02/15/10 12:00 AM EST
Cubs looking forward to new start in '10
North Siders still stung by missing the playoffs last season
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"My situation should not be and will not be a focus and will not be a hindrance," he said. "We're going to concentrate on the baseball team and win as many games as possible and let the guys play. That will be enough to keep everybody satisfied this summer."
The only thing that would satisfy Cubs fans would be a World Series championship, something the franchise has not achieved since 1908. The Cubs begin pursuit on Thursday when pitchers and catchers have their first workout at Fitch Park.
Several players have gotten a head start. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was in Arizona two weeks ago and said nearly 20 players, including pitcher Carlos Zambrano, on the Major League roster were among those working out at Fitch Park.
"They have a little bit of an edge to them after the way things ended last year," Hendry said.
Piniella directed the Cubs to the Central Division title in 2007 and '08 but they finished second last year at 83-78. He is the first manager to lead the team to three consecutive winning seasons since Leo Durocher guided the Cubs to five straight winning seasons from 1967-71.
There will be no closer controversy this spring; it's Carlos Marmol's job. If there is one question mark it's the status of starter Ted Lilly, who is not expected to be ready by Opening Day. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November, and could miss the first month of the regular season.
"If you're going to miss a pitcher, the first month is the best month because of rainouts, days off," Piniella said of the lefty, who went 12-9 with a 3.10 ERA last season. "Teddy feels pretty good and he thinks he'll be ready sooner. We're not going to push it."
New faces in camp include outfielders Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady, and pitcher Carlos Silva, who is friends with Zambrano. It should be a lively camp with the addition of Kevin Millar, who signed a Minor League contract. Millar and Ryan Dempster could stage their own Comedy Central.
The Cubs did not overhaul the roster this offseason, which may not give fans much reason to be optimistic. Gone are Milton Bradley, Kevin Gregg, Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, Aaron Heilman and Jake Fox. Piniella and Hendry are counting on healthy and productive seasons from players such as Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, and Geovany Soto. Hopefully, Piniella will be able to use the Opening Day lineup more than three games, the limited total from last year because of injuries.
One matter still unresolved is shortstop Ryan Theriot's contract. He is the Cubs' only arbitration-eligible player unsigned and the two sides are $800,000 apart. Theriot, 30, who made $500,000 last season, his third as the starting shortstop, is seeking $3.4 million. The Cubs offered $2.6 million.
Spring Training will give fans an opportunity to see some of the top prospects, such as shortstop Starlin Castro, pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielders Tyler Colvin and Brett Jackson. Castro has been the most hyped and Hendry expects the young infielder to open in the Minor Leagues. Maybe.
"We're not going into it thinking he's going to break camp with the big league club," Hendry said. "You don't want to close doors on people either."
After heavy snow in Chicago this past week, the Cubs front office was eager to get to Arizona.
"When you have a year that doesn't end in postseason play, it just kind of lingers with you all offseason no matter what you do or how you think you might have fixed this or fixed that," Hendry said. "It doesn't leave you until you get down there and get outside and guys are on the field."
It's time for pitchers' fielding practice.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.