Who would have guessed, going into today's sessions, that the most incisive and insightful panel discussion would be the one led by the TV & radio broadcasters?
Or that the most fun would be had in the "For Kids Only" press conference, where Carlos Zambrano cracked everyone up by telling us that his hyperness is from drinking too much Red Bull?
The Jim Hendry/Dusty Baker session, at 9 am, was standing-room only, and I stood up there with your list of questions. Of course, I could only ask one -- I chose the one about what the team is going to do to be proactive about Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. (Incidentally, I identified myself as being from BCB, and several other questioners ID'd their own sites, including a couple of people from Goat Riders of the Apocalypse, a name which perplexed both Hendry and Baker.)
And I pretty much got the stock answer -- that they're working on things, that they are bringing Wood along slowly, again working on his mechanics, and the only real information I got out of the response to this (from both of them) was that they will indeed consider Wood for a bullpen role if he's not ready for the rotation at the start of the season.
This is good news, because it might mean that Wood, instead of Roberto Novoa, could be the Cubs' 7th-inning pitcher in 2006; and as you may remember, even hurt and needing surgery, he was pretty much lights-out after being put in the bullpen last summer.
Don't fret, though -- many of your questions did get asked by other people. The answer about the payroll question was illuminating. Hendry stated that the current payroll is approximately $90 million, and will top out around $100 million. The followup -- which was, would another $20 million be available and would it make the club a winner -- got what for me was the obvious answer. Simply spending money is not going to produce a winner. We all know this from seeing other teams spend wildly (the recent Oriole and Met teams are a good example of this), only to fall short of the postseason.
Hendry said that he has never been refused money when he asked for it, and he believes that money will be available at midseason if he wants some to upgrade, depending on players available.
He briefly touched on the Furcal deal, saying they had offered what amounted to a little over $8 million a year (I think he meant $9 million, but that's what he said), and Furcal chose to take the larger per-year amount offered by the Dodgers, rather than the longer-term deal the Cubs had on the table.
We can -- and have, in fact -- endlessly debate whether the Cubs could have matched that. But the fact is, $13 million a year is above market for such a player, and Hendry pretty much stated as such, and frankly, I agree with him.
- Todd Walker will "compete" for the starting 2B job in spring training. Privately, I heard that Hendry has had no offers for Walker, and though he is still on the market, it's unlikely he'll be dealt before the season begins. There were quite a few in the crowd cheering for Walker, including one woman wearing a shirt reading "SAVE TODD".
- Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno are the de facto starters in LF and at SS. I don't think anything could change that short of injury, or either of them having the worst spring training anyone could imagine.
They also lamented the Cubs' failure to get on base, hinting that the lack of walks were a big factor in not scoring runs.
Gee -- isn't this something we all know? At least someone connected with the organization understands this.
A couple of other cogent points were made; first, Brenly talked about trade rumors and how, when he was playing with the Giants, players used to try to have fun with writers who were known to have an "ear", by literally making up ridiculous trade rumors and seeing them in print the next day.
This, obviously, can't happen during the offseason, but it does show you how easily rumors can be floated by just about anyone connected with a major league organization.
And Santo tantalized us by saying repeatedly that he not only thinks the Cubs need more starting pitching, but they are pursuing it, and the target is Barry Zito.
That'd be fine with me!
And Mark had fun in the "Kids Only" press conference, asking the players what they'd play if they didn't play baseball. Z, of course, chimed right in with "soccer", and I must tell you, I am mightily impressed with Matt Murton, who answered questions gracefully and articulately, and the impression I'm left with of him is that he "gets it" -- that he well understands what it takes to make it in the major leagues beyond simple talent. He may have been a throw-in in the Nomar deal, but I truly think he has a chance to be -- well, not a superstar, but a solid regular player for many years, perhaps comparable to a righthanded-hitting Paul O'Neill (as has been written here before).
Glendon Rusch also had fun with the crowd, telling everyone that the pitchers always think they can hit, and the position players always want to pitch.
And that was our day. The BCB "meeting" session... well, not very many of you showed up, only a handful. It was nice to meet those of you who did, and a number of others who spotted me wearing my BCB t-shirt.
Mark & I stopped by a booth run by Hall of Famer Bob Feller and got a ball signed by him -- according to Mike, he is now the third-oldest living Hall of Famer (Phil Rizzuto and Lee MacPhail, Andy's father, are the older ones), and there's a photo of us with Feller below.
The only purchase I made this year was a Derrek Lee-signed ball; it always seems better to do this than to wait the two hours or more that many people waited in line for signatures of popular players like Z (when I arrived at 8:30 for the 9 am Hendry/Baker session, there were hundreds of people lined up for Z's autograph session, most of whom had been there since 6 am).
And despite the sellout, it seemed less crowded this year, and as we know from the offers made here on BCB, there were some passes that went unused. I ran into Jeff and his friends Mark & Clay, who are all in town for the Bears playoff game tomorrow. Incidentally, you may have read that the Bears, like many NFL teams, have their players stay in a hotel before games, even for home games. The hotel wasn't named in the article I read, but I have heard the Bears are at the Hilton tonight, with the entire floor off-limits to anyone but Bears personnel.
But if you're still at the Hilton, you might find yourself spotting a Bears player, as well as Cubs. Cheer 'em on. Let's get another winner in this town.
Top: Jim Hendry & Al (make up your own caption!); Mark, Al & Bob Feller; Derrek Lee
Bottom: Mark in the batting cage; the broadcasters (left to right, Len Kasper, Bob Brenly, Pat Hughes, Ron Santo)
First photo by Gavin, second by Mike, last three by Al