What will the Cubs do without Soriano for the next six weeks? Lou gave a glimmer of an insight, saying , "We'll see what we do. We have to play around with it now and see what works best. We have good combinations We'll try some things and what seems to be working best we'll stay with."
I believe that Lou Piniella has good control of his press conferences, that he limits the information flow and stays on the message he wants to convey. So, when Lou says, "We'll...play around with it...and see," he may have something more specific planned, or he may not. What could be the Cubs' plan?
Well, it's clear what the plan is not. The Cubs could have brought up Matt Murton or Felix Pie. Either one could have slotted in as an everyday player in the OF. Pie's mid-transition swing is not ready for ML, so he's a no-brainer. Murton, on the other hand, should have been able to post an OBP better than Soriano's (obviously with much less power). That free and easy OBP would have been a safe and solid plan for a team that is scoring a lot of runs already.
The fact that Eric Patterson was brought up and got the first start reminds us how important speed is in Lou's view. Why would Patterson leapfrog Fontenot for playing time? Speed. The problem is that while Patterson is ready to be a ML bench player now and could probably stand to play 2B in a platoon with a good RH defender, I don't expect him to fill a ML LF's shoes well. Lou doesn't seem to expect this either.
Micah Hoffpaiur will probably get some DH time as we head to Toronto, but will eventually get a chance in LF if his bat doesn't go cold in Canada. Jim Hendry, in an interview at that same link above, talked about Hoffpaiur deserving a shot. I don't think the Cubs see Hoffpaiur as any different than Fontenot, which is to say that his future is as a bench player with limited versatility. His callup-demotion-callup reminds of Fontenot's path last year.
What about Mike Fontenot? He got a shot last time. He hasn't "earned" more playing time, though, and appears to be moving down Lou's depth chart. If Patterson plays decently enough, Fontenot, in my view, is vulnerable to losing his 25th-man roster spot. I think he'll get a start here or there as Lou "plays around with it." But where Fontenot got his playing time last go-around sans-Soriano was in a lineup that had only one viable LH hitter. Jim Edmonds' emergence really hurts Fontenot's role on this club.
Going to Toronto, I will not be surprised if Reed Johnson gets to play all three days. He did get to lead-off a lot last time Soriano was down, but he was miserable doing it. He appears to have moved down Lou's list as well.
The player I would like to see get the most playing time out of this is Ronny Cedeno. Once it was decided not to go with the safest win-now choice of Matt Murton, Cedeno offers the highest ceiling of the Hoffpaiur-Patterson-Cedeno trio. Lou wouldn't do this, but inserting Cedeno in at SS, moving Theriot to 2B, and DeRosa to LF is the kind of move that could improve the defense quite a bit, really helping more than any other move to offset the loss of Soriano. In addition to helping the Cubs pitchers, giving Ronny regular and extended playing time would really help the Cubs to see what they've got in the new Cedeno. He hit .378/.451/.578 in April/March but .225/.311/.250 in May. Perhaps the Cubs are worried additional playing time will further hurt his trade value, but I'm more confident in Cedeno and think that playing him could really up his value to the point where he's too valuable to trade.
Unfortunately, "regular playing time" is the opposite of "play around with it." If Lou throws one guy out there one day and another the next day, it's not really the best way to "see what works." Perhaps Lou knows this and the real plan is to bide time until Jim Hendry can make a trade.