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Uncertainty is name of game for Cubs

Right-hander Carlos Silvwnine games first half last seasbut he managed only one victory second half.  |  charles rex

Right-hander Carlos Silva won nine games in the first half of last season, but he managed only one victory in the second half. | charles rex arbogast~ap

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SANTO FUNERAL COVERAGE: Family, friends, fans turn out to honor former Cubs third baseman. Pages 18-19

Updated: April 19, 2011 5:09AM



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cubs went into the offseason with a roster full of questions. In their search for answers this week at the winter meetings, they managed to add another question before leaving Thursday.

And the rest of the winter doesn’t figure to create much more certainty for their 2011 fortunes as they continue their pursuit of shoulder-rehabbing right-hander Brandon Webb and a reliever.

That’s the kind of offseason general manager Jim Hendry and his staff were all but promised in the wake of an ugly 2010 and some payroll cuts.

While the White Sox brought back their top production guys and signed the top slugger on the free-agent market — Adam Dunn — to steal the back-page headlines, the Cubs filled their biggest offseason need with the signing of first baseman Carlos Pena, a player who led the American League in home runs in 2009 but who otherwise has experienced a steady offensive decline the last three seasons.

So is Pena, 32, the answer to the left-handed power need the Cubs have chased for a decade? Or is he the future answer to some kind of trivia question involving Cubs free-agent busts?

Of course, that’s the $10 million question. And that’s only one of $130-something-million worth of questions the Cubs will take into Mike Quade’s first spring training as a big-league manager.

Quade says he doesn’t know yet where he’ll bat Pena in the lineup — or who his leadoff hitter or No. 3 hitter will be. Never mind what his pitching staff or bench will look like by the time he gets to Mesa, Ariz., and tries to turn around a fifth-place team.

He shrugs at questions about what kind of players or roster changes he needs to pull that off.

‘‘One way or the other, I’m going to manage the club that is put together when I get there,’’ he said.

But even if little more dealing gets done — and without moving a chunk of Kosuke Fukudome’s $13.5 million salary, nothing close to splashy is even within reach — Quade might not have any idea about the kind of players he has until well into the summer. And the list of questions might grow before the answers start coming.

Consider the partial list of questions the Cubs already face, just involving three Carloses:

Will the determined-sounding Pena raise his .196 batting average by the 30 or 35 points necessary to regain his status as an elite home-run hitter and run-producer? Or will the .282, .247, .227, .196 trend continue for another season, sucking a few more homers and RBI off the annual totals?

And where will he bat? If it’s cleanup, how will that affect Aramis Ramirez, who didn’t take as well to the No. 5 spot in the lineup when he was moved there last season?

What are the chances Carlos Zambrano continues his 8-0 finish to 2010 — and new pitching attitude — into 2011? Or that he can sustain a high level of pitching consistently all season for the first time in at least five years, especially after the only pitching coach he has had in the big leagues, Larry Rothschild, is now with the New York Yankees?

And will Carlos Silva be the guy who won nine games during the first half of last season or the guy who won only one more game the rest of the season and couldn’t be counted on to last two innings on a given day, even before his heart-arrhythmia scare in August?

The answers to these questions might be the difference between the Cubs becoming a contender again or remaining a bottom-feeder.

And that doesn’t even count the questions in the rotation behind Ryan Dempster, in the bullpen after Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall, in the leadoff spot in the lineup or in the progress of several key second-year players and prospects.

‘‘You find a way to get it done,’’ Quade said.

Meetings buzz

The Cubs selected right-hander Mason Tobin from the Los Angeles Angels in the Rule 5 draft, then traded him to the Texas Rangers for cash in a prearranged deal. … With Pena signed, the idea of second-year outfielder Tyler Colvin as the Cubs’ fallback plan at first base is off the table, making Fukudome officially a bench guy and likely increasing the efforts to trade him.



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