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Offseason 2008-09: Where The Cubs Stand And Where They Could Go

With two deals made yesterday -- Matt Holliday to the A's, and Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham to the Nationals, and Jake Peavy... still a Padre a this writing, the trade market appears to be heating up, and on Thursday, declared free agents will be eligible to sign with any team.

One interesting development overnight was the Padres' withdrawal of a $4 million offer to Trevor Hoffman. Granted, Hoffman is 41 and didn't have such a good year in 2008, but he is a franchise icon and that offer was about half what he made in '08. Whether this is another part of San Diego's cost-cutting in the wake of owner John Moores' costly divorce, or whether it's a harbinger of things to come -- will teams start to rein in spending because of the current economic crisis? -- remains to be seen.

What seems clear is that the Cubs aren't going to be major players in the free agent market. Much as we might like to see CC Sabathia in blue pinstripes, it's not going to happen. The only free agents the Cubs are likely to sign are their own -- Ryan Dempster, Kerry Wood and Henry Blanco, I believe, will all eventually re-up. Daryle Ward may not be back, and Chad Fox and Jon Lieber -- well, yes, they filed, but you didn't really expect to see them as Cubs again, did you?

So instead, Jim Hendry is going to have to get creative. With the Marlins dealing Willingham, does that mean Jeremy Hermida is off the market? I would argue that the Cubs might be able to get him with a package that could include Felix Pie and Sean Marshall. This is pure speculation on my part, and likely they'd have to put another prospect in such a deal, but Pie would be an immediate starter in Florida and Marshall would replace the traded Scott Olsen in the Marlins' rotation.

With Hermida on board and Kosuke Fukudome likely then moving to CF as a platoon partner for Reed Johnson, that would complete the Cubs' starting outfield for 2009. I would still like to see the Cubs sign Kevin Millar to back up LF, RF and 1B... and to be that clubhouse presence that was missing, somehow, during the disastrous 2008 postseason. Yes, I am well aware that Millar is getting on in years and didn't have a very good offensive season in 2008 (despite hitting 20 HR in 531 AB and drawing 71 walks, which would have ranked among the Cubs' team leaders). The Cubs wouldn't be asking Millar to start -- just back up, and provide the looseness that any winning clubhouse needs. Since Hermida would be the starting LH bat in RF, having Millar replace Daryle Ward as the #1 pinch-hitter would be acceptable. At one time I advocated trading Derrek Lee, but after seeing some of the discussions here which mentioned that his neck and back problems may have been the cause of his power dropoff, I would think that an offseason's rest would get him back into shape. He'll probably never have a year like he had in 2005, but even if he could get back to his 2004 level (.860 OPS), that'd be just fine.

With Sean Marshall gone, the Cubs would need another pitcher to perform the role that Marshall did quite well last year -- start occasionally and be a long reliever... that is, if Lou even knows how to use a long reliever, something he failed to do in many situations that called for it. There are some mid-range starting pitcher free agents that could fill this role without costing a fortune: Randy Wolf, Mark Hendrickson, or even Freddy Garcia, who started for Lou for several years in Seattle and who appeared recovered from his arm troubles in pitching five strong innings in that September 29 Tigers/White Sox makeup game at the Cell.

Filling the slot being vacated by the (presumably) departed Bob Howry should be fairly simple to do, either via someone on this list of free-agent relievers (would you take a chance on bringing back some former Cubs like Juan Cruz or Kyle Farnsworth?) or perhaps, by someone who will come out of spring training and surprise. There seems to be someone like that virtually every year. Or maybe Michael Wuertz will finally fulfill the promise that has had him as part of the Cubs' bullpen for the last five seasons.

The rest of the team seems fairly well set; regardless of whether you agree with him or not, Lou likes Ryan Theriot and he will be the starting SS, unless there's someone who could come in cheaply to replace him. One possibility could be Juan Uribe -- and if Uribe didn't start, he could capably back up all three infield positions. Ronny Cedeno did a decent job as a backup in 2008, and if he came into 2009 in the same role, I think we could live with it. Another possibility is Nate Spears, who the Cubs acquired almost as an afterthought from the Orioles in the Corey Patterson deal three years ago. Spears will be 24 in May, had an .832 OPS in Double-A last year and as of today is replicating that (.827) in the Arizona Fall League. He hits lefthanded and has a good glove. Spears isn't on the 40-man roster, which now stands at 39, but that can be easily remedied.

The bottom line is that I don't think the Cubs are getting Jake Peavy, and that's fine with me. Peavy's numbers outside of Petco don't scream "ace" to me, and his contract, four years' worth, would hamstring the team in an era when some here are screaming for Hendry to dump some of the backloaded deals he's handed out like Halloween candy over the last couple of years. The Cubs ought to also look hard at whoever is available in the Rule 5 draft and also at the non-tender list when it comes out in the middle of December.

As I said last time I posted on this topic, this team won 97 games a year ago. There's no need to blow it up and start over. Tweaking, upgrading the bench and bullpen, and making sure the starting rotation has backups in case of injury, are the most important things.

For those of you screaming and yelling about the alleged possibility that Bud Selig is going to "install" John Canning as Cubs owner, I refer you to this November 7 article from the Sun-Times:

Bidders for the team include Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and the cable channel HDNet, and Thomas Ricketts, president of corporate bond dealer Incapital LLC. An insider said Ricketts, whose family wealth derives from the TD Ameritrade brokerage, currently has the inside track.

Cuban has a colorful reputation and drinks beer in the stands with the fans, but the source said the credit drought has hurt his chances. "Whatever the price for the Cubs, he was only going to put in $100 million of his own money," the source said.

And that last part is why Cuban might be out, not any supposed enmity from Bud Selig and/or Jerry Reinsdorf. I agree with the article: if the sale is consummated soon, it'll be the Ricketts group. But given the state of the economy, who knows?