Putting on my crazy pants
As it turns out, the Cubs appear poised to improve -- in theory.
But before the Cubs can get better through addition, they have to both subtract and delete. That's my (attempted) clever way of saying that they need to subtract some players through trades (ie: dead-weight) while deleting large contracts of the books.
The present rumor is that Jim Hendry is poised to sign future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to a contract, adding the formerly golden arm to an already stacked rotation that has proven to be the best in baseball so far.
We can debate the merits of adding Pedro. But if 2008 is any indication, he's a 5th starter at best. Then again, 2008 was a recovery-from-surgery year and maybe, just maybe he can be a spark plug for the team. But then again Hendry isn't trying to sign Pedro Martinez because he thinks the former ace is good. He's doing it to add depth to a very strong rotation, allowing him to trade one of his other, expensive starters somewhere else in order to free up cash and pick up a bat.
That brings up this question: of the five guys currently on the Cubs staff, who is tradable? Lilly and Harden immediately spring to mind as discussed in the ShoutBox as they are talented, moderately expensive, and are lacking no-trade clauses in their contracts.
However, because Lilly has another year after this one, is older, and makes more money, I'm going to argue that he'll be harder to trade -- even if he's healthier. The sheer talent of Harden's oft-injured arm coupled with his cheaper contract combined with having no obligation to keep him after this season probably makes him the juiciest target of various GM's throughout the league.
As for who may be interested, at a glance there are a handful of teams presently in competition who might play the role of buyers. They are as follows:
(Note: Listing teams and players who could actually help the Cubs is not necessarily an advocation on my part that those teams would actually consider parting with those players. I'm just mentioning the ones who might fit in Chicago)
The Blue Jays
How pissed would Ted Lilly be if he was traded back to Toronto? Assuming the Jays have room to take on salary -- no sure bet in these economic conditions -- they would surely be happy to add a talented pitcher to their roster. Candidates for trade in Toronto include Marco Scurato, a 33-year-old versatile player in the midst of a career year (revert-alert), and perhaps somebody like Jose Bautista, a 28-year-old who plays 3B and LF but isn't exactly an offensive savant. Odds are Toronto doesn't have the horses to spring for Harden or Lilly and they are probably unlikely to swing a deal including some of their top talent.
Speaking of teams without the best economic situation, it would be huge for the Rays to grab another top pitcher, especially since part of their present problem has been a lack of consistent starting. (Consider also that they are presently involved in the Pedro to... rumors, albiet only modestly.) Maybe if the Cubs would be willing to eat Troy Percival's contract they could make it happen. Nevertheless, the players to go after would be Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist -- two young players, one of whom doesn't necessarily fit into Tampa's plans as a full-time starter this year. Then again, the versatile Zorbist has played a ton of games at various positions and is hitting the crap out of the ball, so he might be hard to pry from the Rays but he'd be a hell of a grab if the Cubs could pull it off. Aybar might be a more realistic grab, but probably not deserving of Lilly or Harden. Maybe if Tampa would also throw in sometimes-starter Gabe Gross...
The Tigers are early surprise leaders in the AL Central. Their rotation certainly lacks a little oomph, but so does their lineup. They don't really have the same amount of depth as the Rays, which means they probably wouldn't be too likely to part with one of their few productive offensive stars for a pitcher, unless of course the Cubs threw in one of their presently-under-performing hitters as well. (Of all of them, Fontenot might have the most trade value due to his low wage.) But even then, the only two really good hitters on the Tigers roster right now are Miguel Cabrera (who I doubt they'd trade) and Curtis Granderson -- also an unlikely piece of trade bait.
If they could afford them, the Twins would probably take Lilly or Harden although they already have an impressive rotation. The problem is that they too are short on offense and have little to offer that would help the Cubs now. (Although I'd probably roll the dice on Delmon Young... even if there's a chance that he too inherited the fat, alcoholic gene.)
The Angels are gaining and Texas could always use more arms.
In the off season we had a big debate about whether or not Michael Young would be worth trading for. I'm pretty sure I fell on the side of Pro, to the alienation of some readers. Anyway, he's presently batting .322 while on pace to hit 56 doubles and 23 homers. Maybe he could handle a move to second base? At this point is there anybody out there who'd take Young and his 13 million dollar salary straight up for Lilly?
