Ask Paul returns to answer questions about Dusty's reprieve, the snub of Sammy, how to handle abuse from those haughty Royals fans and more.

Hearing that Derrek Lee's re-entry onto the DL ensures Baker will remain until year's end is not only nauseating but only going to fuel the rumor that Baker's extension is already signed and the Cubs have just been waiting for the right time to announce it. Can someone ask Hendry point-blank whether there is an agreement already in place? --Brian Perry, Naperville, Ill.

If an agreement was already in place, Baker would not have been acting so uptight the last few weeks, a word Scott Eyre aptly used in describing his manager. I've never heard a player publicly call his own manager uptight, and I covered Terry Bevington for two seasons. Eyre added that he also was uptight, and he could've been speaking of several of his teammates as well. The Cubs did the right move in telling Baker he was safe for the rest of the season, but it's no given he'll return. Perhaps Hendry should offer Baker one more year at a reduced salary, say $3-$3.5 million, which would at least address the fact the Cubs have underachieved the last two seasons.

Paul, as we're coming toward the end of the 2006 season, what is the verdict on the experiment of Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno? Have either a chance to stick around long-term for the Cubs? And any chance you are related to the great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan? --Benjamin Nelson, Forest Park, Ill.

Both of them have a ways to go to prove they are everyday major leaguers. Murton has overcome a prolonged slump and is hitting well in July, up to .285, but the Cubs need more out of left field than a .285 singles hitter with no real feel for fly balls at the wall in Wrigley. Cedeno hasn't hit in the last two months and looks worn down. It's too soon to give up on them, but no, the experiment has not worked out and the Cubs will at least have to debate changes in the offseason. No, I am not related to great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, but my apartment is tastefully decorated by the great Chicago decorater, the House of Jauss.

With the season pretty much over and the future in limbo, I think the Cubs should make a blockbuster trade and send Carlos Zambrano to the Mets for Lastings Milledge, Mike Pelfry and Jorge Padilla. The Mets are willing to give up Milledge for Zito and he'll be a free agent. Zambrano is signed, has better numbers and is younger so he would get more in return. Is this crazy or a reasonable possibility? --Ryan J. Sparks, Lewiston, Mont.

Sorry, I've stopped taking e-mails about wacky trades. Maybe next year. And please stop sending e-mails about the Cubs getting A-Rod.

In your July 23 article you mention, "there is little doubt the team must rid itself of negativity and jealousy to improve its chemistry." Do team officials know which players or coaches are the source of these problems? I really need something to be optimistic about. I've been a Cub fan for over 50 years and am about to give up. I live in Kansas City and even the Royals fans are relentless in dogging me about the Cubs. --Jan Olson, Lake Lotawana, Mo.

It doesn't get any lower than being dogged by Royals fans. I know both of them, and they are relentless in pointing out their superiority over the Cubs. I don't think team officials are concerned about the chemistry because they probably don't believe some of the players are either jealous and/or negative. That was just an observation from someone who is in the clubhouse almost every day and has been around teams that enjoy each others' company.

The Cubs may be the most undisciplined hitting team in major league history. Does the team actually have a take sign and do the coaches and players know what it means? --Rick Rosenberg, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Yes, they do have a take sign. It stands for "take a hack and see what happens."

I guess the only time a Cubs starter seems to be getting a K these days is by pulling a muscle the character on the Sopranos Jackie Aprile called an Obliq-K. --Walter Brzeski, Chicago

I have no idea of what you're talking about, Walter, but I do believe the Sopranos went downhill after Jackie Aprile met his untimely demise.

As a die hard and life long White Sox fan I won't lose too much sleep over the Cubs woes this season. If you guys do want to win (and that is debatable) when you fire Baker (c'mon we know its gonna happen) I have a perfect coach for you. JERRY MANUEL! The man knows Chicago baseball, was a former AL manager of the year and his White Sox team went to the playoffs (and won it all a couple of years after his departure). And look at the job he is doing with the New York Mets. --Vandell Stewart, Nederland, Texas

While Jerry Manuel deserves to manage again, it certainly would be a stretch to bring him back to Chicago, even though he and Hendry have a very good relationship. I think Manuel would be better off in Washington after Frank Robinson "retires." It is amazing that Manuel doesn't get mentioned much in job openings while MLB teams simply recycle the new-age, old-boys network of Hargrove, Melvin, Tracy and the like. Few clubs will take the risks that the White Sox and Cubs do when it comes to hiring its managers, preferring the sausage factory approach.

