Piniella evaluating options for center

Piniella evaluating options for center

CHICAGO -- New Cubs manager Lou Piniella won't be able to answer all of the fans' questions at this weekend's Cubs Convention. He's been stumped a few times already during the caravan stops.

During a Q&A session in Merrillville, Ind., on Wednesday night, Piniella was peppered with queries.

"The questions weren't easy," Piniella said on Thursday at another stop, this time an autograph session at the Olympia Park Community Center. "The first question the guy asked was, 'What are you going to do in center field?'"

Piniella then laughed. Last year's center field starter, Juan Pierre, has signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. When the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano for eight years and $136 million, they said he'd most likely play right. That leaves Matt Murton in left, Jacque Jones unsure and prospect Felix Pie waiting in the wings. Who will play center? And who will bat second behind Soriano? And what about the rotation?

So, what are you going to do, Lou?

"Spring Training will tell us all that," he said. "I just don't know."

He does have one answer regarding the Cubs' first game, April 2 at Cincinnati.

"I know one thing, [Carlos] Zambrano will be my Opening Day starter," Piniella said of the right-hander, who will kick off the season for the third straight year.

That was easy. But what about center field? Piniella was so eager to see Pie himself -- and possibly resolve the issue -- that he was planning a trip to the Dominican Republic to watch the young outfielder this winter. Instead, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry told Piniella to wait and that the team would most likely add a veteran for the short term. That hasn't happened yet, but Spring Training doesn't start until Feb. 14, when pitchers and catchers will report.

Piniella is eager to see Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and he says that all of the reports he's gotten on the two pitchers are good. Wood will open in the 'pen, but there are seven or eight pitchers who will compete for the five spots in the rotation, including Sean Marshall, Rich Hill, Angel Guzman and Wade Miller.

Fans who go to Mesa, Ariz., to get a sneak peek at the team in Spring Training will see an emphasis on fundamentals, Piniella said. Everybody has to be able to bunt. He'll do baserunning drills. Players must be able to field their position. Piniella and his staff have a lot of work to do.

"I don't like being on the field four hours," Piniella said. "I did tell a few of our players that if they want to play golf this spring, it'll be twilight golf."

He was kidding -- sort of.

Players who may not think they have a chance on the final roster should take note that Piniella will be watching and evaluating.

"Obviously, we can only take 25 players north with us to Chicago, but just because a player doesn't make the team in Spring Training doesn't mean Spring Training isn't important for him," Piniella said. "People who perform well in camp will get called up."

Spring Training will also be a time for some experimenting with different lineups. Piniella is prepping for that as well as more questions. It's his first Cubs Convention, and he didn't have this kind of fan fest or devoted following when he managed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"I'm looking forward to a little bit of a crazy weekend," Piniella said. "I guess that's the best way to describe it, right?"

He's right about that.

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