According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Chris De Luca, a healthy Derek Lee, along with the additions of Lou Piniella and Alfonso Soriano should render the Cubs “runaway favorites to win the National League Central in 2007.”   Bold stuff considering De Luca also acknowledges the center field situation is unresolved, and the Carlos Zambrano (above) aside, Chicago’s starting rotation is far from imposing.

Jim Hendry’s biggest belief has been that 80 percent of baseball happens on the pitcher’s mound. When he had Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano at his disposal, Hendry usually felt good — at least at this time of year — about his pitching.

But this is a new era for Cubs pitching, built around 25-year-old All-Star Zambrano and a safety net of veterans — Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Wade Miller and Prior — that gives the Cubs more veteran starters vying for the rotation than at any other time during Hendry’s tenure as GM. Youngsters Rich Hill and Sean Marshall also seem ready.

As with Mark DeRosa, the Lilly and Marquis signings did little to get fans excited. But the Cubs are looking for their starters to eat up innings — and they believe they now have such a staff.

”Healthwise, we should be better, which is a good place to start,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. ”These guys have had success, so we just have to decipher what went wrong and try to fix it. It’s good going in with guys who have produced innings, which is what we really need.”

Cleveland signed Trot Nixon
to a one year, $3 million pact earlier today, and given that Nixon’s taking a pay cut from his Red Sox salary, I supposed buying a clean helmet is out of the question.

The Braves have signed Craig Wilson to a one-year, $2 million deal.  Wilson (.251, 17 HR’s, 49 RBI’s in 2006 for the Yankees and Pirates) is expected to platoon with Ryan Langerhans in right field, along with spending some time at first.

Apparently, Tony La Russa and Scott Rolen haven’t spoken this offseason.  So it’s been a pleasant winter for each of them.

Columbine-fearing Jim Leyland gets plenty of grief around here, but credit where it is due, not even the billion year-old chain smoker would try to put lipstick on the pig that is Neifi Perez (link taken from Baseball Musings)