Baker ready for telling October

Baker ready for telling October

CINCINNATI -- When the Cubs' season ends on Oct. 1, Dusty Baker will pack his belongings in his Chicago condo just as he has the last three years. Only this time, he's not sure whether to ship some things back to California or take everything home.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry repeated on Saturday that he will make a decision the first week after the regular season ends as to whether or not he'll offer Baker a contract extension. Baker's four-year deal expires after this season.

"It's the same as I told everyone in July, and that's that I'll decide what's in the interest of the organization in the first week after the season," Hendry said. "That hasn't changed."

Asked how he would gauge Baker's on the job performance, Hendry declined to go into specifics.

"I'll do what I feel is in the best interest of the organization, and that obviously encompasses a lot of things and there's no need to get more specific than that," Hendry said. "You do what's in the best interests of the Chicago Cubs and not what's in the best interest of any individual, including myself."

There's an assumption that Hendry has made his decision.

"Not necessarily," he said.

Baker would like to know as soon as Hendry is ready.

"It doesn't have to be [Oct. 1]," Baker said. "You'd like it sooner rather than later, so you can pack up everything or pack up some things. That's fair, don't you think? Life's going to go on no matter what. Life will go on with or without me or anybody else. The game will go on with or without me or anybody else.

"No matter what, the Cubs have been cool with me -- from [team president] Andy [MacPhail], to Jim to [board member] Dennis FitzSimons. Everybody's been cool with me. My only regret is that I haven't accomplished what I came here to do, for whatever reason. That's how it is."

No regrets?

"No. Zero," Baker said.

In Baker's first season in 2003, the Cubs won the National League Central Division. This season, they'll finish last. What do they need to do to turn things around?

"We need better health, No. 1. That's No. 1," Baker said. "No. 2, you need some consistent starting pitching. And you need to hopefully hit as many home runs as the opposition does. And cut down on the walks, big time."

Injuries to starting pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior and first baseman Derrek Lee for most of the season was tough to recover from. Only two spots are likely filled for the 2007 rotation, and that's Carlos Zambrano and Rich Hill.

"We're probably in flux," Baker said.

There are other lopsided numbers. The Cubs have been out-homered at home, 116-77. Cubs starting pitchers were unable to get into the sixth inning in 80 of 153 games this year, not counting Friday's rain-shortened start. That meant the team was usually behind most of those games. Hill was the only Minor League pitcher who had any success at the Minor League level before being promoted. The others were promoted out of necessity because of injuries.

"You don't mind young guys as long as they have a certain amount of Minor League experience and success," Baker said.

The Cubs were counting on Prior, yet he made nine starts. Who could've predicted Carlos Marmol would be bumped up from Double-A and make as many starts (13) as Prior and Wood combined? Baker dodged commenting on whether the team was overly optimistic regarding Prior being ready.

"I don't know," Baker said. "It's a little late to look back and analyze. We are where we are."

The Cubs will post their second straight losing season, and first 90-loss season since 2002 (67-95). Does Baker think he'll be back?

"I don't know, man," he said. "Everybody in the world has my job."

He's heard the rumors. Florida manager Joe Girardi could be the next Cubs skipper, or Lou Piniella, or Atlanta third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez. But Baker doesn't have a gut feeling on whether he'll be back.

"I don't allow my gut to feel right now until it's over," he said. "I have very good control of my gut. If I didn't, I'd have an ulcer a long time ago."

This is not like 2002, which was Baker's last season in San Francisco. The Giants reached the World Series that year.

"I've been criticized quite a bit," he said. "If you're looking for criticism of people, you can find it. [They say] I don't like young players -- haven't my young players played? You're always going to be criticized for something."

Baker has been asked about his job status since the Cubs Convention in mid January. He'll find out in about a week.

"They've been writing my obituary for months," he said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.