Cubs looking for winning combos

Cubs looking for winning combos

Could this be the week when Ron Santo finds out if he's going into the Hall of Fame? Will the Cubs snag a left-handed hitter to fill their needs? And how many times will Chicago general manager Jim Hendry be linked to rumors regarding Jake Peavy?

It's time for the Winter Meetings, which officially open Monday at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Hendry heads into baseball's annual convention still in search of that elusive left-handed bat. The Cubs don't necessarily want someone who can hit fourth or fifth, but they do need more balance in the lineup.

"The trade market is going to be a possibility, the free-agent market is still a possibility," Hendry said. "There are certainly a lot of potential left-hand hitters who we feel could fit. We're very confident that, whether it's the next week, two weeks, three weeks, that we'll end up with a quality hitter.

"Truthfully, it's too early to tell whether it'll be A, B or C. There's a lot of possibilities. Some of that will be determined, or at least the path will become clear out in Vegas."

The four-day gathering begins Monday with the Veterans Committee's announcement regarding its Hall of Fame selections. Santo, the former Cubs third baseman and current WGN Radio analyst, is on the post-1942 ballot. An announcement is expected at noon CT Monday.

On Wednesday, the Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce the winner of the Spink Award. Dave Van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune is one of the finalists.

Also, Major League Baseball will make an announcement on Wednesday regarding the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The Winter Meetings wrap up Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft.

Hendry usually spends most of the Meetings in his hotel suite, chatting with agents and representatives from other teams behind closed doors.

It would seem as if the team's only opening for another bat is in right field, but that would depend on whether the Cubs move Kosuke Fukudome to center. As of now, Alfonso Soriano is set in left field, and manager Lou Piniella can pick between the other outfielders -- Fukudome, Reed Johnson, Felix Pie -- to handle center and right.

"When I look at Reed, I don't say, 'Hey, that's our part-time center fielder,'" Hendry said. "I look at Reed Johnson as a guy on a lot of clubs who could play all three spots. He gives us great possibilities, as far as an additional player we could add."

That list also could include Mark DeRosa if Piniella choses to start Mike Fontenot at second. The Cubs do have depth, which a lot of teams don't have, and are coming off back-to-back National League Central titles. Hendry doesn't feel they need to overhaul the roster, just tweak a few things. And they may have to be creative to do so.

"We're not opposed to moving money and adding money," Hendry said. "We're not just assuming that, from now until Christmas, we'll get one guy. Maybe we move some guys and add a couple guys.

"It's kind of intriguing, to be honest. We're in a good spot. Not only did we win 97 ballgames, the team that's on our wall right now, you could line up with and contend with, and a lot of clubs, I don't think, can say that."

As for pitching, the Cubs have a solid five-man rotation already in Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Rich Harden and Jason Marquis. They have the luxury of a sixth pitcher in Sean Marshall as well.

Even with Kerry Wood's departure, the Cubs don't feel a need to do much with the bullpen. Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg can handle the late-inning chores. Jeff Samardzija could be used as a reliever, along with Kevin Hart. Neal Cotts will be the prime left-handed pitcher in the 'pen, and Chad Gaudin is expected to come back strong after missing time last season with a bad back. Angel Guzman, who has battled back from elbow and shoulder injuries, also could contribute. The Cubs have heard from seven or eight clubs interested in some of their relievers.

The 2008 payroll was close to $130 million, and it is expected to increase in 2009. The team has yet to pick its new owner, which could be finalized by Spring Training. The bidders are aware of the team's 2009 budget. If Hendry wants to add significant money to the payroll, he will have to make room by trading players currently on the roster.

The bottom line is that the Cubs will get something done this offseason. They may not be able to find their guy by the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

"It'll be an exciting month," Hendry said. "I'm looking forward to it."

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