Lou Piniella, Crane Kenney, Jim Hendry and Randy Bush answer questions on Saturday morning. Standing at right is WGN radio's Dave Eanet. Photo by Al (anyone who wants to take a shot at color-correcting this photo, please do and send it back to me) Update [2008-1-20 13:37:44 by Al]: Thanks to BCB reader mnexile for the revised photo.
It was my question -- based on the question that BCB reader mrcubsfan had posted wanting to know if Lou would consider slotting Kosuke Fukudome in between Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, or some other form of L-R-L-R -- that prompted Lou Piniella to reveal his Opening Day lineup (at least, he said, if we were to open yesterday):
There's some good discussion on this topic going on in this diary posted last night, and you can continue this there. Much of it centers around the idea that Ryan Theriot shouldn't hit second, and I agree with that. The hope, obviously, is that Theriot turns out to be a better hitter than he was in 2007. If he doesn't -- and I think we all saw this from Lou last year -- there's no doubt that Lou will try something else, if this lineup fails. In any case, most major league managers use somewhere in the area of 100 different lineups a year, due to platoon advantages, injuries, backup catchers, etc. -- so even if this is what takes the field on March 31, it won't be there absolutely every day.
I saw after cwyers' posted a well-thought-out proposed rotation for the first month, someone posted the (half-joking) thought that Z said that he was going to "make" Ted Lilly start on Opening Day. I wish I would have thought of asking Lou that, because Z has now pitched poorly on three straight Opening Days; in a combined 14.1 innings over those three starts, he's allowed 20 hits, 14 walks, 5 HR, and 13 ER for an 8.30 ERA in those games. Never mind that the Cubs scored 16 runs in 2005 and 2006 and won both years (Z got no-decisions in those games and lost the 2007 opener 5-1). Maybe he gets himself too keyed up for Opening Day; the rotation order matters little after then, so why not try Ted Lilly on March 31?
It's a thought, anyway.
Lou also addressed the CF situation -- as of now, though he mentioned Pie as the starter, he puts Sam Fuld in that mix (hinting, in my opinion, and he didn't say this, it's just my thought, that Fuld has a good shot at making the team), along with Ronny Cedeno as a backup. Yes, I know the Cubs have inquired about Marlon Byrd, but that deal is far from done. Lou gave high praise to Geovany Soto, saying that he could be "a force in the major leagues for a long time", and that "our pitchers really like throwing to him".
He also said that he's looking to be more aggressive on the bases, especially stealing 3B -- he claims it's easier to steal 3B than 2B. I'm not sure I buy that, but Lou intends to have Bob Dernier in camp to help work on this.
At one point he addressed the "Why-is-Soriano-leading-off" question by comparing Soriano to one of his former teammates when he played for the Yankees -- Bobby Bonds. (The two were teammates in 1975.) He says at one point, Bonds, whose playing style and stats are quite similar to Soriano (except that Bonds walked a lot more), was moved from leadoff to third and fifth. He hit poorly there -- but once moved back to leadoff, he started to hit again. Lou's got a good memory -- Bobby Bonds' 1975 splits bear this out. He hit .303/.408/.566 batting leadoff in 1975 (453 PA) and .188/.289/.323 (173 PA) batting in other lineup slots. (Bonds did hit better batting fifth later in his career, and worse hitting leadoff -- his career split shows him hitting slightly better -- .876 OPS -- in the 5 spot -- than in the 1 spot, where his career OPS was .841. And even at that, he had four times as many career PA hitting leadoff than fifth. So, Soriano may have to be dropped in the lineup eventually. But it won't happen this year.)
The bottom line is, you can debate all you want here, but Soriano's hitting leadoff.
Jim Hendry spoke at length about a number of topics; he wouldn't (properly, due to tampering rules) speak about Brian Roberts specifically -- saying that Crane Kenney (who was sitting next to him) could be fined $250,000 if the commissioner's office decided there was tampering. He did debunk the "7-for-2" report about Roberts and Erik Bedard from the other day, saying it was "not accurate". He also confirmed that the Shingo Takatsu signing was primarily to provide, in the term we so charmingly invented a while back, a "Fukufriend" during spring training. Takatsu and Fukudome share the same Japanese agent, know each other well and Takatsu also knows Chicago from his year and a half playing here. I doubt Takatsu has any chance of making the team, but he will help Dome transition to Chicago.
