Paul Sullivan's Cubs mailbag

Ask Paul returns from hibernation to address burning issues such as Felix Pie's playing time, Big Z's velocity and, of course, whether Soriano should be leading off.

So much for our starting pitching surplus! Paul, do you think we messed up by not trading for a good No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher? --Garrett Webb, Paragould, Ariz.

Well, we're off and running with more angst over the Cubs rotation. I think it's a little too early to start writing off Lilly and Hill, but the Cubs made the right move in keeping Sean Marshall and signing Jon Lieber, just in case of situations like this. Obviously they are not going to demote Lilly, who has a four-year, $40 million deal. But Hill is definitely on the bubble. Remember, Hill, Lilly, Marquis and Zambrano were all part of a rotation that finished second in NL starting ERA last year.

Hey, Paul, now that it's a new season, are we allowed to discuss you know who and you know who else? By the way, who were these guys? --Gary Kostka, Las Vegas

Yes, you are allowed to discuss Kerry Wood, a.k.a., you know who else, but not Mark Prior, a.k.a., you know who. As you know, you know who has taken his towel to San Diego's disabled list. You know who else is now an active member of the Cubs, so any relevant questions about him are fair game.

I am a lifelong Cubs fan. I follow the Cubs everyday. How much does trade speculation distract players? Is it a hot topic in the locker room? --James M. Perry, Indianapolis

Players shouldn't be distracted by trade speculation because they have guaranteed contracts that pay them the same amount of money no matter where they play. But it obviously happens, and it definitely got on Mark DeRosa's nerves this winter, probably because the Cubs tried to replace him with Kaz Matsui, and then Brian Roberts. Everyone wants to feel wanted, even millionaires.

Do you see Reed Johnson taking over in centerfield for Pie? What are the chances that Tyler Colvin is the starting centerfielder in 2009? --T. Miller, Las Vegas

Not yet, but Pie's rope is getting shorter by the day. Don't think Tyler Colvin will be ready by 2009. Maybe 2010. But Johnson was a good pick-up for '08 in case Pie really can't hit major league pitching.

Is Felix Pie ever going to get a chance to play? The guy wins the game for them in the 15th inning and can't even get a start the next day. Reed Johnson probably won't even be with the team in 1 or 2 years. It seems they are messing with his head and won't be able to develop him in the same way they couldn't develop Patterson. --Andrew, Champaign, Ill.

Felix didn't play much during the Pennsylvania Marathon because the Cubs faced a lot of left-handers on the road trip. He should get an opportunity against the Cincinnati Dustys this week, but, as Rich Hill discovered already, Lou Piniella's lack of patience is apparently at an all-time low.

How long are we going to waste our time with Felix Pie? Isn't it time to just give up on CP Part II? What do you think the Cubs could get for him? Does it even matter at this point anymore? --Brent, Chicago

Wow, I hope I don't have to put a moratorium on Felix Pie questions. It's only two weeks into the season already. Settle down.

After another disappointing trip to Philadelphia, have the Cubs not done well in Philly the last couple of years? --Mike Madsen, Reisterstown Md.

They are 7-14 in Philly under three different managers since 2002, so I'd have to say yes. As Lou said, it's not the city of brotherly love for the Cubs. And it's very dirty, too.

Hey, Paul, with the recent struggles of pitchers like Lilly, Hill, and Marquis, do you think Jim Hendry might consider trading for a legitimate 1 or 2 starter to back up Big Z? How about trading for Matt Cain? I know San Francisco considers him untouchable, but with a package of Hill, Pie, Cedeno, Murton, and a young arm like Jose Ceda that would be pretty hard to turn down. Especially for a team like the Giants, which is in rebuilding mode. --Al, Naperville, Ill.

No team is going to make a major trade like that this early in the season. And even if Hendry was interested in Cain, there's no chance the Giants would give him away, so it's ridiculous to speculate about it.

I think the Cubs need to put Sean Marshall and Jon Lieber in the rotation if Lilly and Hill don't get their acts together. Maybe even bring up "The Shark"? What do you think? --Ryan M., Glendale Heights, Ill.

I don't think the Shark, also known as Jeff Samardzija, is ready. Marshall and Lieber are both good options, as we've already stated.

Why doesn't the manager bite the bullet and establish a lineup and STICK with it? Johnson/Pie, Theriot, Fukudome, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Soto, DeRosa, Speed at the top with power following! --Dusty Glen, Kennesaw, Ga.

