As most of you know, tomorrow is the deadline for major-league teams to offer salary arbitration to their own free agents. As I've been saying since the end of the season, I don't expect the Cubs to offer arbitration to Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg or Reed Johnson. That doesn't mean the Cubs can't re-sign any of them (they're not interested in having Gregg back), but they just won't get draft-pick compensation if these free agents sign with another club.
We've been back and forth on the Harden situation all off-season. As I've said, the numbers say you offer Harden arbitration, but we're not operating in a vacuum. The Cubs have raved about how pitching coach Larry Rothschild and trainer Mark O'Neal got Harden ready to start 26 times. In other words, Harden's troublesome right shoulder was a project. None of us has seen the MRIs, X-rays and doctors reports, but if there weren't issues that troubled the Cubs, offering arbitration would be a no-brainer. But it appears the Cubs feel there is enough concern about Harden's shoulder that they don't want to risk paying him $8 million to $10 million and risk having the darn thing blow out on them. My guess is that Harden will get no more than a one-year, and possibly a two-year, offer from some club out there. If there is no market, it's even possible he could come back to the Cubs on a one-year incentive-laden deal.
I expect the Cubs to tender contracts to the arbitration-eligible players by the Dec. 12 deadline to do so. That includes "Super-2" second baseman Mike Fontenot. Progress appears slow on the Cubs' efforts to trade Milton Bradley. They had hoped to have that done by the time the winter meetings start next Sunday-Monday in Indy. I don't think that's going to happen. I'll head to Indy Sunday and will have multiple blogs every day from there through Thursday, the day of the always-exciting Rule 5 draft. (Actually, a lot of people get worked up about the Rule 5 draft. I still remember all the hand-wringing over the Cubs losing Andy Sisco to the Royals a few years back.)
The Cubs brass will be in Naples, Fla., tomorrow to talk about that city's proposal to build a 15,000 seat stadium and other facilities in an effort to lure the Cubs out of Arizona for spring training:
Mesa, Arizona, is pulling out all the stops to keep the Cubs. Personally, I'd like to see the Cubs stay in Mesa. The travel in Arizona is so much easier. The Cubs are kings of the Cactus League as far as attendance goes. The Red Sox, Yankees and Cardinals are in Florida. Who knows what newly minted Cubs president Crane Kenney is whispering into the ear of owner Tom Ricketts. Remember, Crane is an old Boston preppie.
When I got back from vacation the other day, awaiting me in the office was "The Hardball Times Baseball Annual." There's a lot of fun statistical and historical stuff in this book, including a look back on the beginnings of free agency in 1975-76. The book lists the top players in the NL Central, as far as WAR (wins above replacement) goes:
Albert Pujols, Cardinals (8.4 WAR)
Prince Fielder, Brewers (6.7)
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (5.7)
Chris Carpenter, Cardinals (5.6)
Derrek Lee, Cubs (5.3)
Ted Lilly checks in 12th in the division at 3.7, followed immediately by Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano at 3.6.
The authors provide these tidbits on the Cubs page:
--Koyie Hill hit zero infield popups (FWIW)
--Lilly's flyball percentage of 51 was the highest of big-league pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched.
--Zambrano, as a batter, had a higher isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) than any other hitter on the team except D-Lee. Z's ISO was .246.
Along with the Bill James Handbook, I heartily recommend this tome by the Hardball Times. It'll help the off-season go by a little more quickly, ecxpecially with the hot stove pretty cold right now.