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Cubs got Eyre, but Pierre? Odds favor Sox

 

November 19, 2005

 

BY CHRIS DE LUCA AND DOUG PADILLA Staff Reporters

 

Round 1 of the Cubs-White Sox offseason battle went to the Cubs, who snatched left-handed reliever Scott Eyre away from a world championship team that was trying to strengthen an already-strong bullpen.

 

Round 2 could come down to which team lands speedy center fielder Juan Pierre from the Florida Marlins.

 

The Cubs have the most interest in Pierre, who could be the leadoff hitter they crave or a No. 2 hitter if general manager Jim Hendry pulls the coup of the offseason by signing free-agent shortstop -- and dangerous leadoff hitter -- Rafael Furcal.

 

But the White Sox have the better goods to lock up Pierre.

 

Though industry sources say the Marlins haven't made a firm decision to deal Pierre, the cash-strapped team is looking to trim its payroll. Pierre, 28, made $3.7 million last season and is eligible for arbitration this winter. Despite an off year in which he hit .276, Pierre stole 57 bases -- fourth most in the majors -- and would easily top $4 million in salary for 2006.

 

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is said to have grown frustrated with Pierre's weak arm in center field and his inconsistent performance in 2005.

 

Pierre would be an upgrade over inconsistent Corey Patterson. But the Marlins are seeking to rebuild their bullpen and would want relievers in return. Even after signing Eyre to a three-year, $11 million contract Thursday, the Cubs might not have enough extra relievers to entice the Marlins.

 

The Sox, however, are shopping Damaso Marte, who had been their left-handed setup man until Neal Cotts assumed the role late in the regular season and into the postseason. Marte, who turns 31 on Feb. 14, is entering the final year of a three-year, $4.5 million contract that calls for a $2.25 million salary in 2006.

 

Marte was at the center of trade talks between the Sox and Marlins -- involving a discussed trade for pitcher A.J. Burnett -- before the July 31 non-waivers trading deadline. The Marlins are still believed to be interested in Marte despite his second-half struggles. In 34 outings before the All-Star break, he was 3-2 with a 2.81 ERA. After the break, he went 0-1 with a 5.03 ERA.

 

A sore spot with the Sox was Marte's struggles against left-handed batters last season, allowing a .267 batting average compared to .244 by right-handed hitters.

 

Marte will try to rebound by pitching in the Dominican winter league, agent Martin Arburua said.

 

Arburua added he would not be surprised if the Sox dealt his client.

 

"Before the trade deadline, yes, they were shopping him,'' Arburua said. "It would not surprise me. They have Neal Cotts now, who is a solid lefty and really came on this year.''

 

If the Sox land Pierre, they likely would bat him second behind Scott Podsednik. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who batted second this past season, could be dropped lower in the lineup, where the Sox could take advantage of his power. A Pierre deal would push center fielder Aaron Rowand out the door.

 

The Marlins might also have interest in Rowand, who will earn $3.25 million next season.

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