Piniella expects big things from Cubs
On caravan, skipper anticipates division title, playoff run
CHICAGO -- Pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., for Spring Training in a month, and Lou Piniella is already talking about the World Series.
"I'm looking forward to a team that will win this division again and give itself another chance to go on and get a World Series win," the Cubs' manager said Wednesday at Harry Caray's Restaurant, a stop on the winter caravan. "That's what I'm hoping for, and that's what we're striving for."
Piniella and the Cubs are coming off a second-place finish in the National League Central, which was a disappointment after winning the division in 2007 and '08. As for a World Series win, it's been since 1908. Piniella, looking tanned and refreshed despite what he called "Chicago-ish" weather in Tampa, Fla., is still optimistic.
"If we can win 83 baseball games with all the problems we had last year and all the injuries on top of it -- we lost 10 to 12 players for more than 30 days [in 2009], and that's unbelievable," Piniella said. "But if we can win 83 games with all those problems and all those injuries and we stay relatively healthy this year, we can add another eight, 10 wins and get to the postseason and win in the postseason."
Which would be a first for Piniella and the Cubs, who went 0-6 in the playoffs in '07 and '08. On the plus side, there have been minimal roster changes that should have a major impact. Volatile outfielder Milton Bradley is gone, and the Cubs added Marlon Byrd to the mix. A free agent who signed a three-year, $15 million deal, Byrd will be reunited with his hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, who ended a long run with Texas to also sign with the Cubs.
Jaramillo has been in contact with a few of the players this offseason, recently calling Alfonso Soriano. The new hitting coach planned on meeting with some of the players during this week in Chicago as well.
"We're going to start anew," Piniella said when asked about Bradley's departure. "We're in good shape. I like the things that we've done, and in a month, we start in Spring Training, and my message is we're here to win a division and give ourselves a chance to win a World Series. Plain and simple, I don't think nothing else needs to be said."
The Cubs do have to stay healthy. Last season, they had 15 players go on the disabled list 18 times. Five players missed at least 30 games, and 10 were out at least 20.
The starting pitching already will have to make up for the loss of Ted Lilly for at least the first month. The left-hander underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November. Cubs athletic trainer Mark O'Neal recently evaluated Lilly, who has started throwing. If possible, the lefty will throw Friday for pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Both are in town to attend the weekend Cubs Convention.
Carlos Silva, acquired from the Seattle Mariners for Bradley, could fill that spot in the rotation. Or one of the younger pitchers, such as Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall or Tom Gorzelanny could step into the rotation.
"The other thing I'm excited about is some of our younger kids last year got a wonderful opportunity with all the injuries we had, and some of them are knocking on the door," Piniella said. "I look forward to seeing them in camp and giving them a chance."
That would include top prospect Starlin Castro, 19, who played at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last season, and had a solid season in the Arizona Fall League.
The Cubs did make a minor roster move on Wednesday. Matt Sinatro, who had been the first-base coach, will now switch places with Ivan DeJesus, who was a special assistant to Piniella and will remain the baserunning instructor. Sinatro will still work with the catchers but also be involved with the advance scouting reports.
Piniella still has some items on his wish list for general manager Jim Hendry to address. The team is looking for a veteran right-handed reliever as well as an extra outfielder.
"I think those two areas are doable," Piniella said. "I know Jim's working on them. Outside of that, we're pretty set to go."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.