Or at least that’s what I’m told. It’s a balmy 1 degree in Chicago, but somewhere in Arizona, I’m told that it’s warm, and spring training is getting under way. This is a different spring from the last two years, as this Cubs lineup isn’t as settled as the last few years. Let’s take a look at what issues the Cubs will sort out during spring training:
This will be the most hotly contested position battle all spring. The Cubs have 3 players vying for time at 2nd base, and there appear to be different opinions within the organization as to who should start. Dusty Baker has referred to Todd Walker as his starter when asked, while Jim Hendry seems to favor Neifi Perez. Walker, of course, would provide a much needed left handed bat in the lineup, while Neifi is an upgrade defensively. The dark horse is Jerry Hairston, who, after falling out of favor with the team last year, wants to shake the “utility player” tag and finally win a starting job.
Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno aren’t in position battles per se, but they will have to fight their manager’s preconceived notions about young players. Yeah, I know that Dusty says he isn’t biased against young guys, his actions speak louder than his words. Murton doesn’t worry me as much, since he has hit well at every level and performed well while getting some playing time last year. Cedeno hasn’t starting hitting until late in his minor league career, and while he .380 winter ball, my enthusiasm was tempered a bit after finding out that Jose Macias hit .400 in the same league. Ronny could also be hurt by our surplus of middle infielders. It isn’t tough for me to imagine Ronny getting off to a bad start, and Dusty moving Perez to shortstop and platooning Walker and Hairston at second.
Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones are both coming off subpar seasons. While Pierre seems a cinch to bounce back if he can keep his legs healthy, Jones is out to prove that his last two seasons are not the beginning of decline for him. Jacque says he wants to hit .300 again, and I’m all for that. In fact, if both Pierre and Jones can get back on track, I’ve already got a snappy nickname picked out for them: The French Connection.
The Starting Rotation
I’ve been tough on Jim Hendry this offseason, but I do need to give him credit for one thing. By re-signing Glendon Rusch and hanging onto Jerome Williams and taking a flyer on Wade Miller for down the stretch, he’s done a good job of building much needed depth in the starting rotation. And the most important thing he’s done is make Kerry Wood less important. The past few years, the Cubs season has hinged on the health of Wood, Prior and Zambrano, but hopefully we can take Kerry out of that equation. This year to win, Prior and Zambrano will need to be excellent and Greg Maddux will need to be better than last year, but I no longer feel like the rotation’s success hinges on Wood. If both Rusch and Williams show they are able starters this spring, Kerry can take as much time as he wants coming back. And if Wade Miller is anywhere close to his former self, Kerry can make his yearly trip to the disabled list in August as well. In my mind, I consider any production we get out of Wood this year to be gravy.
So, what are you looking forward to seeing out of the Cubs in spring training?