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Article:Chasing Cubtober: Cubbie Concerns

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There are 50 days until the first Spring Training game and there is still time to improve this team, but as of now I still have concerns about a few spots of the 25-man roster.

Alfonso Soriano and free-agent signee Kosuke Fukudome look like they can provide solid play from the corner outfield spots, but Cubs fans should still be concerned with the lack of a center fielder.

When the Cubs traded away Jacque Jones, who hit .286 as a center fielder in 2007, they basically handed the position to former top prospect Felix Pie who hit .215 in only 177 at bats.

In limited action, Pie looked to be at least an above average defensive outfielder whose blazing speed and rifle arm could make him a Gold Glove caliber outfielder someday.  However, it’s tough to ignore the .215/.271/.333 line that he posted at the plate in his rookie season.

To make matters worse, Pie hasn’t done much improving in the off-season.  He’s hit .244 in 127 at bats in the Dominican Winter League.  If the Cubs had a Boston Red Sox-like offense, they could probably hide Pie in the no. 8 spot in the line-up and hope that his defense can outweigh his lackluster production at the plate.

Unfortunately, the best viable free agent option is Kenny Lofton.  I’m not saying that Lofton, who put up a .327/.381/.471 line when he was with the Cubs in 2003 isn’t a good option, but one must wonder if and when Lofton’s age will catch up to him.

If the Cubs want to go with an internal option, they do have two cost-effective choices in their own farm system. Sam Fuld, he of the cult following, put up a .402 batting average and a 1.118 OPS in 107 at bats on his way to being named the Arizona Fall League’s Most Valuable Player.

There’s also former first round pick Tyler Colvin.  Colvin, who bats and throws left-handed, was chosen with the 13 th pick in the 2006 amateur draft and has put up a .288/320/.486 line in seasons as a minor leaguer.  He’ll be given every chance to succeed with the big club.

The Cubs still do not have a player who is an everyday Major League shortstop.  Ryan Theriot is a fun player who does all the little things right and is one of the most fundamentally sound players on the Cubs, but his .266/.326/.346 line is not worthy of an everyday starting spot, especially if Felix Pie is going to be the Cubs everyday center fielder.

And even though the Cubs have targeted Brian Roberts as a trade possibility, Mark DeRosa put up a pretty good OPS when playing second base in 2007 (.848).  Roberts, who stole a career-high 50 bases in 2007, would bring the element of speed to the Cubs but would also bring an ominous cloud having been named in the Mitchell Report.

Cubs fans should also be concerned that they do not have a closer.  Granted, having Ryan Dempster gone from the closer’s role is an improvement in its own right, but having no closer could pose a problem for manager Lou Piniella.

Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood are splitting the fan’s vote for closer, but Bobby Howry should get the first crack at the closer’s role.  Howry hasn’t been a full-time closer since 1999 when he converted 28 saves as a member of the Chicago White Sox.

Two intangibles that make Howry the best choice to be the closer are his composure and his confidence.  Cubs radio play-by-play man Pat Hughes always comments on how Howry has the same look on his face no matter the situation.  And that’s impressive.

The least of the Cubs concerns should be who the back-up catcher is.  With the emergence of Geovany Soto at the end of the 2007 season, Henry Blanco will open up 2008 as the Cubs back-up catcher.

Blanco is a top notch defensive catcher who calls a good game and mows down opposing base runners.  But his health issues not only limited his time in 2007, but they also kept him off of the playoff roster.  My concern is that Blanco is a foul tip away from calling it a career, leaving the Cubs without a viable third catcher other than Jake Fox.

But it’s okay Cubs fans, Opening Day is still 82 days away, which leaves general manager Jim Hendry plenty of time to tweak the roster enough to put the best 25 guys on the field.


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