after a July trade with Colorado.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: Who'd have thought? There were whispers aplenty last year that Piniella had somehow lost his "fire" or became uninterested as a disappointing season unfolded. Piniella vehemently denied that he had lost anything. Piniella has led the Cubs to three straight winning seasons, going 265-219 with two playoff appearances. He's signed for one more year and has not said one way or the other whether 2010 will be his last. The new hitting coach is Rudy Jaramillo, a respected taskmaster who wasn't wanted back with the Rangers. LF Alfonso Soriano worked with Jaramillo in Texas and is said to be happy with the hire. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has been with the Cubs since 2002 and is one of the most respected in the game.


--RHP Carlos Zambrano is likely to make his sixth consecutive opening-day start, April 5 in Atlanta. Piniella had made no official announcement, but Zambrano likely will get the nod.

"We haven't even gone there yet," Piniella said. "I've been here three years, and Zambrano's been the opening-day starter every year, so I don't anticipate any difference there."

--LHP Ted Lilly has been set back by a nasty viral infection that forced him to miss much of the week as he battled a 103-degree fever. Lilly already was rehabbing from arthroscopic left shoulder surgery. He had his right knee checked with an MRI this spring, but that showed nothing more than normal wear and tear, according to the team. Lilly returned to camp at the end of the week and did some light throwing. He won't start the season on the active roster, and May 1 is not out of the question.

--SS Starlin Castro, who doesn't turn 20 until March 24, probably will begin the season at Class AAA Iowa, but Piniella said an injury to incumbent SS Ryan Theriot would likely put Castro in the big leagues.

"Look, first of all, he's highly touted," Piniella said of Castro. "He's got a ton of ability, obviously. The good ones come really quick. The player will let you know if he's ready or not, and we'll see that here in spring training. We have to play him to see it. If the kid shows he can handle it and we had an injury at the position, why not?"

Theriot got a scare in the first week of camp when he was hit on the left hand by a pitched ball in live batting practice. He suffered no damage other than a bruise.

--Guzman is day-to-day with discomfort in his pitching shoulder. Guzman already was rehabbing from surgery on his right knee.

"It's nothing serious," Guzman said. "We just didn't want to push it." Because the Cubs don't have to "stretch out" Guzman to start games, they're confident he can get into games in the middle of the Cactus League season and be ready for opening day.

--Fontenot will see time at shortstop this spring, as Piniella tries to get some offense on his roster. Fontenot has only four games of major league experience at shortstop, and Andres Blanco is the backup to Ryan Theriot now. However, the Cubs will like some pop off the bench, and if Fontenot can handle short, the Cubs might be able to keep a more powerful-hitting backup from among INF/OFs Kevin Millar, Chad Tracy, Micah Hoffpauir and Bryan LaHair.

BY THE NUMBERS: 20 -- Total of home runs the Cubs got from 2B Fontenot and OF Kosuke Fukudome last year. Those two players will be the primary left-handed hitters for the team this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm really not a Facebook or Twitter guy. I'm a prime rib and baked potato guy. I hate to say that, but it's true. Maybe somebody should teach me." -- Piniella, when told his White Sox counterpart Ozzie Guillen has a Twitter account.

Northsiders Report Top Stories