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

December 2010 Archives

With Wood back at Wrigley, what's next for Cubs?

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Count on the Cubs taking care of Kerry Wood after the iconic right-hander's one-year, bargain-basement deal he signed Friday expires - and also once his pitching career is over.

General manager Jim Hendry will have a lot more financial flexibility in his 2012 payroll to work with, and chairman Tom Ricketts seems fully behind keeping Wood in the Cubs' fold after meeting Wood on Monday and all but closing the deal that may have cost Wood $10 million in guaranteed money left on the table in offers by other teams.

Meanwhile, what Wood's willingness to accept a $1.5-million deal has done for the Cubs is keep a winter of creative financing alive through the pursuit of a desired starting pitcher - if not an additional middle-bullpen reliever as well.

Newest Cub Pena ``excited'' about Cubs, ``platform season''

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The $10-million, one-year deal the Cubs struck overnight with Carlos Pena landed them one of their top target of the winter - giving them the left-handed power bat they've sought for years along with Gold Glove fielding and a guy respected throughout the game as a smart, personable guy and great teammate.

The Cubs targeted Pena and switch-hitting Lance Berkman to replace Derrek Lee at first base, and when Berkman signed with St. Louis in the past week, the pressure was on to try and make a deal work with Pena.

Cubs officials were jacked all day after the deal got done, even as they turned their attention toward bolstering the pitching staff.

So what's in it for Pena, who surprised the Cubs by being receptive to their one-year overtures despite having multi-year offers on the table from other teams?

Perhaps most of all, it gives Pena and agent Scott Boras what Pena called a ``platform year'' to rebuild his long-term value after a .196, 28-homer season hampered by a painful foot injury.

He also relishes the chance to rejoin the hitting coach he had as a rookie in Texas (Rudy Jaramillo) and he says he's been a fan of the Cubs and Wrigley Field since watching the team on TV as a kid.

Here's what Pena, 32, had to say Wednesday on a variety of topics:

Cubs reach agreement with 1B Pena

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cubs have reached a preliminary agreement with free agent first baseman Carlos Pena on a one-year deal with about $10 million, according to sources, and hope to finalize the deal this morning during a schedule meeting with his agent, Scott Boras.

The pending deal fills the Cubs' top off-season need and leaves a back-rotation starting pitcher and right-hander reliever on their to-do list.

Pena, 32, is a career .241 hitter who led the American League with 39 home runs in 2009 for the Tampa Bay Rays, but his batting average, on-base percentage and power numbers - with the exception of the '09 spike - have declined each of the past three seasons.

One Tampa Bay source said his highly reputed fielding skills also declined by the end of last season. But the Cubs' reports on Pena say he's still fielding at the level that earned him a 2008 Gold Glove and that he still has strong power production to match a strong clubhouse presence.

Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who had Pena in Texas as a rookie in 2001, was one of Pena's supporters in the Cubs' pursuit.

With so much of their limited payroll flexibility now tied to one addition, the Cubs are expected to look harder at harder at trades than the free-agent market to fill the pitching needs - unless they can move a significant portion of a larger contract, such as the $13.5 million left on the final year of outfielder Kosuke Fukudome's contract.

Sources say the Cubs are still pursuing former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, but the free agent, who hasn't pitched since the 2009 season opener because of shoulder injuries, won't command a high price.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who said before meeting with Boras late Tuesday night that he anticipated adding a player before the winter meetings conclude Thursday, also said he expected whatever move the Cubs made first to impact how they would go about filling the rest of their openings.

What small chance the Cubs had of pulling off a rumored multiplayer deal with Texas for first-baseman Chris Davis and reliever Darren O'Day are eliminated, for instance.

Cubs pace picks up at meetings

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Cubs winter meetings update Tuesday night:

General manager Jim Hendry wouldn't get specific with names and trading partners, but he called Tuesday ``a good day'' and said ``we feel like the last 24 hours have gone well. And hopefully we get something done before we leave [Thursday].''

The Cubs met mostly with other teams on potential trades on Monday and spent Tuesday talking primarily to agents.

Among those, according to sources, were the agents for rehabbing pitcher Brandon Webb, and first basemen Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche - although sources contradicted a report that suggested the Cubs were ``targeting'' LaRoche. The Cubs were expected to meet with Scott Boras, Pena's agent, again Tuesday night.

The Cubs did not deny a report circulating in the lobby that they're interested in using an unspectacular free agent pitching market to shop starter Tom Gorzelanny in trade talks. Detroit reportedly has expressed interest.

Former Cubs manager Piniella: `I didn't quit.'

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TAMPA, Fla. - Barely three months after the abrupt ending to his managing career in Chicago, Lou Piniella looks fitter, tanner and much more energetic than he did during what might have been the most trying season of his career.

That doesn't mean he has any intentions of changing his mind about managing again, he insists.

In fact, it probably says a lot more about the ordeal he endured over the final weeks and months that wore him down emotionally and even physically - and that led first to an announcement in July that he planned to retire at the end of the season and then eventually to the heart-wrenching decision, at the suggestion of the team, three weeks later to leave for home in Tampa to care for his ailing mother.

And as major league baseball prepares this morning to honor Piniella and three other just-retired ``legendary managers'' (Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Cito Gaston) at the winter meetings in Orlando today, Piniella wants to dispel at least one public misconception about his final days with the Cubs.

``I hadn't quit,'' he said Monday. ``I didn't quit.''

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