Trade possibilities to be focus at Meetings
Moving Bradley, finding center fielder priorities for Cubs
CHICAGO -- A year ago, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry spent the Winter Meetings trying to decide if Jake Peavy was worth trading for.
A deal never happened: Hendry nixed the idea after a late night walk on the Las Vegas strip. Instead, the Cubs' biggest splash leading up to the 2009 season was signing switch-hitting outfielder Milton Bradley to a three-year, $30 million contract in January.
On Monday, when baseball executives gather in Indianapolis for the Winter Meetings, there will be much less neon. The Cubs' goals have changed, too. Now, it's addition by subtraction, as Hendry tries to move Bradley.
The 31-year-old is coming off a season in which he struggled to produce on the field, batting .257, and didn't win any votes for Mr. Congeniality. Bradley missed the final 15 games when he was suspended because of conduct detrimental to the team.
It may seem like an impossible task to trade him, but there has been interest. Most teams want to see how much of the $21 million still owed Bradley the Cubs are willing to pay. As of now, he's on Chicago's roster.
"A lot of people have had worse exits at the end of the year than that 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."
The Cubs are coming off an 83-78 season and second-place finish in the National League Central and don't have many holes to fill. At the end of the season, Lou Piniella suggested the team needed "a little touch here, a little touch there."
|"We've got good young arms, we've got good pieces."|
|-- Cubs GM Jim Hendry|
"My personal opinion is I think it'll be a good offseason of trades," Hendry said. "I think you'll see trades made throughout the winter.
"I'm looking forward to Indianapolis," he said. "I think it'll be an exciting time for the game. 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."
The payroll will go up because the team has nine players eligible for arbitration, including Neal Cotts, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, Koyie Hill, Jeff Baker, Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot.
The Cubs already made one trade this offseason, sending reliever Aaron Heilman to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two Minor Leaguers. Heilman was arbitration-eligible. Do the Cubs have to move other arbitration-eligible players to give Hendry more flexibility?
"It's a little early to tell," Hendry said. "We don't have a lot of high-ticket-[arbitration] guys. A lot are first-time eligible. A lot of the dollars that some of them will be awarded through the process or settled before we get to that aren't huge, significant things. If we feel we're in the best interest to move some dollars to add some, of course, we'll look into that."
The rotation is set, even though Ted Lilly needed arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November. He is expected to be ready in late April, and the team has depth in Gorzelanny, Marshall and Jeff Samardzija, who can fill in.
Marmol took over the closer duties in mid-August, and Hendry may still tinker with the rest of the bullpen. Lefty John Grabow, who signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract on Nov. 20, is the only veteran in the mix.
"We've got good young arms, we've got good pieces," Hendry said. "Some guys, like Gorzelanny, he can go to the 'pen. Marshall isn't a young kid anymore. Guzman has been around long enough to be considered stable enough to fill a lot of roles. I wouldn't discount that somebody could be added to the 'pen in the offseason, too."
Piniella wants to move Kosuke Fukudome back to right field, which means the team is in the market for a center fielder. The Cubs were not expected to offer arbitration to center fielder Reed Johnson, one of four free agents. Their other free agents are Kevin Gregg, Rich Harden and Chad Fox, and none is expected to return.
What Piniella and Hendry are counting on is healthy and more productive seasons from players such as Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Carlos Zambrano. Soriano has accepted being moved down from the leadoff spot, which means the team is looking at leadoff options.
The Cubs' biggest addition may have been signing hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who left Texas after 15 seasons. He worked with Bradley in 2008, when the outfielder led the American League in on-base percentage. The Cubs did not hire Jaramillo with Bradley in mind, but if they can't move him, at least the two have some history.
There was a 40 percent turnover on the Cubs prior to the 2009 season. That likely won't happen heading into 2010.
"Last year, we had about 10 changes here," Piniella said. "If we have half that, that's a nice number. Some changes [last year] were out of necessity. I see us being selective in what we do."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.