I fantasized about that lineup last night and woke up in a cold sweat. Pie's speed doesn't matter if he can't get on, but I do like Fukudome in the 3-hole.

Paul, did you consider joining the storm troopers and Darth Vader on top of the dugout in Philadelphia to celebrate Star Wars night? --Phil "The Thrill", Chicago

No, but I did enjoy hearing the p.a. announcer tell Philly fans that Darth Vader was a Cubs fan. And I thoroughly enjoyed watching Carlos Zambrano steal the keys to the Philly Phanatic's ATV on Sunday? I've never seen the Phanatic so livid.

Even a casual fan like me knows Alfonso Soriano is not a leadoff man. So, is he leading off because he says so and the entire organization must bow to his wishes regardless of what's best for the team or because Lou believes he is really is a lead off hitter, which I can't believe. If Soriano can't hit anywhere but lead off, it's time to trade him, don't you think? --Gary, Front Royal, Va.

Do you really think someone is going to want to acquire Soriano with over 6 1/2 years left on his $136 million contract and the possibility of more leg problems down the road? Soriano is leading off because the Cubs don't have a prototypical leadoff man, and he's done it more often than anyone else on the roster. We all know they tried to get Matsui and Roberts for months, so obviously they'd move him down if they had a suitable replacement.

Dear, Paul, the Cubs are playing like garbage, yet they are on a pace for 94 wins. Are they this good and lucky, or is the early season success due to playing half their games against the Pirates and Astros? --Bobby Goldsborough, Champaign, Ill.

The Cubs could lose the next two games and be on pace to win 81 games, so please refrain from using any "on pace" analogies after only 12 games. They're fortunate to be 7-5, as Piniella even conceded, with their rotation issues and lack of hitting from Soriano. But it's too early to make any real judgments on this season.

Why hasn't Hendry shown any interest in signing Kenny Lofton? He's still a productive major leaguer on a near every-day basis (.367 OBP, 23 SB's in 2007). He would be a poor-man's Brian Roberts at the top of the order, as we wouldn't have to trade any young talent. What gives? --Adam Hicks, Chicago

No one has shown any interest in signing Kenny Lofton, so maybe the problem is Kenny Lofton, not the rest of baseball. He might be a good second-half pick-up for someone, but that's a question to be asked in July.

I watched the first Cubs/Phillies game on MLB TV last night and I got the Phillies broadcast. One of things that all of the announcers kept commenting on besides Zambrano still being emotional was that his velocity was way down. He's giving up almost no walks which is a good thing, but doesn't the lack of velocity make him less dominant and more hittable? --Alice Gallagher, Mt. Angel, Ore.

Zambrano said the other night that something is "wrong" with his fastball, but Larry Rothschild wasn't too concerned: "I think it was a game where he just didn't feel real strong, which you've seen it on occasion ... It was just one of those games." Zambrano is not someone the Cubs are worried about.

Hey Paul, what happened to Micah Hoffpauir? I've been looking at the Iowa Cubs box scores in the paper and don't see his name. He tore it up in spring training and just assumed he'd be Iowa's starting first baseman. Did the Cubs trade him? --Roger Goudschaal, Tripoli, Iowa

He's out of action in Triple-A Iowa with an oblique strain, which is a shame since he showed Piniella so much during spring training. Still, Micah needs to learn to play the outfield in the minors to have a real shot with the Cubs, since Derrek Lee isn't going anywhere soon.

As for a closer intro for Kerry Wood, how about "Would" by Alice in Chains. Cool base intro for when he enters the game. First words of the song rhyme with Kerry's last name. Kerry likes alt music right? Please pass this comment on to the Cubs so they can play a song that makes sense when he enters the game to close the door. --Steve, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Wood has already said he doesn't want an entrance song, and we've closed the door on suggestions after receiving over 400 last month, including "Would" by several readers. Please, send all future suggestions to the Cubs marketing department, not Ask Paul.

I have read recent articles where former players and managers were blaming the Chicago media for the Cubs' lack of a World Series title. So I thought I would ask you how you plan to contribute to the Cubs' yearly demise? --Paul, Round Rock, Texas

I googled that and couldn't find any articles in which former players and managers blamed the Chicago media for the Cubs' lack of a World Series. But nice try, Paul. Great to be back answering all your relevant questions. Please send all your complaints about this column to gknue@tribune.com.

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