12/7 Lou on Zambrano, wish list, etc.

Lou Piniella was asked about his job status. “I’m going to sign a 15-year extension and I’ll go pull pitchers out in a golf cart,” the Cubs manager quipped Monday during his manager session at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.

Piniella addressed some other topics during his half-hour chat:

* It’s no secret the Cubs are trying to trade Milton Bradley. Could he come back?

“Look, that’s not my department,” Piinella said, deferring questions to GM Jim Hendry.

* The team has gotten good reports on players this offseason, including Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, Ted Lilly, and Carlos Zambrano.

“That was the biggest problem we had with our baseball team last year — we couldn’t keep people on the field,” he said.

Zambrano is staying in Chicago this offseason, and has dropped 15 pounds.

“Carlos has something to prove this year,” Piniella said. “He’s coming off a nine-win season. Everybody knows that he’s a lot better than that. Truthfully, I don’t want to put any pressure on him, but this is a young man who should approach 20 wins every year with his stuff and physique. Hopefully, this is the year he gets to that.”

* The team has reportedly been talking to free agent CF Mike Cameron, who played for Piniella when the two were in Seattle.

“As a player and a person, I have the utmost respect for him,” Piniella said. “I had him in Seattle and got along with him well. He can play. He likes to play. As far as linking him with our team, you have to talk to Jim Hendry about those things. Mike certainly is a real good ballplayer.”

This offseason, Piniella’s wish list includes someone who can drive in runs and a more experienced right-handed pitcher for the bullpen. Last year, the emphasis was on finding a left-handed bat. “I don’t think it matters any more,” Piniella said. “Let’s keep people healthy on the field and let them produce. Sometimes you get in a situation where the player you specifically want is not there and you start forcing things. Let’s get the best player that we possibly can and go from there.”

* Do they have enough backup at third base? Piniella said Jeff Baker will handle that, and also play some outfield this spring.

* They’re not looking for another starting pitcher. The Cubs now have seven pitchers for five spots: Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall. Lilly, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November, could miss the first month of the season.

* The Cubs are set with Carlos Marmol as the closer. “Getting one more veteran would help stabilize things,” Piniella said.

* Phenom Starlin Castro was expected to open the 2010 season in the Minors. “It’s a question of readiness and not having to rush,” Piniella said. “Truthfully, I’m very happy with [Ryan] Theriot. Eventually, this young man [Castro] will be the shortstop here. He only had 50, 60, 70 at-bats in Double-A. I would think the natural progression would be for him to play in Triple-A but we’ll see.”

* No more questions about where Alfonso Soriano will play. He’ll bat sixth in the Cubs’ lineup. “I think that’s what’s best for him,” Piniella said.

* Is it more challenging to win in Chicago than elsewhere?

“I think it’s challenging anywhere,” Piniella said. “People don’t realize, it’s hard to win, period. It really is; it’s not easy. We’ve had three winning seasons since I’ve been in Chicago, two divisional titles. We haven’t had success in the postseason. That probably has been my biggest disappointment. Last year, if somebody had told any of us that we would have your top people out for 30 days or more as many as we had, you’d say ‘ouch.’ You take away top people from any team, there’s going to be a dropoff. Stay healthy this year, do a few things over the winter, we’ll get it done in Chicago this summer.”

— Carrie Muskat


It’s nice to see that big Z is working out and shedding some weight and getting in top physical condition. He is going to bounce back and have a great season I hope,

I agree, if there is one player on the Cubs that always gets me hooked on eternal optimism it’s Zambrano. He’s still young, strong and has a ton of passion for winning. So even though I have very little if any hope for Hendry becoming a smarter, better GM or Soriano becoming a smarter, better hitter (defensively, let’s face it THERE IS NO HOPE) I have a lot of hope and optimism that Zambrano will become a smarer, better pitcher in 2010. He’s just taking a little longer in his maturation process, I guess.

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