Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cubs sign Floyd, release Rusch

The Chicago Cubs have signed a deal with free agent outfielder Cliff Floyd to a one-year, $3 million deal that includes a mutual option for the 2008 season. The left-handed batter will serve as the club's fourth outfielder, behind Murton in left, Jones in right, and Soriano in center field.

Earlier during the off-season, center field was a major question mark for the team. According to manager Lou Piniella, Soriano insisted on playing a corner outfield spot and leading off before signing with the Cubs, leaving three players fighting for two positions and no center fielder. While it is likely that Soriano will lead off, the recently converted outfielder has agreed to give center field a try.

Finally, the off-season dilemmas have been resolved.

Also, the Cubs have also released Glendon Rusch. The left-hander, who posted a 3-8 record last season, missed the final weeks of the year due to a life-threatening blood clot in his lungs. After Rusch's condition did not improve in the following months, the Cubs had no choice but to grant his release. Rusch, however, does not intend retire.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Floyd close to signing; Zambrano, Prior not

The Associated Press and the Chicago Sun-Times have reported that the Chicago Cubs are close to signing free agent outfielder Cliff Floyd to a one-year contract. Floyd, who was limited to 97 games last season due to injuries, will likely be the fourth outfielder in an outfield that would see Murton, Soriano, and Jones as the regulars.

Though many assumed that Jones would move to center field to accomodate Soriano, who came off of a 40-40 season last year while playing left field for the Nationals, manager Lou Piniella has hinted that he has considered starting Soriano in center field. Other rumors involved moving Mark DeRosa to center field to make room for Theriot or Cedeno. In any case, it appears that Felix Pie will start the year in Iowa (AAA), as he should.

After the Cubs signed lefty Will Ohman to a multi-year deal last week, pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior are the only two Cubs yet to be signed for the 2007 season. Zambrano, who grabbed a share of the league lead in wins (16) last year despite not winning a game in his first seven starts, is seeking $15.5 million for next season. The Cubs have countered with just over $11 million and the two sides now have until February 1 to agree on a deal or take the case to salary arbitration.

If the case does go to a hearing, it would be the first time that Andy MacPhail has taken a player to arbitration, and it would also mean that Zambrano would become a free agent after the 2007 season. Keep in mind, all Zambrano needs to do is prove that he's worth more a penny over $13,262,500 to get the entire $15.5 million. Furthermore, it might be best to sign Zambrano to a long-term deal now, with Barry Zito's monster contract this off-season and surely more to come next season, the price tag on Zambrano would go up at the end of the season.

Zambrano, who has already been named the Opening Day starter, has stated that he does not want contract negotiations to continue once the season starts.

On the other hand, Mark Prior has been offered $3.4 million. The once highly coveted right-hander, has countered with $3.875 million, putting the half-way point very close to his salary of $3.65 million last season. Prior, who has won more than ten games only twice in his career, says that he is ready to return to the rotation full time, but why should we believe him? Personally, I've lost all hope in Mark Prior and don't see how he thinks he has a chance to win the case.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Samardzija chooses baseball, signs with Cubs

Many people, including myself, questioned the Cubs' decision to draft Jeff Samardzija as high as the fifth round. Even though Samardzija posted a 21-6 record in three years at Notre Dame, picking him was a huge gamble, because it appeared that Samardzija would enter the NFL draft.

After posting a 1-2 record and a 2.70 ERA with the Boise Hawks and Peoria Chiefs, however, Jeff Samardzija signed a deal that could keep him with the Cubs organization potentially through the 2013 season. The former wide reciever earned a $2.5 million signing bonus and will make $10 million over the next five years. After that, the Cubs have an option for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Even though Bobby Brownlie didn't turn out exactly how I, and many others around the Cubs organization, had wanted him to turn out, adding another young arm in the farm system can't hurt. The price tag may appear to be excessive, but compared to the rest of the deals that the Cubs made this off-season, maybe it's not so bad.

Samardzija will likely start the season in Advanced-A Daytona.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cubs still pursuing Floyd, other outfielders

Though it appears as though much of the Cubs' off-season activities are done, there are still a couple of questions that the Cubs are trying to answer before the start of the 2007 season. Outfielders such as Cliff Floyd, Darin Erstad, and Steve Finley still remain free-agents and can help solve the mystery of the Opening Day center fielder. The acquisition of any one of outfielders, however, does not give the Cubs an extra left-handed bat, as Jacque Jones would then likely be shipped away.

The best option so far, I believe, is moving Jones to center field. While his defense might be a little scary, Jones' bat will be tough to replace if he is taken out of the lineup; Jacque has hit 23 or more homers in each of the last three seasons and four of the last five. None of the free agent outfielders previously mentioned could match that kind of production next year.

I also wouldn't mind moving DeRosa to center field, because it would open the door to Ronny Cedeno, though that move would considerably weaken the offense.

I think that Felix Pie has an excellent shot at being the Opening Day center fielder in 2008, but still needs another year in the minor leagues. (Had Pie not battled injuries -- like everyone else in a Cubs' uniform -- he likely would've filled the void left by Corey Patterson.) What I found interesting is why the Cubs refused to find a stopgap center fielder for this season. Sure, Pierre signed a long-term deal with the Dodgers, but former Cub Kenny Lofton signed a one-year deal with Texas. Having an outfielder like Lofton surely would put to rest any controversies in center field.

What I do know is that the Cubs' Opening Day center fielder should not come as a surprise, if it comes from within. While teams often find surprises during Spring Training as the Cubs did with Sean Marshall last year, there are way too many options and no center fielders that are even close to major-league ready (except maybe Pie) in the farm system.