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[President Theodore Roosevelt, offering only recently heeded advice to the North Siders:  “on-base percentage!”]

The following sentence actually appeared in the Chicago Tribune yesterday: “After 2 years of playoff heartache, the Cubs head to Mesa believing Lou Piniella finally has the kind of team he needs to land the big prize.”  Trib headline writers offer that up without a trace of irony, gall, derision, or nary a chortle.  Do I congratulate them as models of objective journalism or as a loyal Tribco employees? At any rate, Paul Sullivan sizes up the Cub 2008/9 off-season moves that have finally made this team the Lou Piniella Cubs.  Mr. Sullivan reports here, with a little self-pity from Dusty Baker thrown in to close it, that the answer to 101 years of post-season futility is on-base percentage:

At last month’s Cubs Convention, Piniella pointed to the addition of “on-base people” like Milton Bradley and Aaron Miles plus a more “athletic” outfield with Bradley and backup Joey Gathright. From the beginning, Piniella has wanted a team with balance, speed, versatility and plate discipline. What he didn’t want was a roster with too many one-dimensional players lacking defensive skills, such as Barrett, Jones, Floyd, Murton and Ward.

“I’ll be able to rest this team a lot better because everybody can play defense,” said Piniella, whose team will take the field for its first workouts Feb. 14. “I like our situation.”

General manager Jim Hendry seems to be paying attention to on-base percentage, a stat the Cubs have not been known to embrace in the past.

“We’ve been paying attention to it for a while,” said Hendry, insisting the Cubs began emphasizing it in the farm system when Dusty Baker was the manager. “We’ve made adjustments to the modern era.

“At the same time, I still like guys ¦ you can take their batting average in the first six innings, and to me it’s about half as important as the batting average in the seventh, eighth and ninth. But you have to take notice when people like Bradley have that kind of pop and still have that tremendous on-base percentage.”

Unless the Cubs make a major trade before Opening Day, their payroll will be between $130 million and $135 million, slightly higher than it was at the end of last year and still tops in the division.

The Cubs will open the season as consensus favorites to win the division again. No National League Central rival made a significant free-agent signing this off-season, though they all play in modern ballparks with seemingly greater revenue-enhancing opportunities than the Cubs at antiquated Wrigley Field.

Yet Baker, who managed in Chicago from 2003-06, said it’s hard for the others to compete with the Cubs because of their willingness to outspend their rivals.

“That’s part of the challenge,” said Baker, who now manages the Reds. “I’ve never been with a team that had the most resources. Never. I wouldn’t mind being in that situation sometime before I quit.”