Chicago Cubs: The Latest from the North Side on Mr. Cub's Birthday

Neil FinnellCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2009

The last day of January and only 13 days before pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park in Mesa.... The Cubs interest in Kevin Millar and Rich Aurilia was bantered around on Friday after the return of Paul Bako was officially announced. The Cubs "had shown early interest" in bringing back Nomar Garciaparra as well but according to Bruce Levine were told "he was looking for more of a full-time position."

Happy 78th Birthday to Ernie Banks....and according to one of the greatest of All-Time, "The Cubs will be divine in 2009!"

Here's the update....

Don't Count Out the Shark

After the Cubs traded for Aaron Heilman the competition for the fifth starter's spot in Lou Piniella's rotation received another candidate from Notre Dame. Jeff Samardzija wants to start and to avoid being optioned to Iowa....but he could get caught up in a numbers game.

Samardzija told the Tribune he is going "to fight tooth and nail to earn" the final spot in the rotation.

Tidbits from Bruce Levine on Talkin' Baseball

Jonathan Hood and Bruce Levine spent a majority of Saturday morning discussing the South Side due to this weekend's Sox Fest....but Levine did make time for the Cubs from time to time and was joined in the last hour by Aaron Heilman.

  • Levine is hearing from good sources that Carlos Zambrano will not pitch in the WBC
  • Levine mentioned 2009 needs to be a breakout year for Big Z
  • The two roles Aaron Heilman could fill for the Cubs: the fifth starter or filling Bobby Howry's vacated spot in the pen
  • The Cubs have scheduled 25 starts for Rich Harden
  • Sean Marshall and Aaron Heilman are in the mix to take Harden's other eight starts
  • The Cubs have not stopped this off-season trying to acquire Jake Peavy but the new owner will have to be in place for the talks to move forward
  • Lou Piniella has been very frustrated this off-season
  • Piniella has talked about the playoffs next year while Jim Hendry is focused on trying to get back to the post-season.
  • Levine thinks the Cubs have done a great job this winter with adding versatility, athleticism and balance to their lineup.
  • Aaron Heilman threw 1486 pitches last season, second among relievers behind Carlos Marmol
  • Levine said one of Jim Hendry's off-season goals was to trade for Aaron Heilman. Levine said Hendry has coveted and sought after Heilman for a longtime

Aaron Heilman on Talkin' Baseball

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Bruce Levine asked Heilman if he preferred to be a starter or a reliever. Heilman said he's done both in his career and he's excited he has the opportunity to be a starter again.
  • As for the number of pitches he threw last season, Heilman said he has a resilient arm and has stayed away from injuries
  • Heilman added, "You have to take the ball when you get it."
  • Playing in New York is very unique and he has fond memories of his time with the Mets
  • New York fans are very vocal and wants to see the team win
  • Heilman said about his new team, it's not about getting to the playoffs, it's about winning the series
  • Heilman said, "We have a good team. Good pitching, great power and all of the ingredients to win."
  • Heilman is looking forward to getting to know Milton Bradley and his new teammates

Brian Roberts

Bruce Levine tossed out the name of Brian Roberts on Saturday morning. Toward the end of his show, Levine said he hates to tease Cubs' fans but if the Cubs cannot land Jake Peavy, there is a possibility they could try to trade for Brian Roberts again.

Levine added that the Orioles are trying to extend Roberts' contract but if they cannot will probably move him in either June or July (before the deadline). Levine reiterated the fact it was Peter Angelos that nixed the deal for Roberts last year.

Rich Hill

The Rich Hill-to-the-Orioles trade has not been officially announced and according to Bruce Miles, Hill appears to be gone. Word of the trade leaked to the Baltimore press but the Orioles must make room on their 40-man roster before acquiring Hill from the Cubs.

Many think the trade will become official at some point in the coming week.

Randy Bush on XM Radio

The Cubs Assistant GM joined Seth Everett and Billy Ripken during XM's Hotstove on Thursday. Randy Bush discussed a variety of topics a day after the Cubs traded for Aaron Heilman. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The Cubs have been keeping an eye on Aaron Heilman since his days at Notre Dame
  • Their scouts have always liked Heilman and the Cubs really like the versatility he can give them
  • Bush described Heilman as a power arm that can pitch in the rotation or late in the game
  • Lou Piniella likes power arms
  • Bush reiterated the fact that Heilman is thrilled to be a Cub and will do what is best for the club whether it is starting or relieving
  • The Cubs told Heilman to come to Spring Training stretched out and ready to start
  • The Cubs will have eight starters coming into camp: Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall, Chad Gaudin, Jeff Samardzija and Aaron Heilman
  • Jeff Samardzija came so far so fast last year according to Randy Bush and he will be able to help the Cubs either out of the pen or as a starter
  • Bush indicated Samardzija could start the year at Iowa but the Shark will determine where he begins the year with how he pitches in Arizona
  • Lou Piniella loves competition in Spring Training
  • Randy Bush mentioned to get a quality pitcher, in Heilman, a team has to give up quality in return..... "Give up quality to get quality."
  • Bush said players have to perform for Lou, no excuses
  • Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg will compete in the spring for the closer's job
  • Bush mentioned Neal Cotts and Luis Vizcaino will help in the backend of the bullpen
  • The Cubs feel they have created depth in their pitching staff. Bush added once the season starts it is hard to add pitching
  • Three and out the last two years have tainted the regular season performances
  • The Cubs main two objectives when the off-season began were to re-sign Ryan Dempster and add balance to the lineup. They feel additional playing time for Mike Fontenot and the additions of Aaron Miles and Milton Bradley will provide good compliments to their right-handed bats

Cubs' Pinch-Hitters

According to a report from Tracy Ringolsby in the Rocky Mountain News, pinch-hitters for the Cubs have hit only .211 over the past five years....26th in the majors.

"Cubs chairman Crane Kenney has said the cramped conditions at Wrigley Field are a problem for player preparations. While most new stadiums have batting cages near the dugouts, where pinch hitters can loosen up, Cubs pinch hitters prepare by hitting balls into a net in the clubhouse. The cages are under the center field stands."

Rumblings from Jayson Stark

Jayson Stark began his Cubs discussion with the still possible acquisition of Jake Peavy, but revealed more concerning news regarding the sale of the Cubs.

"But does that mean this deal can get revived sometime soon? Not necessarily, because there are still major ownership issues. And no matter how much the folks at MLB might want to get the Cubs' sale approved by Opening Day, the timetable isn't solely in its hands.

"I don't think we're anywhere near as close to resolving the ownership situation as it looks," said one baseball man with knowledge of those machinations. "You have to remember [the seller, the Tribune Company] is in bankruptcy court. So if somebody comes along and says, 'We offered more money,' the court can say, 'You have to take the most money.' So there's no way of saying right now whether this gets resolved in two to three months or six to eight months."

So why does that matter? Because the Cubs can't add a $63 million contract without ownership approval. And there's still no assurance they'll have an owner before Opening Day. So how can they move forward on a deal?

Right now, they can't even get a tentative go-ahead from prospective owner Thomas Ricketts because he's still, technically, negotiating. And even after those negotiations are completed, the court still has to sign off."

Stark dropped his gem a couple of days ago, but as the saying goes....better late than never.

Quote of the weekend from Jim Memolo on WGN Radio Friday night:

"Activity doesn't equal achievement"

Apparently Jim Memolo did not attend Phil Rogers: Math 101.

Well, that's the latest....and I'm sticking to it!


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