Piniella sheds light on plan for Cubs
Skipper maps out lineup, discusses rivalry with pal La Russa
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Not only does Lou Piniella have to figure out his new Cubs team, but his buddies are making demands that he have a condo big enough so they have a place to crash when they visit Chicago.
While they're making vacation plans, Piniella is sorting his team out. On Wednesday at baseball's Winter Meetings, he discussed Felix Pie, a bigger payroll, how much longer he wants to manage, the team's two "wild cards," his childhood friend Tony La Russa, and even gave a possible lineup. Get your scorecards ready, but keep in mind, this is subject to change.
"[Alfonso] Soriano's going to lead off," Piniella said. "I mean this guy here has got just a special combination of speed and power. And he's comfortable in that spot, and we're going to leave him there.
"Derrek Lee is just a really, really fine professional hitter, and he is going to hit in the three hole," Piniella said. "And then we got the kid, [Aramis] Ramirez, that we signed. I was astounded when I read he only struck out 60 some times last year. For a power hitter, I mean that is a great ratio. He's going to hit fourth.
"We've got Jacque Jones in the fifth hole," he said. "We've got [Michael] Barrett, [Mark] DeRosa, and I haven't figured out really what we are going to do in the second and eighth holes. [Cesar] Izturis will be in one of them. It depends on what we do."
Piniella said Matt Murton will get plenty of playing time, and added he liked having Ryan Theriot, Henry Blanco and Angel Pagan on the bench. As for the pitching situation, the Cubs were waiting for word from Ted Lilly's agent as to whether the free agent left-hander would choose them or the New York Yankees.
Piniella says the Cubs have a couple wild cards in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The team was expected to build around the pair, but injuries have limited their contributions.
"What a wild card that is, if they both come to camp healthy and all of a sudden, one is pitching in the bullpen and does a dominant job the way he is capable of doing, and the other kid goes in the rotation and pitches like he did a few years ago," Piniella said. "I mean, that's a wild card of all wild cards."
All Piniella has heard regarding Prior's status is that the right-hander is working hard on strengthening his right shoulder. Wood is headed for the bullpen after being sidelined last season with a partial tear in his right rotator cuff.
Center field has yet to be officially resolved. Soriano is expected to be a regular in one of the corners, and Piniella said the Cubs camp is divided regarding whether highly touted Pie is ready for the big leagues.
"Everybody agrees he is a very talented man, and he is not very far away," Piniella said, "but I think the consensus is that we give him a little more time to develop in Triple-A. Now, we are going to put him out there to play in Spring Training and see what happens."
Piniella said he had a similar situation in Tampa Bay with Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford. Two weeks into Spring Training camp, Piniella told both young outfielders to have fun, play and develop, and that's what happened.
"I can anticipate if we don't do anything [and don't add a center fielder] that we do the same thing with the young man that you're talking about, because he is a talented kid," he said of Pie.
Piniella returns to the dugout after spending one season in the broadcast booth working for FOX TV. He says he's refreshed and ready to go. But this is it.
"I really enjoyed what I was doing," he said of the television work, "but the challenge of managing and the challenge of winning one more time and the opportunity here with the Cubbies was too hard to say no to, and here I am. But this is my last job, I've said that before, but this is it. Age is finally going to catch up to me. I look forward to a good relationship and a long stay with this organization, and more important, to win here."
It's a different situation than he had in Tampa Bay, when the team payroll was among the lowest in baseball. The Cubs have been spending money this offseason at a crazy pace. Their situation is similar to the Devil Rays in one sense -- the Cubs are coming off a 90-plus loss season.
"I lost [at least 90 games] in Tampa Bay three years in a row," Piniella said. "I wasn't used to it. One thing that did for me was it taught me a ton of patience, and I enjoyed the situation over there in other ways, like seeing young kids develop and getting better and earning their stripes at the big-league level.
"But, boy, the losing got to me, and I don't have the patience nor the time to sit and wait for another two or three years until things fall into place," he said. "So, this is the right situation for me."
Patience? Since Piniella has been hired, video clips of him throwing bases and yelling at umpires have resurfaced. You can find them easily enough on YouTube.
"I think they run the same clip over and over again," Piniella said.
Has he mellowed?
"Look, I'm not proud of those things. I'm really not," he said. "I hope the people in Chicago don't expect those things from me. I take pride in the fact that I won over 1,500 games as a Major League manager and that we get our teams to play and players enjoy playing for them, but those other things, hopefully, at 63, I won't have that kind of fun on the field anymore."
What will be interesting is how the Cubs-Cardinals series changes with Piniella battling his childhood friend, La Russa. They've known each other since they were 10, 11 years old, and grew up less than two miles apart in Tampa, Fla. The first showdown will be April 20-22 at Wrigley Field.
"The rivalry will be there. The fans are the ones that create that rivalry and keep that rivalry going," Piniella said of the Cardinals vs. Cubs. "But Tony and I, we had a nice conversation until about 3 in the morning, and we vowed that we would remain friends, that we would leave our competition on the field, and that would be the end of it.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tony, I really do," he said. "And I think we are both at times in our careers where we realize that, hey, we are going to go out there and try to beat each other every day, but when it's over, just leave it there, go back and compete the next day."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.