Cubs make few ripples at Meetings
Club picks up two power arms, still looking for new right fielder
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Wrigley Field's playing surface has been changed so that Lou Piniella now can clearly see who's in right field from the dugout rather than having his view blocked by the infield "crown."
He still doesn't know who will be out there for the Cubs on Opening Day.
The Cubs left the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center on Thursday without the left-handed hitting outfielder they need, still unsure as to whether Kosuke Fukudome is coming to America, but with two new reliever candidates and one less southpaw.
"We haven't failed in the people we're pursuing," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said on Thursday. "When you're targeting one or two things and they're not done, you certainly aren't pleased, but until all the avenues are exhausted, you're not disappointed.
"We could've taken the avenue of, in our evaluation, go a level down from players we're pursuing and we'd be done," he said. "We chose not to do that. With that comes the possibility of not getting the level down guys if you don't get the level above guys. We think that's the path we have to go."
The Cubs did make a deal, and acquired hard-throwing right-hander Jose Ascanio from the Braves for lefty Will Ohman and infielder Omar Infante. Ascanio, 22, throws 95-97 mph and will battle for a spot in the 'pen.
Infante was never a Cub long enough to be assigned a locker. He was acquired in mid-November from Detroit for outfielder Jacque Jones, and projected as a backup infielder, a role Ronny Cedeno now will try to win.
The Cubs added another bullpen candidate in Tim Lahey, who was the first pick taken in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft by Tampa Bay but was then dealt to Chicago for cash considerations. Hendry said three or four teams had also targeted Lahey in the Draft. Why so many arms?
"That's what you want -- a lot of guys with options," Hendry said. "You have strength to trade from, you've got strength to recover from injuries. Go no further than last year -- the 'pen you leave camp with isn't the 'pen you end up with."
Carlos Marmol is a perfect example. He was not on the Cubs' Opening Day roster in 2007, yet many felt he was the second half MVP for the team.
Hendry patiently waited this week for Fukudome to decide whether to leave Japan and a lucrative offer from the Tokyo Giants. Hendry did talk to Fukudome's agent, Joe Urbon, on Wednesday.
"I think soon," Hendry said regarding a decision. "That's what I've been told."
The Cubs and Baltimore Orioles have talked about a possible deal for switch-hitting second baseman Brian Roberts, who could move into the No. 2 spot in the lineup and provide some much needed speed. Reports that the Cubs were trading Rich Hill to the Orioles for Roberts were denied by team officials.
"Anybody who can hit left-handed and run and play the middle of the infield, we would certainly still look into," Hendry said.
Roberts hit .290, stole 50 bases and posted a .377 on-base percentage in 156 games for Baltimore last season.
The Cubs also listened to more rumors than facts regarding other teams' interest in Mark Prior, who is coming back from surgery on his right shoulder. There was little interest in Prior, and the next deadline they face is Dec. 12, when the Cubs have to decide whether to offer him arbitration.
What's next? Opening Day is March 31, so there's time. Cubs manager Lou Piniella expects to know well before then.
"[Hendry] promised me that by Christmas, I'll be very happy," Piniella said. "Things take time to materialize. We have a fairly good game plan. At the same time, things we would be interested in doing now, other teams want us to wait. I like our game plan -- just have some patience and it will come to fruition."
Deals done: The Cubs traded lefty Ohman and infielder Infante to the Braves for Ascanio. Ascanio, 22, has an impressive strikeout/walk ratio, walking 18 and notching 71 K's over 78 innings at Double-A.
Rule 5 activity: Acquired Lahey for cash considerations from the Tampa Bay Rays, who had picked him first overall. Lahey spent most of last season with the Twins Double-A New Britain team, and posted an 8-4 record with 13 saves and a 3.45 ERA in 50 games.
Goals accomplished: Acquired two more arms for the 'pen in Ascanio and Lahey.
Unfinished business: What will Fukudome do? Will he come to the U.S.? Will he stay in Japan? The Cubs are waiting for word.
GM's bottom line: "We laid the groundwork a long time ago -- we just have to execute the plan now. Our focus hasn't changed. We're not disappointed because the people we have pursued or will continue to try to pursue have not gone anywhere yet. The things we could've controlled we did. The things we'd like to accomplish, you have to have cooperation of the other side or other trade partner or free agent to finish off your goals." -- Hendry
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.