Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Chicago Cubs.
2008 record: 97-64
Finish: First in National League Central
2008 opening-day payroll: $119 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $133 million
The impending sale of the franchise hasn't stemmed a flurry of activity by general manager Jim Hendry. He has signed free agents, made trades and talked and talked and talked about another trade, the one for San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy that still could graduate from words to deed.
Hendry, in fact, has done nearly everything in his power to entice the Padres to trade the dominant right-hander, acquiring promising lefty Garrett Olson from the Baltimore Orioles for failed outfield prospect Felix Pie, dumping payroll by unloading starter Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for reliever Luis Vizcaino and sending versatile Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians. The Padres are said to covet Olson, although with an ERA of 6.65 last season, he's a gamble.
The Orioles and Phillies no longer need to be part of what had been discussed as a four-team deal that had too many moving parts to be consummated at the winter meetings. It's true that the Padres have retrenched because of their own uncertainty regarding ownership, but if Hendry would say the magic word, "Samardzija," Peavy could be Chicago-bound, and the despair that reached 101 years and counting would give way to euphoria, at least until October.
Then the suffocating expectations would set in again, just as they did a few months ago when the Cubs frolicked through the NL Central before getting swept in the playoffs by the Dodgers. The difference, of course, is that this time they'd have Peavy on the mound in Game 1.
Alas, Hendry can't trade promising right-hander Jeff Samardzija because the former Notre Dame All-American receiver has a no-trade clause that he's unlikely to waive. So that probably means no Peavy unless a package can be built around 19-year-old third base prospect Josh Vitters and the likes of Olson and Marshall.
Without him, the Cubs haven't improved much, even with all the comings and goings. Kevin Gregg, acquired from the Marlins, will set up Carlos Marmol, the closer now that Kerry Wood bolted. Starter Ryan Dempster parlayed a career year into a four-year, $52 million contract.
The biggest change among position players is the addition of switch-hitting right fielder Milton Bradley, who gives the Cubs a desperately needed left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup against right-handed pitchers. Aaron Miles was brought in to compete with Mike Fontenot at second base.
If anyone wasn't convinced that the Curse of the Billy Goat isn't real, Cubs chairman Crane Kenney removed all doubt when he invited a Greek Orthodox priest to Wrigley Field to remove the curse before Game 1 of the division series. The Cubs promptly were flattened by the Dodgers.
Now Kenney says the stunt was all the priest's idea. Rev. James L. Greanias didn't turn the other cheek on Kenny's charge, firing back in the Chicago Tribune: "The last thing on my mind was calling the Cubs to ask them to bless the field. In fact, I thought it was a joke at first."
Sorry, no joke, and that's the problem. Maybe if the Cubs loosened up when October hit, they'd have a shot at a World Series. But that won't happen until the citizenry of Chicago lightens up. And that won't happen.
So the best approach is to put a juggernaut on the field and hope for the best. The Cubs could use a legitimate leadoff hitter, and moving Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome to center field won't help his feeble bat. Otherwise, they remain the class of the National League.
Catcher Geovany Soto, the NL rookie of the year, is phenomenal and getting better. Corner infielders Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are as steady as they come. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano has pop. So does Bradley. And there is depth at positions that lack a clear standout – second base, shortstop and center field.
The starting rotation is formidable even without Peavy. Carlos Zambrano is a No. 1 except when he's at his most rambunctious, Dempster pitched like a No. 1 last season and Rich Harden has No. 1 stuff when healthy. Left-hander Ted Lilly is coming off his best season, and Sean Marshall, Chad Gaudin, Angel Guzman and possibly Samardzija will battle for the final spot unless Hendry gives up on Peavy once and for all and signs a low-budget free agent.
Next: Boston Red Sox