Hendry also gave Dome's US agent, Joe Urbon, a lot of credit for making the deal happen with the Cubs, calling him "honest and credible", saying they spent 60 straight days going back and forth and during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, were frequently negotiating at 2 am due to the time difference.
A couple more notes from Hendry: he gave a veiled slam to Mark Prior for leaving, saying (in response to the question, "Why didn't you offer Prior a contract?") that the Cubs did make an offer, a fairly generous one that would have paid him more than he got from the Padres if he made his incentives, but that Prior had "made the decision to leave". The veiled slam (or as Mike would say, "praising with faint damns") came when he, not long after, spoke of Kerry Wood and how Wood took "less money and less years" to stay with the Cubs and that he was a "great team guy".
But we all know that already, right? Attitude does help -- yes, I know you need talent. But I like guys who are good clubhouse guys, because that can help breed a winning attitude. Wood's got it.
And Hendry, after being asked if he'd trade top prospects for that "right guy" who could put the Cubs over the top, said he would. So I would anticipate he'll be busy the next three weeks.
In conjunction with that, Crane Kenney said that the upcoming sale -- which he said wasn't going to happen by Opening Day, and maybe not all year -- would NOT infringe on Hendry's efforts to acquire players, that it was "business as usual". He also said they are trying to "educate" Sam Zell as to "what makes the Cubs what they are", and how money can be made -- this in connection with a question about the possible sale of naming rights. He joked that he hoped the Wrigley Company would come in and "pay for what they've gotten for free for all these years", but also noted that naming rights are quite valuable (citing the Mets' new ballpark, "Citi Field", which is getting the Mets $400 million from Citibank. That figure got some gasps from the crowd). He said Zell's small stake in the White Sox would eventually have to be divested, but for now, they are giving him a waiver, and that the small stake is through a partnership Zell has, not Zell's personally.
He also gave some brief comments on the Mitchell Report (said the owners agree with some conclusions, not others) and said, in response to a comment by Hendry that he (Hendry) had been swayed to favor replay for HR calls and certain fair/foul calls, that the owners had discussed this at their recent meetings in Arizona and that this wouldn't happen soon. Hendry addressed Mitchell Report questions (regarding whether he'd acquire a player who was in the report) by saying he'd rely on his scouting staff to provide the information he needed; he praised, in particular, Tim Wilken and Gary Hughes.
That's all of it -- the session, as you can imagine, was far less contentious than a year ago, and for good reason: the Cubs are coming off a playoff year, but all concerned, and Lou especially, said they want to take things to the next level. Lou, in particular, seemed really determined to do this, and to hit the ground running; unlike last year, he said, he knows his players and knows what to expect, so he expects no repeat of last year's bad start. And then he finished by telling a funny story about his time managing Ichiro in Seattle, in response to a question about how he'd communicate with Dome.
He said that Ichiro speaks a little Spanish, so they could talk that way. One day in spring training Ichiro, who is very methodical in his work, was hitting every ball to LF -- so much so that the fielders were shifting to that side. Lou said to him after one AB, "Don't you ever pull the ball?" Ichiro looked at him and said, "Pull?" His next time up, he hit the first pitch for a HR to right field, came back to the dugout and said to Lou, "Happy now?"
The rest of the day I spent hanging with friends, as the convention seemed unusually crowded -- I know this is illogical, because they sell the same number of passes each year. I don't go in for the autograph lines, but my son Mark had fun in them, winding up with a couple of current players' signatures and Ernie Banks.
The only other session I attended was the last one of the day, about the "mystique" of the Cubs and Wrigley Field. The one speaking the most passionately about it was Mark DeRosa, who spoke at length about how when he was with Atlanta in 2003, many of the Braves felt the Cubs had five home games with all the fans who showed up for the games in Atlanta, and he remembers thinking at the time, "I want to play for the Cubs." He mentioned his AB in game 3 of the Division Series last year (and apologized for hitting into the DP), but said it was "so loud" that he "almost called time" because he couldn't hear himself thing. (Maybe he should have!) In any case, DeRosa, who got many of the loudest ovations on being introduced in various panels over the weekend (seems most at the convention don't want to see him replaced at 2B, and frankly, I don't either -- giving up what is rumored to be desired for Brian Roberts seems like too much for an incremental upgrade, not a "difference maker"), perhaps more so than any current player, "gets it", understands after only one year what it's like to play for the Cubs, and just as Eric Karros said when he played here, said that everyone should have a chance to play for the Cubs and experience what he has.
Pitchers and catchers report in 24 days. Can't wait!