Piniella on prowl for swattin' southpaws

Piniella on prowl for swattin' lefties

LAS VEGAS -- Lou Piniella has been doing a little scouting for a left-handed bat.

The Cubs manager has been asking about some of the free-agent outfielders available, including Raul Ibanez and Milton Bradley. The goal is to find someone who can break up the overload of right-handed hitters in the Cubs' lineup.

"I'm confident if that guy is available, Jim [Hendry] will go out and get him," Piniella said Monday.

Hendry, the Cubs general manager, reportedly met with Bradley himself at the Bellagio hotel. Piniella has been asking about some of the others and reportedly talked to the Texas Rangers about Bradley. He also questioned Seattle sources about Ibanez.

"Raul can swing the bat," Piniella said. "There's a few of them out there who can swing the bat. Basically, Jim's got a lot of balls in the air. We'll see which one comes our way. He's got a lot of things going."

What are the Cubs looking for?

"At the end of the day, we're looking for somebody who makes us a better team," Hendry said. "All of those guys, if you look at who could be available, there's really quite a disparity of what type of player they are. There's some power guys, there's some high-average guys, some guys who hit lefties better than others, some guys who hit righties, some guys who aren't the defenders that we have on the club. I'm not being evasive, but this could go a lot of different ways before this is over."

The Cubs' only real opening is right field. Piniella said he had no problem sliding Kosuke Fukudome over to center to make room for another bat. Fukudome, who started strong but finished batting .257 in his first season in the Major Leagues, has two goals this offseason -- find his swing and get stronger. The Cubs have put him on a strengthening program to build up his core.

"The other thing is this young man didn't play much the year before and acclimation to a new country, new league, it took its toll on him a little bit," Piniella said. "He probably lost a little confidence when he started to struggle, but we're confident he'll bounce back and have a very good year for us."

Fukudome didn't have any problems in the field, and both Piniella and Hendry said they felt he was the best defensive right fielder in the league.

"For us to add a substantial bat, it's going to have to be one of the corner outfield positions," Piniella said.

During his media session at the Winter Meetings, Piniella listed a few things he wants to see this spring. For example, Micah Hoffpauir, who could sub in the corners, will get plenty of at-bats to see if he can be a left-handed bat off the bench.

Mike Fontenot will see more time this spring at shortstop as the Cubs try to find someone who can give Ryan Theriot a break. Jeff Samardzija will be stretched out and start in Cactus League games -- "I think his future is as a starter," Piniella said -- but could wind up in the bullpen next year for the big league team.

Bottom line is the Cubs don't feel they need to make massive changes from a roster that won 97 games. Piniella is still smarting from being swept in the National League Division Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers and offered three explanations as to why the Cubs were swept.

"One, everybody jumped on our bandwagon," Piniella said. "Everybody played underdog roles against us. One-hundred years [since they won a World Series] -- things are supposed to happen in the 100th year. I think our guys carried a little burden with that."

He also felt that because the Cubs were playing teams in contention the final week of the regular season, but had already clinched, that they weren't able to give the regulars rest. Mark DeRosa and Geovany Soto were also nicked up with injuries and not 100 percent.

"And then I have to prepare them better as a manager," Piniella said. "We've lost six in a row [in the postseason the last two years]. I think I have to go to a sports psychologist and see what goodies he's got in his bag."

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