What Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this morning, cubs.com is now confirming:
The Cubs have signed righthander Jon Lieber to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Lieber pitched for the Cubs from 1999 through 2002. In 2001, his best Major League season, he went 20-6, 3.80 and finished fourth in Cy Young voting.
He suffered an elbow injury in '02, underwent ligament replacement surgery and was picked up by the Yanks, for whom he won 14 games in 2004.
He signed with the Phillies as a free agent in December '04 and went 29-30 in three seasons there. He suffered a pair of significant injuries in Philadelphia, including a ruptured tendon in his foot that ended his '07 season in mid-June.
What Rosenthal reported that cubs.com has not yet (and probably won't) is that Lieber has been promised a spot in the starting rotation; that he was offered more money by other teams, with whom he would have signed had it not been for his desire to return to Chicago and some assurance that he would have a spot in the Cubs rotation.
Rob G: Lieber, the last Cubs pitcher to win 20 games, will add some rotation depth and give Hendry a little more flexibility in trading from the teams' pool of starting pitchers. It could mean the end of Jason Marquis or Ryan Dempster as a Cub, or it could just mean some of the youngsters might be on their way out and the Cubs needed to restock the shelves. Or maybe the Cubs realize that going into the season with Dempster and Marquis in your rotation means being sure you have an appropriate back-up plan.
About to turn 38, Lieber is a fast-working pitcher known for his excellent control who once possessed a lethal slider that now has lost some of its bite. He'll rely on his defense quite a bit; good for him and the Cubs that the folks chasing balls behind him this year should be pretty good. His home run rates did skyrocket the last 2 full seasons in Philadelphia, although it's hard to to decipher how much of that is due to the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park and how much is due to the natural regression of a player as he ages.
This does seem like its step one of a multi-step plan. Dempster or Marquis could certainly just be shifted to the pen if needed as swing men, but it seems more likely that one of them is on the way out. Between Lieber, Dempster and Marquis, you'd have a hard time differentiating their overall value to the club, so until one of them gets moved in a trade or to the bullpen, I'm just going to refer to them as LDM from here on out.