Dealing, not shopping, on Cubs' agenda
Hendry's moves to focus on trades rather than signings
CHICAGO -- Starting in 2007, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry invested heavily in free agents, adding such players as Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa. Before the 2008 season, the big addition was Kosuke Fukudome. Milton Bradley was plucked from the free-agent pool for 2009.
However, as the free-agent market officially opened for business on Friday, Hendry and the Cubs were expected to try to make some deals to tinker with the roster rather than do much shopping.
"We need a few moves," Hendry said. "We don't need mega-moves."
There aren't many holes to fill heading into 2010 and the payroll is expected to increase "slightly," according to new Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.
Rather than do an overhaul on a team that finished in second in the National League Central, the Cubs are counting on better performances by players such as Soriano and Geovany Soto, and healthier seasons from Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano.
The focus will be on Bradley. Does he stay or does he go? Several teams have inquired about the 31-year-old outfielder since the July Trading Deadline, and interest has continued this offseason despite his .257 average and 40 RBIs in his first year in Chicago. His playing time ended prematurely when he was suspended Sept. 20 for the final 15 games for detrimental conduct.
The Cubs did hire Rudy Jaramillo, who worked with Bradley in Texas in 2008, when the outfielder led the American League in on-base percentage. But adding Jaramillo doesn't mean the Cubs plan on keeping Bradley, Hendry said.
"A lot of people have had worse exits at the end of the year than [Bradley did] and they return," Hendry said. "There will be a lot of things that change personnel-wise over the winter, I'm sure, and the goal is to do the best we can to put a good club on the field by Spring Training. Until people aren't here, as a general manager, I approach it like they are here."
Which means Bradley is on the 40-man roster. For now. Manager Lou Piniella would like to move Fukudome back to right field and find a center fielder who could possibly lead off. Names such as free agent Marlon Byrd and Detroit's Curtis Granderson have been discussed so far, but Byrd wants a multiyear deal and Granderson also has a hefty contract.
The Cubs can't afford to take on too much salary. The 2009 payroll was $135 million. Hendry already has $120 million committed to existing contracts, including Bradley's, and there are a large number of arbitration-eligible players such as Carlos Marmol, Mike Fontenot, Jeff Baker, Sean Marshall, Ryan Theriot, Koyie Hill and Angel Guzman. Marmol, Fontenot, Theriot and Guzman are first-time eligible, but all will get raises.
Aaron Heilman was on that list, but on Thursday, the Cubs dealt the reliever to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two Minor League prospects. Hendry predicted more moves this winter.
"I think it'll be an exciting time for the game," Hendry said. "I felt a month after the season ended that it would be a winter with a lot of trade possibilities. I think fans like that and it's healthy for the game."
What else needs to be addressed? Not the rotation. Lilly needed arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder after the season and wasn't expected to be ready until late April. But the Cubs are not looking at adding starting pitching. Jeff Samardzija was able to make five starts and work on his breaking pitches in the Mexican Winter League. Sean Marshall is another option.
Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg and Reed Johnson all filed for free agency. So did left-handed reliever John Grabow, but he agreed to a two-year, $7.5 million contract on Friday.
Harden and Johnson both have expressed an interest in returning to Chicago, but because of other contract commitments, the Cubs most likely cannot afford either one. Gregg knew he wasn't coming back when Marmol was named closer on Aug. 18.
Ricketts has talked about the need for player development, and there are some rising stars in the Cubs farm system such as shortstop Starlin Castro, pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Tyler Colvin.
"A lot of guys, you don't want to trade," Hendry said of the youngsters. "We're in a situation now, as we all know, we'll be mixing and matching this winter more than just trading prospects for a high-end salary guy. That doesn't seem to make much sense right now, where we're at."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.