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Cubs may need to be creative to complete their wish list
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Cubs Executive vice president and General Manager Jim Hendry

 

Associated Press

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Published: 12/7/2008 5:59 PM

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LAS VEGAS - Maybe Cubs general manager Jim Hendry can stop by one of the slot machines or blackjack tables before the baseball winter meetings get into full swing today.

Even though the Cubs will increase their payroll from last year, money is still an issue at holiday shopping time for Hendry.

"Money is a factor in every contract, even a small one-year contract," Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said the other day.

It's not like the Cubs don't have any, or plenty, of the green stuff. It's just that Hendry and Kenney may have to move a few stacks of it around to get their man or men at the winter meetings or in the weeks that follow.

The Cubs will have a healthy player payroll of $140 million-plus, but they might have to dump a salary or not offer one of their own players a contract to get everybody on their wish list.

"We're not opposed to moving money and adding money," Hendry said. 'We're not assuming from now 'til Christmas we're going to just get one guy. Maybe we move some guys and add a couple guys. It's kind of intriguing, to be honest.

"We're in a good spot, not only because we won 97 ballgames. The team that's on our wall right now, you can line up with and contend. And a lot of clubs I don't think can say that."

That 97-win club went three-and-out in the National League division series against the Dodgers, who predictably exploited the Cubs' right-handed dominant offense.

So even with visions of pitcher Jake Peavy dancing in the heads of Cubs fans, Hendry's top priority will be to land a left-handed hitting outfielder, either at the winter meetings or in the weeks leading up to spring training.

The free-agent market looks to be the slowest since the days of owner collusion in the 1980s. That's probably a reflection of the economy more than anything else, or it could be the perception that hitters such as Raul Ibanez and Bobby Abreu are overpriced at the moment.

Those two hitters are on the Cubs' radar, as is switch-hitting Milton Bradley, who should command less dough than Ibanez or Abreu.

The supply side of the market figures to get more crowded after Dec. 12, when many big-leaguers won't be tendered contracts by their clubs, making them free agents.

"One thing that Jim this year, more than the other six (Kenney has been the corporate point man), is they've done some really creative thinking and mostly because the market is extremely wide open," Kenney said. "Normally by now, two-thirds of the players you would have interest in are off the board.

"It's sort of like multidimensional calculus. What if these three scenarios happen and what if those four guys are available? It's very complicated this year."

Hendry doesn't use terms like "multidimensional calculus." His dimensions are trades and free agency.

"The need that has to be addressed is to add another left-handed hitter," Hendry said. "It seems like the trade market is going to be a possibility, the free-agent market is a possibility. There's certainly a lot of potential left-handed hitters that we feel could fit. I'm very confident we will, whether it's the next week, two weeks, three weeks, end up with a quality hitter.

"We were talking to some clubs about potential trades, had a lot of talks with agents the last week or so. Whether it'll come to a conclusion in Vegas, I certainly can't predict that. But we don't have a lot of doubts were going to end up with somebody that will help the ballclub before it's all said and done."

Ideally for the Cubs, they would get their left-handed hitter soon and then wait for the San Diego Padres to decide what they want for Peavy. The Cubs are shopping pitcher Jason Marquis, who has one year and $9.875 million left on his contract. It's a contract Hendry probably will have to move if the Cubs are to afford Peavy.

The Padres like Cubs third-base prospect Josh Vitters, their No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. But the Cubs may have to get a third team involved to complete a deal.

If that team is the Baltimore Orioles, things could take awhile. Hendry could not even pull off a two-team trade with the O's last off-season for second baseman and leadoff man Brian Roberts even after offering Baltimore boss Andy MacPhail several packages.

If the Cubs don't get Peavy, they appear to like their rotation as it is, with a top four of Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden.

"So we certainly don't feel we're limited in what we have to do," Hendry said. "We're blessed that we don't need five new guys, like we did two years ago. We just need to make a good decision here or there, and if we feel like we need to do something differently with that, then it's up to Randy (assistant GM Bush) and myself, mainly, to get creative to move something and get something else."