Please tell me why the Cubs want to trade Greg Maddux? I don't get it? I still think he has a lot to offer! He is good with the young pitchers! He has so much knowledge and is a class act! It's not his fault he isn't getting the run support he needs! I love the guy and he NEEDS to retire as a CUB and come back as their pitching coach! Get rid of Hendry! --Rae Lynn, Marion, Iowa

The Cubs only want what's best for Maddux. He deserves the option of staying or going to a contender. I hope he stays because he's still fun to watch pitch, despite his drop-off, and he is always accountable and available to speak after games, even when he's had a very, very bad day. Some of his fellow pitchers should watch and understand that dealing with the media is simply part of the job.

Paul, why are the Cubs so sold on Roberto Novoa? His ERA has consistently been over 5 most of the year and Dusty keeps bringing him in at crucial times. Why not give Kerry Lightenberg a chance from AAA? He has been in the majors before and has had a good year for Iowa. --Mike Signore, Grandville, Mich.

Novoa hasn't pitched well at all the last couple of months, but never seems to be in danger of losing his spot. He's got a good fastball and is a workhorse, but the numbers suggest he needs more work in the minors. Michael Wuertz should've been up a long time ago.

Hey, Paul, how is Felix Pie coming along, and how is that progress affecting the future of Juan Pierre? It seems like it would be a shame to waste all those prospects in Florida for a sub-par rental year from J.P. --Adrian Trela, Miami, Fla.

Not well. Pie is seemingly blowing his big chance to make his major league debut before September. He seems to have regressed offensively, and that's the prime part of his game. The Cubs may have no choice but to keep Pierre, who disappointed the team when it needed him in May and June. Now that he's back, Ken Williams should try to acquire Pierre for the stretch run, put Podsednik in the No. 9 hole and give the Sox two leadoff hitters and additional speed.

In all the fuss over whether Sammy Sosa should be one of the Cubs' 5 "Hometown Heroes," no one seems to have noticed that all 5 on the list (Banks, Jenkins, Sandberg, Santo, Williams) played in the '60s or later. But didn't the Cubs win the bulk of their pennants and only World Series long before the '60s? Did they do it with mirrors? --John Wilheim, Wichita, Kan.

Why did the Cubs forget their long history when putting players on MLB Hometown Heroes vote? Nothing against the 1960s Cubs, but do they really deserve 80 percent of the ballot? Frank Chase (1898-1912) and Gabby Hartnett (1922-1940) are a couple players that at least played in the World Series with the Cubs who could have been on the list. --Anthony Hutfles, San Antonio, Texas

John and Anthony, let's face the facts. The Cubs didn't put Sammy on the ballot because they were afraid he actually might win. Then MLB would have to invite him to the World Series and reporters would bring up the you-know-what controversy. The Cubs chose the '60s stars because it was the easiest thing to do and you can't really argue they weren't Cubs "heroes."

Has Neifi Perez reached the point where he is like a houseguest that just won't leave? You know he was a ton a fun and a huge help to have a around the house the week he was supposed to stay there, but that was like a month ago and he still has not left yet. --Paul J. Phelan, Gaithersburgh, Md.

I like your analogy, but I prefer to think of Neifi as an aging business traveler with a platinum card who's still racking up the hotel points on the company dime.

Paul, thanks for taking the time to answer some of the silly questions you get. I have another one that you might find it worthwhile to consider. Will the Cubs ever be a competitive team as long as they tolerate the sloppy play exhibited by the present team members? I have been a fan of the Cubs since 1928 when I was seven years old and my father took me to my first game and it used to be that no matter what they did they at least tried to do it right. In my opinion the only Cubs on the present team who seem to have any pride are some of the pitching staff and Barrett, Lee and Ramirez. I hope I am wrong but after watching the play of the middle infielders and the corner outfielders this year there just has to be someone better than the present ones somewhere in the organization. --Jack Kendall, Bayonet Point, Fla.

I think this e-mail speaks for itself, and anyone who has watched the Cubs since 1928 deserves to be heard. The Cubs outfielders and middle infielders have been defensive liabilities for the most part, capable of making great plays, like Pierre and Jones and Walker in Thursday's game against St. Louis, or getting lost in the vines, like Murton.

Thanks for all the relevant questions, and please celebrate safely on this Trade Deadline Weekend.