With the news that the Cubs are now “Open For Business,” it is apparent that the “cold assessment” of where the Cubs are is complete, and the plug is being pulled. In reality, it isn’t any big secret that the Cubs were going to sell off pieces this summer, as the rebuild continues.
The timing couldn’t be better. While other teams are deciding whether or not to get into the market and start moving anything that isn’t bolted down, the Cubs should start making moves now. The reason is simple: they have a lot of pieces that can be had from other teams if and when they get into the fray.
Starting pitching is going to be heavily available this summer. The Phillies have denied that Cliff Lee is going to be available, but that is far from definite. The Phillies could cure a lot of ailments with that arm, and if they decide to move players, Lee is the biggest and best chip they have to push into the center of the table. His presence would put a major damper on the market for Matt Garza. If a team like the Giants or the Rangers is looking for an arm to push them back into the Fall Classic, Lee is going to be sought before Garza. He comes with more control and he’s a better pitcher. His price will be bigger, but his reward will match.
Trading Garza will also be met by the resistance of the potential for the Brewers to put Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse on the market, the Blue Jays to seek to move Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, or the White Sox trying to trade Jake Peavy. All would be nice acquisitions that could be thrown into the middle of someone’s rotation for a run to October. At this early stage, it would appear to be a buyers’ market for mid-rotation starting pitching as the deadline draws closer.
The same can be said about a player like Scott Feldman, who can start at the back of a rotation until the playoffs and become a contributor out of the bullpen in October. The Twins can move Kevin Correia, the Marlins will likely move Ricky Nolasco, and the Astros are going to try to unload Bud Norris, so the market for a piece to add to the back of a rotation could also get to be a little crowded.
Yet another problem the Cubs face is the marked improvement of their farm system. The Cubs are not in a position where they have to take on as much talent as they can get because the system is so depleted that it needs as many good bodies as it can take on. The major area of weakness for the Cubs is in the pitching department. The front office acknowledged that the pitching is going to come from international signings and from the trade deadline. The problem with that strategy is simple: the teams who are going to look at adding pieces aren’t rich in pitching prospects. The Giants and Rangers don’t have a lot of pitching depth in their systems. Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn are the Giants’ top two prospects, and both are in the bottom quarter of Keith Law’s top 100 prospects this season.
What has been said repeatedly still holds true. If the Cubs can find a team who needs multiple pieces that the Cubs can provide, they have their best opportunity to maximize their return. What has not been said, though, is that the Cubs face a lot of competition for the players they have to offer, especially the pitching. It would be doubtful to see the extensive sell-off this season for that reason. There will be more teams offering similar pieces, and the other teams offering their veteran players need a lot more for their depleted farm systems, which make it much easier to make a deal.
With the Brewers imploding faster than the roof of the Metrodome a couple of years ago, it seems more and more apparent that the Brewers are going to sell. And with Zack Greinke pitching out of his mind tonight, it would seem that teams looking to acquire him (quite a few based on tonight’s scout count) would probably try to do so sooner rather than later. That little nugget of information, coupled with the Marlins, Rays possibly joining a seller’s market with the likes of Josh Johnson and James Shields, and Astros trading Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates tonight, the market for starting pitching could shrink on the Cubs, who are looking to deal Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Paul Maholm.
As it stands with Dempster, he appears to be holding out to join former Cub and friend, Ted Lilly in Los Angeles. Exercising his 10/5 rights to veto a trade could be a detriment to the Cubs because now that it is public knowledge that the Bravos are willing to part with Randall Delgado for a rental player, other teams might try to sweeten the pot for them or try to swoop in a get Delgado for a player of similar stature to Dempster. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are still refusing to part with Zach Lee in a deal for Dempster, which would make losing out on the 22 year old Delgado a tough pill to swallow for the Cubs.
Matt Garza will not pitch until Monday, at the earliest, it appears. From my perspective, that makes it more unlikely that he gets moved before non-waiver deadline at 3:00 PM central time on Tuesday afternoon. As it stood before, it was widely reported that it was about 50/50 that Garza got moved anyway. With his “arm discomfort” and delayed start until after the weekend, the price might come down on him to a point where the Cubs are more interested in trying to extend Garza than using him as a pawn to add young arms to the minor league system. Rumors floated that the Cubs were looking for two major league ready pitching prospects for Garza, similar to what the Rockies got for Ubaldo Jimenez, which may be too steep a price. Reports today were that the Rangers were looking for an ace type pitcher, and that they don’t see Garza that way. That again, shrinks his market, and I predict he is a Cub for the duration of 2012, if not longer.
Paul Maholm was never going to net a big name prospect. With the Pirates getting Wandy Rodriguez, it seems less and less likely that Maholm gets moved at all, since they were said to be his biggest suitor. It is still possible that he gets moved in the week between now and the deadline, but it doesn’t seem likely that he will during the season. He could be a trade chip for this winter, with a modest $6.5M option for next season. Teams looking to add a back of the rotation lefty might be willing to part with a decent prospect in January for a player like Maholm after the bulk of free agency has concluded. As it stands now, it is hard to envision him going anywhere with so many new names being added to a market that has so few suitors.
The Cubs do have some nice bats on the market, led by Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 19th HR of the season in tonight’s win at Pittsburgh. Calling Mr. Friedman, Mr. Andrew Friedman…we have something Joe Maddon might like to plug into his line-up, ranked 27th in slugging. The Rays sorely need a right handed bat, and Soriano could be had if they’re willing to part with some solid prospects and pay about $4M over the next two years. He clearly has some pop in his bat and when he was a DH earlier this season, he was pure magic at the plate, highlighted by some of the bombs he launched at Target Field. Others include Bryan LaHair, who would make a nice platoon player at either a corner infield or outfield position, or DH in the American League. He probably won’t net more than a middle of the pack prospect, which wouldn’t be all that bad for a 29 year old minor league reclamation project. Reed Johnson is said to have a number of suitors as the guy he is for the Cubs; a veteran bat and solid defender off the bench that can pinch hit, play defense, and give you four good at bats when asked to start.
The most unfortunate part of all of this seems to be the foiling of the plan to get better for future years by sacrificing some on field production this year. Being 16 under .500 and 16 back in the division means it’s over in 2012. While they could conceivably fight for 4th in the division, being four behind the Brewers, that does nothing but make the holidays a little more palatable for me this winter. If the last few days are any indication of things to come, there will be a lot more movement before the deadline. The Cubs will likely make some moves and the team will not look the same next Wednesday when the Cubs square off with the Pirates as they do tomorrow when they square off with the Pirates. As is the case every year at this time, stay tuned…