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Hendry makes no promises
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/4/2007 12:17 AM

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The biggest stakeout Monday in the cavernous Opryland complex concerned a guy most people wouldn't recognize if he walked right past them.

Rumors began circulating in the afternoon that the Cubs were meeting with Joe Urbon, the agent for Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry shot that one down quickly.

"To my knowledge, he's not even in town," Hendry said, as the first full day of baseball's winter meetings got under way.

On top of that, Hendry said he had not talked over the phone with Urbon and that he did not have a meeting set up.

Even though it's reported that major-league clubs -- possibly even the Cubs -- have made offers to Fukudome, he has not declared his intention to come to the United States or to stay in Japan, and Hendry won't comment extensively until he does.

All those niceties aside, the Cubs don't yet have their left-handed hitting right fielder, and Hendry admitted he might not leave here with him.

"All you need is one," he said. "There's a good likelihood that we don't leave here with a new outfielder who is that kind of a player. You don't have any assurances that you're going to get one. You just have to keep plugging."

Although the Cubs say they're not hamstrung by the right-field situation, they do admit that the rest of their off-season will fall into place after that situation is settled.

Last year, Hendry identified Alfonso Soriano as the best player on the market, and he went after him aggressively, signing him to an eight-year, $136 million contract.

If history is any judge, the Cubs may try to overwhelm Fukudome with an offer right off the bat.

With the major-league free-agent market being weak and Fukudome still having not declared, the Cubs are talking trade, as well.

Rumors about Oakland outfielder Nick Swisher seem baseless since Swisher is a cornerstone of the Athletics team and is signed to a long-term contract favorable to the budget-conscious A's.

The Cincinnati Reds want to move outfielders, and Josh Hamilton's name has been floated. Hamilton, whom the Cubs selected and then traded to the Reds in last year's Rule 5 draft, came back from drug-related suspensions to put together a nice season, even though he suffered injuries at various times.

Either way, outfielders are tough to come by.

"Even before I was the GM or the assistant GM, I remember all the summer meetings and the July (trading) deadline, we used to say, 'If we stay in the race, we can get a bat in July,'" Hendry said. "The last couple years, that hasn't proved true. Bats are harder to get than ever.

"What teams are doing now is they're keeping their own guys. They're tying them up, the better ones, with the earlier-contract philosophy.

"We haven't had the extensive talks that maybe you would think because I think people feel we just have a need here and a need there. We're getting some normal calls on pen guys and guys in the system."

Hendry gave a couple of vague examples that at least indicated whom he's not trading.

"Every now and then, we get somebody (saying), 'Well, you probably don't want to do it, but how about (pitcher) Rich Hill?' And we say no."

Hendry also expressed his happiness with young outfielders Felix Pie and Sam Fuld, the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. He also said he has no interest in trading outfielder Tyler Colvin, the Cubs' top pick in the 2006 amateur draft.

"Colvin is a guy we think can play all three spots," Hendry said. "You'd like to think he's only a year away. But in our position … you don't really say, 'Let's not go get so and so because that might get in this guy's way. Those things have a way to work themselves out.

"I am from the school of thought that my mentor, Gary Hughes (the Cubs' scouting guru) taught me a long time ago: You can't have too many good players. We're not going to trade him. We're very pleased. He's a real good player, but he still needs some polishing up."

With that, Hendry was off to a general managers lounge, where he hoped tongues would loosen sufficiently for the Cubs to get a deal done.

"Do I think we'll do something before we leave?" he asked. "Yeah. But I can't sit here and tell you that we're going to walk out Thursday with a new right fielder. That doesn't mean we're not going to get one."