Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

On closers and Japanese outfielders

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The Cubs don't need the final week of spring training to make their decisions on the Opening Day roster and roles.

I mean, haven't we already seen enough of this so-called closer battle and Bako-Hill battle royale, and the never-ending string of so-called candidates for the final bullpen spots?

I know I've seen enough of Fukudome in the 2 hole after two days of watching, waving and going 1 for 7 -- including a popup on a 3-0 pitch Saturday, followed later by a swing at a 3-1 pitch out of the zone for a weak dribbler off the end of the bat for another out.

Lou says he's going to announce his closer on Sunday. Let's do the whole checklist and call it a spring. And here's how that list should get checked:

1. Make Marmol the closer. You already know he's the best relief pitcher on the staff, and he's ready. Say all you want about how important the eighth inning is or the two-outs-in-the-seventh jam is, but it's not more important than turning a 27-out game into a 24-out proposition. Go back a dozen years to New York for the model -- when the most dominating setup man in the game, Mariano Rivera, was handed the ninth inning and became the dominating closer of his generation.

2. Marmol, Gregg, Cotts and Heilman are your top four pen guys. Handle the three other spots like this: Give two of the jobs to veteran Chad Fox and Rule 5 kid David Patton. They've earned them, and in Patton's case, it prevents being forced to offer him back to his original team, Colorado.

Then give Vizcaino the last spot, which prevents being forced to eat the $4 million he's owed on his contract -- at least yet. That means Hart and Samardzija open in the minors, and it means coming up with some kind of ``tired shoulder'' or ``plantar fasciitis'' for Gaudin and Guzman, who are both out of options and likely to be claimed on waivers if cut.

This buys a few weeks into the regular season to see how Patton handles big crowds and games that matter, how Vizcaino looks when it counts, and whether any of those other guys respond to a wakeup call.

3. Find a way to keep So Taguchi, even if it means sending speedster Joey Gathright out. Taguchi has quietly been a solid all-around player throughout camp, out-hitting Gathright along the way (with two doubles and a triple to Gathright's zero extra-base hits). We're talking about a fifth outfielder here, so it's not like he needs to be leaned on real hard. A late inning guy. An occasional start. Good clubhouse influence. And even though he's not close to Fukudome, it wouldn't hurt to have another player on the roster who speaks the same language and culture.

4. As for Fukudome, start him on the bench next to Taguchi, and let Reed Johnson play center as long as he holds up and produces. Fukudome can start once a week in center and in right for Bradley once in a while, gaining more playing time -- or a trip to Iowa -- based on his production. This, of course, assumes that salaries and contract status don't matter. So forget I ever mentioned it.

5. Bako or Hill? Hill's a likeable guy who calls a good game, has hit well this spring, helped the Cubs win a lot of games in 2007 and has been around a lot of these pitchers longer than Bako. Bako, on the other hand, is a likeable guy who calls a good game, has hit well this spring, helped the Cubs win a lot of games in 2003 and has more than a decade of big-league experience.

All right, maybe we leave one decision for another week.

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I don't think the Bako-Hill decision could have gone another week, Gordon.

My understanding was that the Cubs would be on the hook for only 20% of Bako's salary if they cut him on or before March 31 (which they did, a day early).

If the Cubs did nothing past the end of the month, then it would've committed to paying Bako's whole salary, and he would've been the backup.


"Find a way to keep" So Taguchi. Wasn't going to happen, Gordon, and didn't. Not only is he too old and not good, but I believe Cubs had to pay Taguchi a whopping 900 grand if they kept him on parent club.

BTW, I loved your article surveying Cubs' pitchers. That required extra work...and..risked potential in-house controversy. Kudos.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on March 28, 2009 8:34 PM.

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Hill in; Bako, Stanton out is the next entry in this blog.

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