Updates on what's going on with the Cubs' most compelling arbitration case left - with shortstop Ryan Theriot - and what looks like the impending addition of good-guy former Red Sox ``Idiot'' first baseman Kevin Millar to spring training camp on a minor-league courtesy deal.
First, the Theriot case:
Whether the Cubs' arbitration stalemate with the shortstop becomes a test case for two years of sagging salary market in baseball, one thing is clear: Theriot and the team are bracing for a hearing, according to sources on both sides.
Sources say the sides haven't moved since filing salary demands/offers of $3.4 million and $2.6 million.
Barring an agreement between now and a scheduled hearing sometime in the next 19 days, the Cubs will face their first arbitration hearing since they beat Mark Grace in 1993, and one of the team's most popular players will endure the nastiest face-to-face process built into the rules of the game - sitting at the table, across from general manager Jim Hendry, as a team representative tries to convince a three-member panel Theriot's not as valuable as he thinks he is.
In the end, the arbitration judges must choose one figure or the other - no compromise - and the fallout could include everything from personal resentment and bruised relationships to effects on business decisions involving the player in the future.
This particular case also comes with a backdrop that includes a payroll already so close to the ceiling that Hendry sought approval from the new owners last week to exceed the limit enough to make $3.3 million outfielder Xavier Nady fit. It also includes the fact the star prospect of the system right now is shortstop Starlin Castro, who could be in line for a major league debut sometime this season if he continues to develop as fast as he did last year.
And the payroll had little to do with where the Cubs got their filing figure anyway. Arbitration cases are built primarily on comparisons to like players, and some analysts consider Theriot's closest historical career match one of his peers: Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett.
Bartlett avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility last year with an agreement for $1.98 million, and with the additional year of service time he agreed to a $4 million deal this year. The Cubs' offer represents more than a 30-percent increase for their first-year eligible player than Bartlett got a year ago - even though the salary market has not gone up that much.
Before struggling last year, Seattle's Yuniesky Betancourt (since traded to Kansas City), was another comparable shortstop in terms of hitting - not stealing as many bases but considered better in the field. He signed a multi-year deal a year before becoming arbitration eligible and made $2.3 million last year at Theriot's comparable service-time year ($3 million this year).
Hendry is said to be unwilling to move off the team's offer because of how strongly he feels about the number and to consider an arbitration hearing likely. Comparisons like these show why.
Not to mention this number: Theriot's $3.4 million filing is higher than the 2009 salaries of all but 11 of MLB's regular shortstops - all of them All-Stars (including a pair of MVPs), with the exception of 13-year veteran and two-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera.
Theriot's filing appears to be based at least in part on a comparison to Arizona's Stephen Drew, a similar fielder with almost exactly the same service time and starting experience. Drew, who has a similar batting average but more power compared to fewer stolen bases, signed a one-year, $3.4 million deal this winter.
Oh, by the way, the Cubs also are facing a potential arbitration hearing with closer Carlos Marmol, but most expect the sides to avoid a hearing and settle somewhere between Marmol's $2.5 million filing and the club's $1.75 million.
On to one of the self-proclaimed ``Idiots'' from Boston's 2004 drought-snapping championship, Millar - who was all over the web Monday as ``signing'' with the Cubs and ready to ``compete with Chad Tracy'' for a backup job - both of which are overstated.
Millar does appear headed to Cubs camp on a minor-league contract and invitation, which means accepting a handshake deal with Hendry that's been on the table as a gesture to the widely respected and well-liked grinder who has several friends in the Cubs' clubhouse.
Millar told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick he's coming to the Cubs, which appears to signal a white flag in his attempts to land a guaranteed big-league deal this winter.
Millar, a 38-year-old right-handed first baseman on the decline the past several years, is not in the Cubs' realistic plans. Even with a good spring, there doesn't appear to be a spot for him to compete for in camp.
The Cubs plan to carry five outfielders and just two backup infielders - one of them being the second baseman who's not in the Opening Day lineup (between Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot). The other backup infielder has to be able to play middle infield - in particular, short - and Piniella already said he expected that guy to be Andres Blanco.
But Millar figures to at least be a strong influence on young players and a foil for old pal and former Marlins teammate Ryan Dempster in what's sure to be the loosest spring training clubhouse in years for the Cubs.
And if he puts together a strong spring, he has the chance to show somebody else he might be able to help them - if not serve as insurance for the Cubs against unforeseen events, such as an injury.