Cubs spending despite recession

CHICAGO -- Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has been busy this offseason and he expects the team's 2009 payroll to be a bit higher than last year, despite the national recession.

"We're in a situation that's a little unique," Hendry said Wednesday during a stop on the club's winter caravan. "Even in the situation in the country and the ownership situation up for grabs and the Tribune declaring bankruptcy, our payroll went up slightly."

Chicago's payroll last season was $130.5 million, fifth-highest in the major leagues.

"Our situation has clearly been better than most, I think," Hendry said, adding that the team expects to draw more than 3 million fans again. "It's a tremendous story the way this franchise is supported in good times or bad by the public."

The team has been up for sale since Opening Day 2007. That process appears to be winding down, with reports indicating there are three groups that have made second-round bids to Tribune Co. In December, Tribune Co. did not include the team and Wrigley Field when it filed for bankruptcy.

The Cubs, whose last World Series winner came in 1908, have won back-to-back NL Central titles, only to be eliminated by a first-round playoff sweep two straight years.

In October, Hendry got a four-year contract extension through 2012 and he's been active despite the uncertainty of new ownership.

Chicago re-signed 17-game winner Ryan Dempster, who has made the double switch from starter to closer and now back to starter. He got a four-year, $52 million deal. The Cubs also exercised a $7 million option on right-hander Rich Harden for next year.

They signed talented but mercurial outfielder Milton Bradley to a three-year, $30 million deal.

They dealt popular and versatile second baseman Mark DeRosa to Cleveland and traded right-hander Jason Marquis to Colorado. They also declined to re-sign closer and fan favorite Kerry Wood, who had the longest tenure with the team. He signed with the Indians.

The Cubs have picked up outfielder Joey Gathright and infielder Aaron Miles and acquired reliever Kevin Gregg in a trade with Florida. They also obtained reliever Luis Vizcaino in the deal for Marquis.

Hendry said the Cubs will still explore acquiring a fifth starter, a slot that could be filled in-house by Sean Marshall, Chad Gaudin or maybe even promising young right-hander Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver.

The Cubs talked with San Diego about a trade for pitcher Jake Peavy but a deal has not developed. Chicago is also in the market for a backup catcher -- preferably a left-handed hitter -- for NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto, after Henry Blanco was not re-signed.

"We're going to see if we can do something before we get to camp. How significant that is, we don't know," Hendry said. "Nothing really imminent. We feel good about where we're at. We could go to camp now and feel good about it, but we'll continue to stay active if we can."

Cubs pitchers and catchers will have their first spring training workout Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz.

Manager Lou Piniella, who was supposed to join Hendry on the caravan, was ill and did not make the trip to Chicago but was expected to be at the team's fan convention beginning Friday.

Hendry said he is encouraged by the left-handed hitting the Cubs have brought in with Gathright and switch-hitters Bradley and Miles. The GM is also hoping Kosuke Fukudome, who had a strong start and then slumped badly in the second half, will be more like the player who made the All-Star team in his first major league season. The closer role could be a spring training competition between Carlos Marmol and Gregg.

Hendry said winning the division again is the first goal and then the Cubs will worry about advancing in the postseason after the meltdowns they've had the last two years against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

"You'd better get there first," Hendry said. "It's hard to win 97 games, it's hard to win the division. Our attitude is if you get in every year, you get in most of the time, sooner or later you are going to knock that door down."