Inbox: Who will bat cleanup for the Cubs?
Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from fans
The lineup, rotation, Matt Garza and backup catcher are among the topics in this week's Cubs Inbox. Send your questions to CubsInbox@gmail.com, and please include your name and hometown.
Who is the projected fourth batter in the lineup for 2012? I don't see a clear cleanup-style hitter on the roster now.
-- Don Y., Oklahoma City, Okla.
Bryan LaHair could be that guy. He batted .342 with runners on base at Triple-A Iowa, hit .340 with runners on and two outs, and .351 with runners in scoring position. Alfonso Soriano was asked at the Cubs Convention about possibly batting fourth.
"The most important thing for me is to win, stay healthy," Soriano said. "Batting three, four, five, six, seven, it doesn't matter with me, because you saw last year, I batted sixth, seventh and never complained -- [I was] not happy, but I never complained. So, the most important thing for me is to be happy and try to win and try to help the team win."
Did Soriano plan on telling manager Dale Sveum where he wanted to hit?
"I want to joke with him [about it]," Soriano said. "We have all of Spring Training and six months to talk to him."
In 2011, Soriano hit .238 with runners on, .285 with RISP, and .279 with RISP with two outs. Ian Stewart does not have enough of a sample size (he totaled 122 at-bats with the Rockies in 2011, 54 with runners on). Last year, Geovany Soto's numbers also were weak (.194 with runners on).
At the convention, Sveum said he had some ideas about the lineup but wanted to see players first in Spring Training before revealing his order. Sveum did say David DeJesus will likely lead off, and they may look at Tony Campana in certain matchups. Here's one lineup guess: DeJesus, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, LaHair, Marlon Byrd, Soriano, Soto and Stewart.
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What is the starting rotation for the Cubs in 2012?
-- Jack K., Joliet, Ill.
That's to be determined this spring, too. The candidates include Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad, Travis Wood, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, Andy Sonnanstine and maybe Trey McNutt. Jeff Samardzija also will be stretched out this spring.
I'm confused on what [Cubs president of baseball operations] Theo Epstein says and what actions he takes. First, he says Garza is the type of player you want to build the pitching staff around but then you hear he is shopping Garza. Second, he says Kerry Wood is a great guy to have on the pitching staff with his commitment to the city and the team and then hesitates to re-sign him. What do we believe and what is just lip service to the fans?
-- Josh F., Groton, Mass.
The rumors you've heard about Garza being traded are media driven. My contacts with the Tigers say their interest in the right-hander has been overblown. The Cubs aren't "shopping" Garza, but they are listening to interested teams. There's a difference, even if just semantics. Epstein's plan for the Cubs is to take advantage of what assets they have (ex. Sean Marshall, Andrew Cashner) to acquire prospects and improve the depth in the Minor League system. Epstein did say Garza is the type of pitcher to build around, which is why the Cubs won't deal the right-hander for a low Class A infielder. The Cubs would only part with Garza if they are able to acquire a significant package of players (such as the Padres did for Mat Latos). The fact that Garza, who is eligible for arbitration, submitted a salary figure of $12.5 million (and will likely settle for $10 million) will probably make him less attractive to teams. As for Wood's deal, what you call "hesitation" was actually negotiations between Wood's agents and the Cubs' front office. Epstein did want Wood back, as he said, but both sides were trying to get the best deal.
Who is the backup catcher? If productive, can he unseat Soto?
-- Jason M., Sherwood, Ohio
Naming a backup is another item on Sveum's long to-do list this spring. Welington Castillo may be the leading candidate but the Cubs did sign Jason Jaramillo to a Minor League contract and Steve Clevenger will get a look. I don't see any of them unseating Soto. Jaramillo, who is no relation to Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, has played in 119 Major League games over three seasons with the Pirates. The question regarding Castillo and Clevenger will be whether they and the team are better served with them getting at-bats in the Minor Leagues rather than starting once a week with the big league club. Castillo was slowed by injuries last year, and batted .286 in 61 games with Iowa. Clevenger, a converted infielder, batted .295 in 95 games at Double-A Tennessee and .407 in 25 games over two stints at Iowa. Clevenger has moved up quickly -- keep an eye on him.
Where does Brett Jackson fit in 2012? With the "youth" movement in place, Byrd probably is on the way out. Jackson seems to be the heir apparent.
-- Michael V., Princeton, Ill.
Jackson is projected as the Cubs' center fielder of the future, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him with the big league team this year, but not on Opening Day. Jackson, who hit .297 in 48 games at Iowa, most likely will open the year in the Minor Leagues. This is the last year of Byrd's contract with the Cubs, and he's motivated. The Cubs have extra outfielders in Campana, Reed Johnson and Dave Sappelt, who can handle part-time duties. Jackson needs to play every day.
Are Epstein and [general manager] Jed Hoyer thinking about maybe moving Anthony Rizzo or LaHair to third base?
-- Robert B., Wilmette, Ill.
No, and they also are not considering moving Soriano to first, which has been suggested by some fans.
Who are the Cubs planning on giving up in compensation to the Red Sox for acquiring Theo? I keep hearing Cubs fans worry about Castro, McNutt or Jackson as possible candidates. I say no way, and think more along the lines of Josh Vitters, Jay Jackson or Chris Carpenter.
-- Kevin B., Urbana, Ill.
The problem, most likely, is that the Red Sox want someone like Brett Jackson but the Cubs are looking at picking a player from the Class A ranks. The precedent was set in 1994 when the Cubs hired Andy MacPhail from the Twins and sent Class A pitcher Hector Trinidad to Minnesota as compensation. The decision is up to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
Will the renovation in right field at Wrigley Field create an obstructed view? If they elevate that section of right field, won't the individuals sitting in the right-center-field bleachers have an obstructed view of the well, as the stands will be raised 75 feet to accommodate the new scoreboard?
-- Ross S., Des Moines, Iowa
Cubs officials say the center-field sight lines won't be affected. What will happen is the people in the right-field corner should have a better view of the center fielder, who was blocked at times because of the well and configuration of seats. I'm still trying to get an answer about what will happen with the wheelchair seating, which was in right field and which Denise Z., of Chicago, asked about.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.