It was a whirlwind hour today at Harry Caray’s downtown, where the Cubs kicked off their caravan. Lou wasn’t there because he’s nursing an illness, but GM Jim Hendry was there, as were Lou’s coaches.
Of the players who made it, one of the most sought-after was reliever Kevin Gregg, who will compete with Carlos Marmol for the closer’s job, replacing Kerry Wood. I asked Gregg if he was open to the competition.
“I’m open to winning,” replied Gregg, whom the Cubs obtained in a November trade with the Marlins. “That was the most exciting thing about coming here, getting a chance to win, the opportunity of getting back to the playoffs with this team. My role? I’ll take it one step at a time. Show up healthy at spring training, talk and see where it goes from there.”
Gregg called it a good situation with him and Marmol at the back end of the bullpen.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said the ultimate decision would be up to Lou.
“Going in, obviously, the last couple innings hopefully are covered by Kevin and Carlos,” Rothschild said. “We’ll sort through the rest of it and see what guys fit in what roles. A lot of guys could evolve into more than that, so we’ll see.”
Let’s empty out the notebook:
--Rothschild said it was too early to say what Jeff Samardzija’s role will be. Samardzija came up from Double A last year and did a good job out of the pen. He could be a mid- to late-innings guy this year or a starter. He also could open the season at Iowa.
“I don’t know that right now is the time to project that,” Rothschild said. “He needs to pitch, and we need to see him pitch. We’ll have more information available to make a better decision. You can argue, stuff wise, both ways: in a short role letting it go, or if the pitches develop and the command, maybe he could start. Right now, I don’t think we really have enough information to make that decision.”
As much as Samardzija would like to start down the line, he seemed cool, as usual, either way about the start of ’09.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I feel like I’m in great shape. I sat around until Nov. 1, and that’s really all I could do. I tried to relax as much as I could, but I got a little fed up with just sitting around…Ultimately it doesn’t matter. I’m going to do whatever it takes, but I would love to start. I’d love to go out there and know when I’m throwing.”
--Free-agent lefty Randy Wolf remains a possibility for the back of the rotation. Wolf was 12-12 with a 4.30 ERA last year between San Diego and Houston.
--The recently traded Mark DeRosa filled in more than admirably the last two years at third base whenever Aramis Ramirez needed a break. The Cubs don’t seem to have a pure backup there anymore.
“I think Lou will bounce guys around in camp,” Hendry said. "I’m sure he’ll play (Aaron) Miles everywhere in the infield. He’ll play (Ronnie) Cedeno everywhere in the infield. He had talked to you guys in Vegas about moving (Mike) Fontenot over to playing a little shortstop, too. He can play some third, too. We’re a long way from Opening Day. We’re a long way from camp. Maybe there’s a potential addition that we don’t even know about yet that could serve a different role in a utility situation.”
The left-handed hitting Fontenot and the switch-hitting Miles figure to share time at second base, with Miles giving Ryan Theriot a breather at short on some days.
--Hendry feels he’ll add another potential backup catcher to compete with Koyie Hill, maybe within a week. He’d like that catcher hit left left-handed or to switch hit. Ex-Cub Paul Bako has been one possibility, but it doesn’t look like the right-handed hitting Henry Blanco is coming back.
--Like pitcher Rich Hill and infielder Ronny Cedeno, center fielder Felix Pie is out of minor-league options. Things don’t look good for either Hill or Pie. Hill pitched himself into the minor leagues last year and had a spotty winter-ball season, and Pie looks like a candidate to be traded.
“Felix, obviously, has played very well defensively,” Hendry said. “He has not come around very well with the bat. It’s tough. We don’t have the luxury here to say, ‘Let’s run somebody out there for 140-50 games and see if they can hit.’ We’re here to win. We’re here to win a championship. When you get to the big leagues, it’s not about development much more. It’s about winning ballgames.”
--Hendry saw some humor in how people perceived the recent trade of Jason Marquis to the Rockies.
“He was a very maligned player for a couple of years,” Hendry said. “Now, as soon as he’s gone, it’s, ‘How are we going to replace the durable Jason Marquis?’ Jason did a solid job. That’s what he’s done his whole career. I’ve always wondered why his reputation wasn’t better. Over five years, he won 65 ballgames and usually would give you 190 innings.”