No April fool's gag: Walker earns start

BaseballSportsManagement ChangeNeifi PerezTodd WalkerChicago CubsRonny Cedeno

The three-way battle for second base has been one of the intriguing stories in Cubs camp, particularly because Todd Walker made it so.

After being on the trading block for five months and briefly getting into manager Dusty Baker's doghouse with comments about an alleged promise Baker made to start him, Walker turned out to be the surprise winner.

Baker named Walker his starting second baseman for the first two games in Cincinnati, then referred to him as his "primary" starter over Jerry Hairston and Neifi Perez.

The news was surprising because Baker and general manager Jim Hendry had been effusive in their praise of Hairston this spring, while Walker seemed the odd man out.

While Baker said Perez would back up shortstop Ronny Cedeno and that he would find playing time for Hairston, the acquisition of Oakland utility player Freddie Bynum throws yet another candidate into the picture.

Bynum, who was acquired Friday night in a three-way deal that sent left-hander John Koronka to Texas, can play all three outfield positions in addition to second, short and third.

Baker met with Walker, Hairston and Perez before Friday's game at Cashman Field to let them know where they stood. He told them Walker would play Monday against Cincinnati's Aaron Harang and then again Wednesday against Bronson Arroyo.

"Everybody plays on my team," Baker said. "And there's a spot and time for all of them. It's not a platoon. It's a situation of who I think is better suited that day to help us win—whether we need offense, speed, defense …

"Neifi is a guy I can put anywhere, and he's prepared to play one or two places if something happens. I told them all to stay ready, all to pull for each other. No envy, no jealousy, and we can make this work."

But Baker buried the lead. After saying everyone would play, he hinted Walker would play the most, at least for now.

"You can read into it," he said. Walker "at this point, is probably my primary second baseman. Then I have a secondary [in Hairston], and then secondary sometimes turns primary."

Got that?

Hairston had been considered the favorite since camp started. But, like pitcher Jerome Williams, Hairston found out as camp ended that his starting spot was not set.

"Like I told him, I didn't expect him to be happy," Baker said. "But I expect you to respect it and accept it.

"He's not shelved by any means. And I also told him to stay ready for the outfield too. I'll get him in there—often. I wish I could've gotten Bynum earlier, just to see his strengths and weakness."

The 26-year-old Bynum, a left-handed hitter, batted .278 at Triple-A Sacramento last year with 28 steals. Despite a good spring with the A's, he was out of options and wasn't going to make the final cut.

Some compare him to the Los Angeles Angels' Chone Figgins because of his speed and ability to play anywhere.

"He's a real interesting guy," Hendry said. "He's an outstanding athlete, a very versatile guy.

"He has had a great spring, a spring like [Angel] Pagan, but with a little less power. He's even better suited in our league, double-switch-wise. It was a good move for us to add another athlete. We just thought it was a good gamble."

Koronka, who was 1-2 with a 7.47 ERA in a brief stay with the Cubs last year, will go into the starting rotation with Texas, which recently lost starter Adam Eaton to injury.

As part of the deal, the Rangers sent right-hander Juan Dominguez to the A's for lefty John Rheinecker.

psullivan@tribune.com

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