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Plenty of good questions for Hendry, Cubs to answer
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist

Alfonso Soriano


Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/26/2007 12:14 AM

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Early next week, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and his baseball staff will pack up and head en masse to Mesa, Ariz., for the annual organization meetings.

From there, Hendry and assistant GM Randy Bush will fly to Florida for the general managers meetings.

Both events are precursors to what should be an interesting -- although not nearly as breathtaking or expensive as last year's -- off-season.

Even after making the 2007 playoffs, the Cubs still have major questions to answer and some holes to fill. To wit:

• How does the organization obtain a power-hitting right fielder?

• Do the Cubs still believe Alfonso Soriano is a bona fide leadoff man?

• Is Ryan Theriot the everyday shortstop next year?

• Does Hendry feel he needs to add a starting pitcher?

• Is Felix Pie the center fielder on Opening Day 2008?

After going on an unprecedented spending spree last winter and into the 2007 season, during which time Hendry handed out well more than $300 million of Tribune Co. money, the Cubs figure to be more conservative, but no less busy, this winter. That's just Hendry's nature.

I'd expect the Cubs to be more interested in making trades than in courting big-name free agents this year.

The work begins next week, when Hendry and his scouts go over reports on big-league and minor-league players. When Hendry and Bush get to Florida, they'll see if there are any matches to be made. That could set the stage for an interesting time at the winter meetings in Nashville in early December.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella would love nothing more than a potent left-handed bat in a lineup that's been predominantly right-handed.

Look for Hendry to try to upgrade by first trying to trade Jacque Jones, who has one year and $5 million left on his three-year contract. Despite hitting .285 for the second straight year, Jones saw his home run production drop precipitously, from 27 in 2006 to just 5 this year. The Cubs also figure to let Cliff Floyd walk after a mostly disappointing season.

Soriano is anchored in left field. He wants to bat leadoff. His homer total of 33 was fine, but he drove in only 70 runs, and many feel his power would be better suited toward the middle of the order. The Cubs also could use a better on-base percentage from the leadoff spot than the .337 turned in by Soriano.

For a while, it looked like Theriot could fill that role, but he faded badly, batting just .202 in September. Theriot finished with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .672, placing him near the bottom of all qualifying players in the National League. The Cubs may keep Theriot at short, but they'll try to find an adequate backup to get Theriot some rest, as it looked as if he tired down the stretch.

The Cubs got mostly solid work from Nos. 1 and 2 starting pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly. The rest of the rotation was spotty. The Cubs didn't leave Jason Marquis off the playoff roster, but they might as well have because Piniella had no intention of using him in the division series.

It's possible the Cubs could seek a middle- to back-of-the-rotation guy. That might come via a trade, as the price of free-agent pitching will be high again this winter.

As far as Pie goes, the Cubs see him as a prospect even though Piniella kept him a safe distance from the plate down the stretch. Indications are Pie will get every opportunity to win the starting spot in center field next spring.

It's not quite hot-stove season, but you might as well start cutting some logs.