Q&A with Gordon Wittenmyer

I first would like to thank Chicago Sun Times Cubs insider Gordon Wittenmyer for taking part of a Q&A session with me,  The questions that I asked will be in bold, and that will be followed by his answer.

What is the Cubs biggest concern heading into the season?

Gordon Wittenmyer : Probably Ted Lilly’s shoulder, and by extension, how Carlos Zambrano responds this year – especially early – to consecutive years of underachievement.

If Lilly returns to full strength within the first month of the season, as the Cubs hope, and Z pitches like he’s capable this year, the club should be in contention for a playoff spot regardless of what the Cardinals do.

It has been reported that Jermaine Dye is on the Cubs radar, Have you
heard anything regarding Dye or another free agent outfielder?

Gordon Wittenmyer: Dye is just one of about five players the Cubs are looking at for their fourth-outfielder opening. The fact that he’s looking for a starting job and could command a lot more money than, say, Reed Johnson or Jonny Gomes, probably eliminates him in the end.

That said, if the free agent market remains in the cool-to-lukewarm state it currently is, then all bets are off on who will command what.

My gut feeling, based on talking to Cubs people (and our guy Joe Cowley’s contact with Dye) is that the Cubs will wind up with somebody else. I like Gomes.

When can we expect to see Starlin Castro in the majors?

Gordon Wittenmyer:As touted as this kid is, and even with him in big-league camp this spring, I’d be shocked if he came close to making the club out of camp. The Cubs want to see him succeed a little longer in the upper levels of the minors (and AA is probably good enough if he fares well there).

I anticipate a major-league debut for Castro late in the season, barring a setback in his development.

If at the right price, would the Cubs be willing to add another starting pitcher
during the off-season?

Gordon Wittenmyer: The right price is the operative phrase for almost anything the Cubs have done and plan to do this winter. Everybody I’ve talked to in the organization, publicly and privately,  seems to believe the Cubs have enough starting pitching depth heading to camp.

Of course, if a quality veteran pitcher were to fall into their laps for enough of a bargain, I’m sure they’d pounce. Remember, though,  that assuming Lilly is back quickly from his injury, the Cubs could find themselves in a tough roster situation with their rotation if said bargain veteran is performing well, along with Wells and other veterans (plenty of worse problems to have).

Don’t count on Ben Sheets, if that’s who you’re referring to, specifically. Too many other teams are in actual need of a starter for Sheets to fall into the Cubs’ dollar-range. And word is he’s still looking for $10 million.  Cubs can’t do half that.

With Aramis Ramirez, Ted Lilly, and Derrek all becoming possible free agents after this year,  If the Cubs have a losing season, will they let them walk or try and bring them back?

Gordon Wittenmyer: In Ramirez’s case, that’s up to him. And given the current economic climate in the game, I suspect he’ll stick with the Cubs and finish out his contract for the $15.3 million average over the final two years (2011-12).
Lilly’s status depends entirely on how he rebounds from the injury. The Cubs love him and many consider him the top pitcher on the staff the past three seasons (me among them). I’m sure Hendry makes a run at keeping Lilly if he looks like his old self by midseason.
As for Derrek, again, the guy is loved and respected by everyone in the organization. But if his power reverts to the 20-something range it was in 2007-08, the Cubs are probably better off looking elsewhere for a first baseman. It’s not the toughest position on the diamond to fill. Depending on who’s available as a free agent (and who the Cubs feel is available in trade), Hendry might look to bring back Derrek short term (no more than, say, two years or one plus an option).  But it could well be his final year on the North Side.
One caveat to any scenario involving players after this season is that there’s no guarantee the GM and manager will be back. Lou’s in the final year of his contract, and the new owners have not committed to keeping the front office intact beyond this season. (although I think it would take an utter collapse of a 2010 season to result in a shakeup).

Once again I would like to thank Cubs beat reporter for the Sun Times Gordon Wittenmyer for taking part in a Q&A session with Cubbies Crib.


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