01/18/08 9:27 PM ET
Convention opens with trade rumor
Team may be in discussion with Texas Rangers about Byrd
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Manager Lou Piniella hinted that the Cubs are trying to add a right-handed-hitting outfielder who could play center, possibly platooning with the left-handed-hitting Felix Pie. Cubs officials would not confirm names, but one possibility is Texas' Marlon Byrd, who batted .307 last season.
"I don't think we'll do anything, honestly, but if we do, it'll be in the outfield," Piniella said on Friday about any deals still to be made before Opening Day. "I'm very comfortable with our club the way it is."
That means having Alfonso Soriano leading off and in left field. A year ago at the convention, Soriano offered to move to center. That experiment didn't last long. He may not be the prototypical leadoff man with his .327 on-base percentage, but that's where he'll be on Opening Day.
"I would say he'll be leading off," Piniella said of Soriano. "If something unforeseen happens as far as a trade or something, it could change that. But outside of that, no. The way our team is put together, he'll be leading off."
That doesn't mean the Cubs are close to finalizing the long-rumored Brian Roberts deal. Mark DeRosa is the team's second baseman, and he received some of the loudest cheers from the crowd packed into the Grand Ballroom at the 23rd annual Cubs Convention at the Chicago Hilton.
Soriano also was well received -- and he is still as accommodating as he can be.
"Two years ago I made the adjustment to play from second to left," Soriano said. "If I have to make an adjustment from batting first to batting fifth, I'll make the adjustment.
"The first at-bat is the only one I lead off," he added. "In the third inning, I'm batting sometimes with two outs, sometimes with the bases loaded. I think it's only the first at-bat that matters. After that it's just a regular at-bat."
Who will bat behind Soriano will be determined this spring, and it could be new right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, who did not brave the bitter-cold weather to attend the convention. He's training in Hawaii.
Those issues are minor, Piniella said. The most pressing decision the Cubs have to make this spring, he said, is what to do with Ryan Dempster, who is switching from the closer role back to the rotation.
"It's not going to be easy. It's going from 70 innings a year to 200 -- hopefully, 220 or so," Dempster said. "The most important thing is, my arm feels good. It's a little bit different, but at the same time, it's building up endurance and hopefully being ready to go right out of the gate."
There's no turning back for Dempster, whose last full season as a starter was 2002.
"I'm going to do a good job at it," he said about starting. "That's not being cocky -- I just feel I've worked entirely too hard this offseason physically, mentally. It's not going to be easy. Not a lot of guys do it."
Dempster began the 2005 season in the Cubs' rotation but was switched that season to closer. He's been tutored well over the last few years, and said he's learned a lot from such teammates as Greg Maddux.
"Now I can go out there and not be afraid to give up a run, because it's not going to mean the game," Dempster said. "You can be a starter and give up three runs in the first, and go six more innings and everybody talks about the great job you did. If you're closing, you give up one run and sometimes they want to run you out."
Dempster now joins Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Rich Hill, Sean Marshall, Sean Gallagher and Jon Lieber in the fight for the five rotation spots.
Who will replace Dempster as closer "will take care of itself," Piniella said.
The team heads into spring with Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry battling for the spot.
The Cubs did announce a roster move on Friday, signing right-handed reliever Shingo Takatsu to a Minor League contract and inviting the Japanese pitcher to Spring Training. Takatsu, 39, has pitched for the White Sox (2004-05) and Mets (2005). In 2004 he converted 27 of 31 save opportunities for the White Sox.
There aren't as many new faces -- and new players -- for Piniella to learn, and that's a huge plus.
"This year will be so much easier for me," he said. "We know our personnel. We know what we have to do. We don't have to experiment or change the lineups like we did for six weeks until we finally got into a rhythm [like they did last season].
"Coming out of Spring Training, that should come fairly automatic," he added. "I don't know where to hit Fukudome, I don't know if it's second or fifth, so we have to look at that. Outside of that, I think we'll get a little help in the outfield, there's a possibility of that."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.