- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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Although the Chicago Cubs' offseason concentration has been focused on three areas: starting pitching, right-handed set-up men and first base, management knows that giving manager Mike Quade and his staff a shot at winning a division title will primarily depend on the five rotation pitchers.
Unless ownership changes its mind, the Cubs will have to make their additions with as little as $5 million-$7 million in available payroll. Even before the Ricketts family took over the Cubs in October 2009, payroll had been flat since December 2008, when the Tribune Co. declared bankruptcy and owner Sam Zell told team executive Crane Kenney and general manager Jim Hendry that spending money on any free agent or trade was done.
Since that day, Hendry has had to make trades -- like the Mark DeRosa deal and Milton Bradley transaction -- on a dollar-for-dollar basis. The only way he's been able to add players is trading money in order to spend it.
The Cubs were set to make right-handed pitcher Javier Vazquez their next move, but the Florida Marlins signed him for one year and $7 million on Saturday. The Cubs somehow would have made the deal work, however Vazquez told his agent that he wanted to pitch in South Florida due to the fact his daughter lives in Puerto Rico, and he would have easier access to San Juan from Miami during spring training and the regular season.
The Cubs have to look at a free-agent pitching list that is void of instant credibility. Left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee is expected to get $150 million. Right-handed pitcher Carl Pavano is looking at three years, $35 million. After that, the list drops off significantly.
At this point, the North Siders are checking on former star pitchers who have had injury problems over the past few seasons: Former Diamondbacks Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis, former Mariners pitcher Erik Bedard and former Reds starter Aaron Harang are all on that list the Cubs are perusing.
The Cubs have had conversations with agents for most of the above pitchers, getting a ballpark sense of where these pitchers are physically and what sort of contracts they're looking for.
Francis, a former Colorado ace, has had shoulder injuries the past few years, compiling a combined 8-16 record.
Webb has had continuous shoulder problems. The 2006 Cy Young winner hurt his shoulder on Opening Day, 2009, and has not pitched a major-league game since then. Webb was a Cy Young Award runner-up in '07 and '08. In early November 2010, he threw some innings in the Arizona Instructional League, testing his arm.
Bedard, whom the Cubs almost traded four players for when he was the Orioles ace, has been on the DL every year of his career. He also had arm problems last season that precluded him from pitching in the majors.
Harang, the former Reds ace was 6-7 with a 5.32 ERA in 20 starts in 2010 before injuries took their toll on the 35-year-old pitcher. He made $12.75 million in 2010.
The Cubs have $108 million committed to just nine players at this point. Six players are eligible for arbitration, and they will make between $10 million and $12 million. That brings the payroll up to $120 million committed to just 15 players.
Somehow, Hendry will have to find money to pay the other 10 players on the 25-man roster.
Bottom feeders are two words to describe the Cubs in this offseason as they approach the Winter Meetings on Dec. 6.
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