Cubs' focus not on A-Rod but other pressing needs

Published: 10/30/2007 12:45 AM

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry spent a couple of days last week in Florida.

No, he wasn't courting Alex Rodriguez. That would have been illegal.

Instead, Hendry had meetings with field manager Lou Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild in preparation for the organization meetings, which begin today in Mesa, Ariz.

With Hendry having already spent more than $300 million over the past year and the Cubs' ownership situation still unsettled, it's highly unlikely they'll get involved with superstar third baseman Rodriguez, who opted out of his contract with the New York Yankees and who may command $30 million per season.

Instead, the Cubs will focus on other needs as they hope to become more than a one-and-done playoff team in 2008.

"We'll pursue some left-handed hitting," Hendry said over the weekend. "We'll look at getting some more speed, whether it's an everyday player or off the bench. We don't need the volume of people we needed last year. We need to make a few solid moves to help the ballclub."

It appears the Cubs' No. 1 target will be a left-handed hitting right fielder who can hit with power.

Jacque Jones, whose home run total dropped from 27 in 2006 to 5 this year, played both right field and center in 2007, but Hendry again may try to trade Jones, who has one year and $5 million left on his contract.

The Cubs will spend part of this week evaluating their own system and then looking at potential trade targets and free agents.

From Arizona, Hendry and assistant GM Randy Bush will head to Naples, Fla., for the general managers meetings, where they could try to swing a deal or set the groundwork for trades at December's winter meetings.

The left-handed-hitting outfield pool contains one interesting name: Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this off-season, meaning big-league teams in North America won't have to pay a "posting fee" just to talk with him.

Fukudome is just the type of player Piniella likes. In other words he works counts and gets on base, something the Cubs have had trouble doing for years.

Elbow surgery limited Fukudome to 81 games this year with the Chunichi Dragons, but he put up a .443 on-base percentage to go along with 13 homers, 48 RBI and a .520 slugging percentage. For his career, Fukudome has a .397 OBP.

Hendry sounded pleased with shortstop Ryan Theriot, even though Theriot faded badly down the stretch.

"We may try to add some infield depth, but Ryan played well enough to be an everyday guy," Hendry said. "It was the first time in his career that he played that many games."

Hendry added that he wants to keep reliever Kerry Wood, an impending free agent who came back from shoulder rehab to pitch out of the bullpen.

As far as one-time starting ace Mark Prior goes, Cubs people indicate they're still determining whether to tender Prior a contract. Prior, who made $3.575 million this year and didn't pitch because of shoulder problems that led to surgery, is eligible for salary arbitration.

It's possible the Cubs could "non-tender" Prior in December but agree on a lower free-agent deal. If the Cubs offer Prior a contract, they can cut his salary a maximum of 20 percent.

Either way, it's likely the Cubs will pursue more depth for their starting rotation, even as Hendry expressed confidence in rookie right-hander Kevin Hart as a "swing guy." Hart came up in September and impressed the Cubs enough to make the playoff roster.