Column: Cubs management: spend more money

By Frank Vanderwall

I know Jim Hendry is still in Chicago and I truly hope his plan looks something like mine for this offseason. If not, I move to oust him and hire myself as the general manager with the following offseason plan.

Last year the payroll was about $95 million. That’s a good number, but we signed Lou Pinella to win…well…and throw bases. Either way, by doing that instead of taking Joe Girardi, I think we’ve made a commitment to winning and beefing up the payroll.

As GM I’m going to do whatever it takes to push the payroll to $115 million. Just for reference, it’s expected the Cubs are actually going to spend in that neighborhood next year so I haven’t gone off the deep end yet.

Next, I would tell Wood to get the crap out of Chicago. I’d buy him a buy-one-get-one-free surgery card, remind him how badly he has screwed us for the past two seasons, and we would agree to waive his mutual option at $13-plus million for the 2007 season.

With all that money I just saved I’d give Aramis Ramirez whatever he wants to stay. In fact I’d restructure his contract so that all he has to do is agree to the same deal as his current contract states, plus I’ll direct deposit $3 million into his bank account tomorrow.

The last move I make to the current roster is to re-sign Juan Pierre; I’m guessing he’ll come back for a slightly higher salary than last season so let’s give him another one-year deal worth a million more than last year.

This leaves approximately $28 million for me to spend in the offseason on free agents, so here’s the game plan:

First, we need to look at the Cubs’ needs. Their greatest need is to do something to fill the seats again for the entire year because for the first time in a long time, fans refused to come out last season. This means we need some big name players to come in and draw fans. The Cubs need a power hitting left fielder or shortstop, an A-list starting pitcher, some bench help, and a stable fourth starter. Here’s the solution.

The first signing I make is to lock down Barry Zito to a three-year deal worth $10 million this season and $12 million a year for 2008 and 2009 along with a $16 million club option for 2010. This deal would include a nice signing bonus that would be deferred over five years so we can lock him in under budget for next year. Zito will bring in the fans and be arguably the best number two starter in baseball.

Next, I get my power hitter. I’m going after a stud here because we need one, and no, it’s not A-rod. My guy is Carlos Lee down in Texas. The man likes the Midwest and he hits lights out at Wrigley Field. He is exactly what we need in the middle of our lineup.

Lee made $8.5 million last season but finished slow, which will help us sign him for less. I say we grab the 30-year-old Lee for a five-year deal at $10 million for next season, and then do whatever he will agree to for the last four years of the deal.

For my fourth starter there are two options, both of which I like. There is Vicente Padilla or Greg Maddux. Both should command about the same price. Padilla is probably cheaper and about 10 years younger, but $6-7 million should grab either guy for one year.

Finally, my favorite utility player on the market is Mark DeRosa from Texas. We might need help up the middle at some point, plus he is a great clutch hitter. We could use a solid guy that could start if needed whose name doesn’t begin with Neifi or end with Perez on our bench.

These signings would put our payroll at right around $115 million and make us instant contenders. Take a look at the projected roster for next season with these moves: Pierre, Michael Barrett, both Lees, Ramirez, Jacque Jones, Ronny Cedeno, whoever plays second (Cesar Izturis, DeRosa, Ryan Theriot), then the pitcher’s spot.

Rotation: Carlos Zambrano, Zito, Mark Prior, Maddux/Padilla, Rich Hill. Honorable mentions/Prior replacements include: Sean Marshall, Juan Mateo, and Wade Miller.

This lineup and rotation is definitely within the Cubs’ reach. It’ll take some cash and a commitment to winning, but I really think this team would play as a team and win as a team. Not to mention I could stop filling out this huge packet of divorce forms I have here. I don’t want to have to do it but if the Cubs continue to miss opportunities that are well within their reach, I’m out. Now where did I put that Florida Marlins hat I bought when I was in fifth grade?