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Big dreams, bigger task for Cubs

Kosuke Fukudome

Kosuke Fukudome

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The world of Disney doesn't figure to be so wonderful to the Cubs during this week's winter meetings at Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla. Years of backloaded deals in the final years of Tribune Co. ownership have conspired with payroll reductions and system-up roster-building under Ricketts ownership to make general manager Jim Hendry at least a bargain-hunter this time around - and at best a Houdini-like escape artist if he can pull off something significant. Big thoughts for the Cubs:


That would be a not-so-big $10 million - roughly what Hendry figures to have in 2011 payroll room to fill three key roster spots as the meetings open. That won't go far enough in the free-agent market if he wants to get a decent first baseman, experienced right-hander for the bullpen and even a Plan C-quality starter. Look for him to fill at least one need with a trade.


On the eve of the official opening of the meetings, the Washington Nationals rankled even some big-market spenders on Sunday by signing free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth to a whopping seven-year, $126 million deal. That figures to make anything the Cubs want to do in the free-agent market that much harder. On the bright side for the Cubs, maybe some of their own crazy contracts don't look quite as outrageous this morning.


Look for the Cubs' loudest noise at the meetings to involve Hendry's efforts to move at least half of the $13.5 million owed on the final year of outfielder Kosuke Fukudome's contract. That's his best-case scenario for getting the resources to fill his wish list.


Whether it's 2008 Gold Glove winner Carlos Pena or somebody else, the Cubs need their new lefty-hitting first baseman to be at least a solid defender, considering the Gold Glove shoes of Derrek Lee he'll fill, the spray-throwing pair of arms on the left side of the infield, the revolving door that could be in store at second base and the poor-fielding job in general this team has done in recent years. That's one of the reasons Hendry has kept an eye on injury-prone Nick Johnson.


With most of the healthy, reliable, second-tier pitchers already off the board, and with the Cliff Lees and Carl Pavanos of the free-agent world far out of financial reach of the Cubs, Hendry is looking at former successful pitchers trying to rebound from significant injuries. Most notable is former Arizona Cy Young winner Brandon Webb (shoulder), who hasn't pitched since Opening Day 2009.


If there's a pool of available players that fall into the Cubs' wheelhouse, it's the depth of right-handed relievers to choose from that assures Hendry the flexibility to jump on a deal he likes quickly, wait out the free agents until next month or play the potential free-agent targets off trade scenarios.

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