The Cubs' top priority this offseason is to acquire a first baseman, but Jim Hendry will leave the General Managers Meetings on Thursday with a big vacancy there on his depth chart now that Micah Hoffpauir is headed to Japan.
An official announcement was expected Friday, but sources said Wednesday that Hoffpauir, 30, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Nippon Ham Fighters. In 162 games with the Cubs over three seasons, Hoffpauir batted .251, including a .342 average in 33 games in 2008. A 13th-round Draft pick by the Cubs in 2002, he has a career .287 average in nine Minor League seasons.
Hoffpauir can hope he has the same success in Japan that former Cubs outfielder Matt Murton did this past season with the Hanshin Tigers, when he set a single-season record for hits.
If the regular season began today, Tyler Colvin would most likely be the Cubs' first baseman, and he hasn't played there since doing so part-time in his college career at Clemson.
There is a large market of free agents available, including Carlos Pena, Lyle Overbay, Adam LaRoche and Adam Dunn, and Hendry said he has started general discussions with agents as well as other teams regarding possible trades.
"I didn't assume coming here that I would be coming out of [the Meetings] with a free agent [signed]," Hendry said. "I'm just trying to set the tone for the next couple months."
He did take advantage of the gathering at the Waldorf-Astoria to talk to some clubs that he had not touched base with since the season ended. General managers and agents will meet again Dec. 6 for baseball's annual Winter Meetings, also to be held in Orlando.
There was some action at the GM Meetings. Hendry said he wasn't surprised to see reliever Joaquin Benoit signed so quickly. The right-hander agreed to a three-year deal with the Tigers for $16.5 million on Wednesday.
"Always in November, you'll get people ready to pounce on relievers," Hendry said. "I did it way back with Mike Remlinger and with Scott Eyre and Bob Howry. Those were all done early. You see it every year, and those guys get good deals."
The Cubs will be patient. Their payroll will not be as high as it was in 2010, when they led the National League at $144 million. That means Hendry needs to be creative. Last year, he dealt Milton Bradley to the Mariners for Carlos Silva and cash, and the Cubs were able to sign Marlon Byrd to a three-year deal and add free agent Xavier Nady.
"Things can change, economics can change," Hendry said. "Except for the couple years we spent a lot of money [in 2007-08], we've always thought, 'Maybe this is what we're going to work with,' and over the winter, we did add on, on top of that. If there are people who fit the areas we need to address, for the most part, we'll try to keep a lot of the possibilities alive. You always hear 'so and so' might not get traded. You never know."
The Cubs do have to finalize the 40-man roster by Friday, and they were expected to add Minor Leaguers Chris Archer and Brandon Guyer to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. They're part of a wave of young talent emerging in the organization.
"We have a good nucleus of young guys and need to fill in the cracks a little bit," Hendry said. "We're on the right track of producing within the system."
There just isn't a first baseman in the group.
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