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Expect Cubs to be very active as they head to winter meetings

Outfielder Alfonso Soriano is defensively challenged but he still has some pop offensively. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Outfielder Alfonso Soriano is defensively challenged, but he still has some pop offensively. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: December 3, 2011 1:38AM



The Cubs’ roster is in greater flux, with its eventual shape less predictable, than it has been in recent memory. Going to the winter meetings this week in Dallas, the restocked front office is focusing on pitching. But it also has been linked to almost every top hitter, from Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to Cuban defector/outfielder extraordinaire Yoenis Cespedes. Don’t count on Pujols to be in a Cubs uniform, but don’t count on the Cubs leaving Dallas empty-handed, either.

Untouchables

If the Cubs have such things on their roster, their names are Starlin Castro and Sean Marshall. One is a budding superstar hitter; the other is a former starter who has been the Cubs’ best reliever for the last two seasons. ‘‘He might be the most valuable left-handed reliever in all of baseball,’’ president Theo Epstein said of Marshall.

Touchables

Almost everyone else on the roster, including right-hander Matt Garza, whose value to a team that might not be ready to win for a couple of years might not be as high as his projected salaries during that span. He might, however, be worth a strong package of young players to a poised contender in need of pitching, such as the Yankees. (Note: Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano all have no-trade rights.)

‘Please touch’-ables

Look for the Cubs to pick up more than half of Soriano’s remaining $54 million commitment (three years) if they can find a taker for the likable, glove-challenged outfielder who still has some pop to offer. And not even Zambrano’s own agent is willing to predict his client will pitch for the Cubs again after Epstein’s maintain-the-
illusion-of-value promise to allow Big Z a chance to ‘‘earn his way back’’ to the team. (Both, by the way, have indicated a willingness to waive their no-trade rights.)

WINTER WONDERLAND

Partial free-agent watch list for the Cubs, with their odds of landing on the North Side:

Pos. Player Key stat Odds

1B Albert Pujols 32 years old 500-1

Cubs’ call to agent raised roaming charges for Cardinals

1B Prince Fielder 162 games, 375+ lbs. 80-1

Not ideal fit for Cubs’ needs, but younger than Pujols

1B Carlos Pena 101 BB, 28 HR 35-1

Can Cubs get other side of the ‘‘pillow contract’’?

RHP Tim Wakefield Age/velocity: 45 20-1

Free agent knuckleballer wants one year; Cubs need depth

OF Jorge Soler 19 years old 5-1

Yanks, Phils, Rangers also said to want stud Cuban defector

CROOKED NUMBERS

.978, 134

Fielding percentage and errors for the lowest-ranked fielding team in the majors in 2011, a focus for the Cubs in any deals.

4.79, 931 2/3

Worst ERA and fourth-fewest innings pitched for a starting rotation that is the primary fix-it focus for the Cubs.

$30,000,000

Estimate of payroll flexibility for 2012 roster, given expired contracts, projected arbitration raises and undisclosed reduction in major-league budget.

Yeah, they said it

‘‘Relying on external solutions to build a winning baseball team is a bad idea and something we need to get past.’’

— General manager Jed Hoyer, on overhauling Cubs through free agency

‘‘I’ve learned this lesson through the years — the hard way, as well — that the key is to pay for future performance, not for past performance.’’

— President Theo Epstein, on evaluating long-term contract commitments

‘‘I love Prince to death. .  .  . It’d be nice to have him at first base, the way he plays and what he brings to the table every single day. .  .  . He definitely plays harder than anybody in the game now. When you get one, two, three, four guys to play that way, everybody falls into the way you want to play the game.’’

— Manager Dale Sveum, former Brewers hitting coach, on free-agent slugger Prince Fielder



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