‘Kick-ass,’ or just contenders

Considering the moves made by the Astros and the Cardinals recently, General Manager Jim Hendry’s apparent lack of interest in further upgrading the Cubs’ offense is disappointing.

The Astros, of course, signed lefthander Andy Pettite and may yet get Roger Clemens on the deal. While some say Pettitte is overrated (he’s from New York, after all), it should be clear that he will pitch 200 quality innings and knows how to win games.

With Oswalt, Miller and Pettitte, the Astros’ top three now gives the Cubs a definite run for their money. And they still have the better offense.

Now the Cardinals have traded J.D. Drew for some badly needed pitching and freed up salary room to sign another pitcher as a free agent. With their offense, even a slight improvement on the pitching side will have the Cards right back in the mix in the NL Central.

So how do the Cubs respond?

Hendry continues to look for spare parts, which undoubtedly are important but can be had at good prices later in the offseason.

Here’s what Tribune beat writer Paul Sullivan has to say about the Pudge talk:

Though White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters on Saturday that Florida catcher Ivan Rodriguez wants to play for the Cubs, Hendry reiterated he has had no talks with agent Scott Boras about signing him. Guillen, a good friend of Rodriguez’s, said he is “looking to go” to Chicago and added the Cubs have the money to make it happen.

Informed of Guillen’s remarks, Hendry jokingly asked if Guillen was in on Tribune Co. board meetings and knew how much money he was able to spend. The Cubs have interest in Rodriguez only if he comes at a cut-rate price. If Baltimore signs Atlanta free-agent catcher Javy Lopez, Rodriguez may not have any other suitors and thus would have to lower his demands significantly.

In other words, there is nothing currently in the works, despite incessant media speculation.

Hendry has said before that he is satisfied with the Miller/Bako duo behind the plate, which calls into question his sanity. Yes, there are other priorities, especially re-signing Kerry Wood to a long-term deal. And it does make sense to get that taken care of first to see what, if any, money is left to sign Pudge. Furthermore, Pudge’s price is likely to only come down with time.

The Orioles signed Tejada today and will likely sign catcher Javy Lopez as well, supposedly leaving Pudge no place else to go. If Hendry is simply playing the waiting game for now, that’s OK. There’s no point in rushing to sign Pudge right away with a bad long-term deal just to get some good press.

But considering the moves the Astros and Cardinals have made, without Pudge this Cubs team is merely a contender. It will take the same combination of luck and timing to have the Cubs repeat as division champs. With Pudge, the Cubs are a kick-ass team that should be thinking World Series.