As the Chicago Cubs' spring training truck prepared to leave for Mesa, Ariz., on Tuesday, general manager Jim Hendry talked about his club, which he hopes will be among the best in the National League this season.
Hendry first addressed the need to add depth to their 25-man roster.
"Obviously, we're always on the lookout," Hendry said. "Maybe it's something we will do in camp. We do like our club. We have a pretty good roster, body-wise, and we also have more people coming to camp internally (minor-leaguers invited to big-league camp) than we ever had. There will be opportunities for some of our young players to make the club."
Asked if additions are forthcoming outside of the organization, Hendry said: "We'll keep our eyes open. We have some ideas of people we want to scout in camp. But if something got going before we started camp, in the next week or two, we'd certainly look into that."
According to league sources, the Cubs have had contact with any number of teams in pursuit of solidifying their middle relief situation. We've been reporting fo six weeks that the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays have talked to numerous teams, including the Cubs, about moving some of their middle relievers, including Toronto left-hander Scott Downs and right-hander Jason Frasor. San Diego will converse with any team about closer Heath Bell and setup man Luke Gregerson.
Hendry said reports on Aramis Ramirez's right shoulder and Alfonso Soriano (recovering from knee surgery) were positive. The Cubs GM said both players should be able to go full throttle when position players report the weekend of Feb. 20.
Hendry said new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo will be a major positive influence on Soriano, considering they worked together successfully when they were with the Texas Rangers.
The Cubs are being projected to finish anywhere from second to fourth in the NL Central with the St. Louis Cardinals the favorite.
"So many times clubs that aren't predicted to win end up in the postseason," Hendry said. "So many things can happen along the way, but I feel good about the team. I think our guys are in a good place. I think they will show that as early as spring training."
Don't expect the Cubs to settle with the agents for shortstop Ryan Theriot on their pending arbitration case. Sources tell ESPN Chicago that the two sides will have their arbitration hearing sometime the weekend of Feb. 20 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Major League Baseball doesn't announce arbitration hearings in advance.
Hendry didn't sound very positive about getting something done with Theriot's agents.
"There is always a chance until it's final," Hendry said. "But I can't say I'm optimistic either. We've already settled with the other seven guys who were arbitration eligible. If it's a situation where we're going to a hearing, that's OK, too."
The Cubs haven't gone to an arbitration hearing since 1993. Hendry has settled 36 arbitration cases amicably prior to the Theriot case.
The Cubs and Hendry do not want to put pressure on 19-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. However, the Cubs' No. 1 prospect will get an opportunity to show his stuff in big-league camp.
"Some of the best players in history have come to camp at 19 or 20 and made it," Hendry said. "But I think in a realistic world he might need a little more time."
Marketing director Wally Hayward gave some media people a tour of the ballpark to show the new construction zones, including the newly refurbished men's and women's washrooms. By knocking out areas of concrete, the Cubs have found new areas to put washroom facilities.
Hayward also said a new sky box club that will seat 80 fans will make its debut in 2010. People will be able to buy season tickets in the brand new VIP seating area where they will pay $24,300 per seat [$300 per game] for unlimited food and beverages as well as their private seat. The new seating is in the former area where skyboxes 1-6 were located on the far left-field line.