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Marmol deal imminent as Cubs report for spring training

If hope can’t spring eternal on the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we’re probably all in trouble.

So take the Arizona-sunshine optimism it for what it’s worth as Cubs players and management talked about building on last year’s 24-13 finish, with the occasional World Series mention finding its way into the conversation, as the Cubs reported today.

“I think it’s very realistic,” veteran starter Ryan Dempster said of a Cubs Series. “You come here at 6 o’clock in the morning and there’s guys working out… I think you have to go in with that mentality and believe that. Sometimes you say it and you don’t really believe it, but I like our team, and I like our chances.”

Many from the Cubs’ spring roster have already been in Mesa for weeks working out in anticipation of Monday’s official start of practices.

“We fully expect to be in contention in the National League Central,” general manager Jim Hendry said.

Some of the highlights and miscellaneous sights and sounds from reporting day:

— Closer Carlos Marmol and his agent, Barry Praver, showed up at Fitch Park this morning, and the agent met with Hendry. Hendry said planned to meet with Praver again today and both said they anticipated an announcement (looks like it’ll be a three-year deal) Monday. Marmol’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, but nobody expects to get anywhere near that – with the sides already putting a one-year, fallback position together.

— Hendry and manager Mike Quade met with the media for the annual spring-kickoff press conference, and Quade downplayed the new role at spring training – his 30th camp by his count – and the higher profile he has as a first-year big-league manager. On that, he told the story — “true story” — of how the lady who lives next door to him in Bradenton, Fla., brought him some chicken soup soon after he got home from last season. “And a dozen baseballs to be signed,” he said.

–Quade wasn’t any closer to a decision on his Opening Day starter as camp opened, a month after he opened the door for Carlos Zambrano to get bumped from his annual assignment by Dempster or newcomer Matt Garza. “There’s three guys involved in that, period, and we’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “I will milk that till the last [part of camp], because I have so much respect for all of them.”

–Dempster on potentially starting the opener: “It’s a great honor. I’ve done it before [2001 and ’02 for Florida]. But I’m sure whoever he picks will do a great job. I’m just trying to go out there and make every one of my starts every fifth day and try not to hop any railings.”

–About five minutes after climbing out of a cab, second baseman Blake DeWitt – one of three or four potential Cub leadoff hitters – said of that situation: “To be honest, I haven’t even thought about it. I know [my name’s been mentioned]. It’s one of those things where you prepare yourself for anything. If they ask me to do it, I’ll be more than happy to do it. And it’s a big responsibility. But it’s also a big responsibility hitting eighth.”

–Good chemistry seems to be a consistent undercurrent to this camp as the Cubs brought back strong clubhouse guys Kerry Wood and Reed Johnson (minor-league deal and invitation to camp) and added more “character” guys in Garza, Carlos Pena and Braden Looper (also minor-league deal). On this point, Dempster said two weeks ago that more than 25 guys showed for his annual 6 a.m. hike/climb up Camelback Mountain on a 28-degree morning – literally 10 times the highest turnout from previous seasons. “It was awesome,” he said. “We had two van-fuls. It felt like we were going on a high school trip somewhere. … And then we spent the next 2 hours at Denny’s.”