For Piniella, still questions, but not as many

That’s what beat writer Carrie Muskrat’s headline should have read. Well, not like that because it really doesn’t make much sense. However, the idea of Lou Piniella’s 2008 Chicago Cubs not having as many questions as last year’s version doesn’t make sense either.

Muskrat must be enamored with the idea of a player who couldn’t hit Dominican League hitting, let alone Major League pitching, being the everyday center fielder. I know Cubs fans hate the idea of a lead-off man with a career on-base percentage of .327, but want their lead-off man to be the scrappy shortstop who posted a .326 OBP in 2007.

But wait, there’s more.

The Cubs still have gaping holes at the end of the rotation, which could have been filled had the Cubs acquired a frontline starter to pair with Carlos Zambrano. In the same offseason that the Diamondbacks acquired Dan Haren and the Mets brought in Johan Santana, the Cubs signed Jon Lieber to bolster their rotation.

When pitchers and catchers report, the Cubs will have six pitchers competing for the last two spots in the rotation, including former closer Ryan Dempster, who is looking to return to the rotation for the first time since his brief stint in 2005. The Cubs will trot out Jason Marquis, Sean Marshall, Sean Gallagher, and Kevin Hart to round out the best of the rest, if you can call them that.

The back end of the starting rotation isn’t the Cubs only pitching problem, there is still a vacancy at the end of the bullpen. In an offseason where Eric Gagne, Troy Percival, Mariano Rivera, and Jose Valverde were available through either free agency or the trade market, the Cubs seemed content to go with the three-headed monster of Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol, and Kerry Wood to compete for arguably the most important job in baseball.

Howry has the experience, having saved 28 games in 1999 for the White Sox. Marmol has the best fastball-breaking ball combination out of the ‘pen. Wood has the intangibles and the support of management, but hasn’t consistently proven he can handle pitching on consecutive days.

And really, those are the issues that stand out most. That doesn’t include questioning whether Geovany Soto can do what he did at Triple-A at the big league level. That doesn’t include whether his back-up (Henry Blanco, who was left off the playoff roster) is healthy enough to contribute full-time.

And then there’s the ultimate variable: where will these players’ heads be at after the disaster that was the 2007 NLDS, coupled with the unavoidable questions about the past 100 years of failure.

Maybe next time Muskrat should research before she posts her next article.

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