Cubs accelerate in drive for pitching
Talks with Lilly in advanced stages; Piniella assisting Hendry
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cubs general manager Jim Hendry stepped up his efforts to add some starting pitching on Tuesday when he talked with the agents for pitchers Ted Lilly, Gil Meche and Jason Schmidt. Lou Piniella got into the act, too.
Piniella helped in the recruiting process by calling Meche, who was on his staff in Seattle from 1999-2002, and was expected to call Lilly, too. Meche was 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA in 32 starts last season with the Mariners. Hendry met with his representatives, Casey Close and Greg Landry, on Tuesday.
"I think players are no different than any of us would be," Hendry said about Piniella's impact. "Players talk to players, players talk to players who have played for certain people. Those opinions count as much as dollars and cents. You don't find too many people who have played for Lou Piniella who wouldn't stand up and say they'd do it again."
Piniella was involved in Hendry's meeting with free agent Alfonso Soriano, and he signed with the Cubs. The $136 million Soriano agreed to helped the Cubs' sales pitch, too.
Hendry did meet Tuesday with Larry O'Brien, who represents Lilly, a left-hander coveted by several teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays. Lilly has pitched for the Blue Jays since 2004, and was 15-13 with a 4.31 ERA last season.
"I feel like we're probably in the final group, but at the end of the day, Ted will decide what situation is best for him," Hendry said. "It wasn't a discussion of who's in first or second."
Neither Hendry nor O'Brien set a deadline for Lilly to pick a team.
"We're probably not going to be making a decision for the next day or two," O'Brien said Tuesday afternoon. "I just got out of a meeting with the Chicago Cubs. It was very productive.
"There's some other clubs involved also," O'Brien said. "I have another meeting [Tuesday] with [Yankees general manager] Brian Cashman. I don't know the level of their interest. We also are having some conversations with the Giants. They may become more serious later on [Tuesday], I'm not sure."
The Yankees' interest may have cooled after their successful bid for Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa.
The Cubs did make an offer last week, and tweaked their proposal on Tuesday. Neither Hendry nor O'Brien would reveal the latest figures.
"I really don't want to comment on the numbers but, in light of what [Vicente] Padilla signed for, I think four years and $40 [million] has got to be right in the ballpark," O'Brien said. "I think to wait for Barry Zito to get something done -- the way that Scott [Boras] kind of negotiates -- we could be waiting for another month or six weeks. I don't think we're going to be doing that. I think we'll be making our decision relatively soon. It could be as soon as before the Winter Meetings break up. If it's not, it would be in the next week or so, I would imagine."
The Texas Rangers and Padilla settled on a three-year, $33 million contract, with an option for a fourth year at $12 million.
Hendry said he did not know if the talks with Lilly would extend beyond this week.
"From a general manager's point of view, you hope you can work deals to conclusion sooner than later," Hendry said. "Every guy's different. Some players want to get the situation narrowed down and boom, 'I want to go there if you can work it out.' Other guys toss and turn for a few days. I don't have a history with Ted."
O'Brien did describe the talks with the Cubs as "becoming very advanced."
"I'm not going to go into details on [financial terms], but they've pretty much indicated to me that they're willing to pay what is going to need to be paid to get Ted Lilly," O'Brien said.
Hendry did talk on the phone Tuesday with Alan Hendricks, who represents Schmidt, one of the top free agents still available. Schmidt has not limited his search for a new team to the West Coast. The right-hander has averaged 30 starts, 14 wins, 200 innings and 200 strikeouts over the last five seasons with the San Francisco Giants.
Schmidt also isn't insisting on a long-term deal.
"I think when a player has been successful for a long time, and they start thinking about the end of their career, they start trying to map out when they want to quit playing," said agent Randy Hendricks, who also represents Schmidt. "The next decision is less about accumulating all the money they can get and more about what seems to work best, all things considered."
Besides pitching, the Cubs are interested in adding a left-handed bat, and Hendry also talked to the agents who represent outfielder Cliff Floyd. The Cubs have requested medical information on Floyd, who was hampered by a sore left Achilles tendon at the end of last season.
"There's no timetable," Hendry said of his talks regarding Floyd. "We're trying to sort out the pitching and trying to move forward on that."
Now to the rumors: There was a report that the Cubs were part of a three-day deal involving the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates, in which pitcher Jason Jennings would come to Chicago in exchange for outfielder Jacque Jones. However, the Cubs have not talked to the Rockies at all.
Jones also reportedly "formally requested" a trade, but Hendry would not confirm that.
"If guys don't want to be in a certain place, you try to accommodate them," Hendry said. "I'm not big on conversations that happened between players and agents, and agents and front office people."
Asked if he had a sense that Jones was unhappy with the Cubs, Hendry said he had a good relationship with the outfielder.
"Obviously, he had some tough times earlier in the year that he got through," Hendry said of Jones, who hit .285 with 27 homers and 81 RBIs in his first season in Chicago. "I think the Cubs were very supportive of him, and I think a lot of people put unfair expectations on him. At the end of the day, Jacque Jones did exactly what we hoped he would when we signed him."
What about free agent outfielder Kenny Lofton? Hendry wouldn't say whether there was interest.
"Obviously, we need some left-handed hitting in the outfield or on the bench," he said. "Some names have stayed the same, and other new names have popped up."
Hendry and his scouts meet every morning to discuss the names, and create Plans A, B, C.
"The pool changes or the direction can change with one signing and one trade," Hendry said. "We're not trying to eliminate anybody, because it could change. Maybe you trade for a pitcher who doesn't cost as much as signing another one, so then you put your dollars back elsewhere, so it's a rotating thing."
The Cubs will add pitching. It's impossible to say when.
"We had such an aggressive, positive run out of [the general manager meetings], and then it slowed down," Hendry said. "When we first got here, I think we wanted to get something done right away.
"Conversations are picking up," he said. "Sooner or later, people have to make decisions on where they're going. I think it's starting to move at a pace where we're getting a little anxious, maybe getting a little excited and maybe we can do something while we're here. You can't promise it. It's moving at a pace that we're comfortable with."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.