Scouting report

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

MESA, Ariz. -- Did the Chicago Cubs have the best off-season of any team?

Or does it just seem that way?

The Cubs landed free-agent outfielder Alfonso Soriano, righty Jason Marquis, lefty Ted Lilly, infielder Mark DeRosa, outfielder Cliff Floyd, lefty reliever Neal Cotts, backup catcher Henry Blanco and pinch hitter Daryle Ward, locked up third baseman Aramis Ramirez (a five-year, $75-million US contract) and added manager Lou Piniella.

Their biggest question, once everyone gets to know everyone else and the name tags are removed, will be the starting rotation.

The Cubs are set with Carlos Zambrano (16-7, 3.41 earned-run average), Lilly (15-13, 4.31), Marquis (14-16, 6.02) and lefty Rich Hill (6-7, 4.17). After that? Well, the Cubs aren't sure, but it's not like they are without options.

In the fifth spot they could use either hard-throwing righty Mark Prior (1-6, 7.21 earned-run average in nine starts) or Wade Miller (0-2, 4.57 with the Cubs in five starts).

"Both are healthy right now, 'knock knock,' they've been throwing their bullpens," general managed Jim Hendry said. "They're set to be on schedule with everyone else."

If Prior returns to his 2003 form -- 18-6 with a 2.43 earned-run average and 245 strikeouts in 211 innings -- look out. Yet, that seems to be a stretch as the former No. 1 has been bothered by arm problems due to high pitch counts.

The Cubs gave Soriano an eight-year $136-million contract and he's pencilled into centre, a spot he has never played.

"We have Jacque Jones who can play all three positions, we have Felix Pie and we know Soriano can play left, so do I have the answer today? No," said Hendry, "but things will work out in the next seven weeks. The answers are in camp."


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