Goat Friend Al Yellon recently proposed a Harden-for-Wood deal involving the Angels. It's about as likely to happen as me scoring with Roseanne Arnold -- and she's a fat pig. A more likely candidate would be Chone Figgins, a powerless switch-hitting third baseman who would be the ideal leadoff man. This would allow the Angels to give Brandon Wood a shot to crack the roster while giving the Cubs an extremely versatile player who can handle six positions -- including second base.
They're two games under .500, about 5 games out of first place, am I crazy or is it possible that the Mariners may see themselves as buyers? The only problem is that their success has at least partially been built on the back of one player, who also happens to be their only real trade bait -- Russell Branyon (who isn't exactly a friend of Chicago anyway). The versatile Branyon (who probably is no better a fielder than Jake Fox) has hit 15 homeruns so far this year for the M's.
Then again, the American League is notoriously known for not wanting NL pitchers. After all, NL pitchers tend to underperform due to the differences in offense -- many AL teams are solid 1 through 9, most NL teams are lucky to be solid 1 through 7. (I'm waiting for an ACB counter-programmer to demand that I prove this last statement.)
The pool of teams in the NL is smaller, considering that most teams competing for the playoffs right now reside in the Central and the Cubs are unlikely to trade pitching help to a divisional rival. But as far as NL teams go...
The Phillies are not surprisingly at the top of the division in the NL East ... but they sure as hell could benefit from some pitching. It seems pretty unlikely though that they have the needed players to strike a deal. Probably the best option would be versatile third baseman Pedro Feliz, and if he's the best option you don't want to see the other ones.
The Marlins aren't a team I'd want to help improve and if the Cubs managed to deal them either Lilly or Harden it would probably require a small financial miracle. No Marlin makes more than 5.5 million this year. If they'd be willing to part with Dan Uggla -- whose .215ish AVG this season wouldn't exactly warm the hearts of Cub fans -- then they could probably afford to take on Harden's salary. Appart from Uggs, there doesn't seem to be much that'd either be worth the Cubs pitchers or likely for Florida to part with.
The Braves still have a dog in this fight, even though they haven't exactly been burning up the league with their 31-34 record, 5.5 games out of first. They've already made one killer move, scooping up Nate McLouth from the Pirates in what may have been a preperational move to pursue Jake Peavy -- who is now on the DL until July. If made available to them, it's very possible that they might redirect their interests and try to pull in Lilly or Harden, either of whom would fit in very nicely with their rotation.
The only problem is that Atlanta doesn't seem to have what the Cubs need -- a solid-hitting infielder who can play third or second base. But Atlanta does have a pair of middle infielders who, if they could part with them, might be worth the Cubs' time -- Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson. Escobar is a Cuban-born shortstop with respectable numbers; Johnson is a middle infielder with past success who's struggilng dramatically so far this year.
New York Mets
The Mets probably don't have the components necessary to make a trade with the Cubs, unless they'd be willing to take with Harden/Lilly a bat like Fukudome's. But for that kind of trade, the only player with a comparable contract who the Cubs could at that point benefit from would be Carlos Beltran -- and would the Mets part with him? Probably not.
The Giants are already out of it for the division but remain in the thick of the Wild Card. The only problem is that they don't really have the kind of talent necessary to justify a trade with the Cubs. Maybe if they'd be willing to throw in a Pablo Sandoval if the Cubs would eat the contract of Busty Zito, then that would be at least something to ponder. Otherwise, though, I doubt these teams would have anything for each other.
The Rockies -- who are not proof that teams can suddenly turn around for no reason but the firing of a manager, no matter how many games they win! -- are now in the hunt for the Wild Card. Probably the best possible trade would involve somebody like Harden for the over-paid, under-performing Garrett Atkins (who, despite his loss of a starting gig is far from washed up and probably a commodity nonetheless) and well-performing Clint Barmes. But whether the Rockies would accept that kind of trade is, at the very least, highly unlikely.
Here come the crazy pants
So. What would I do? First, the only way I'd trade Lilly would be if some team offered a legitimate, undeniable superstar to the Cubs. However I don't see that happening. I think that, more realistically, the Cubs will eat a big shiz-burger of a salary in order to get at a tasty treat of a budding star.
Possibly my favorite scenario of the bunch would be something like Harden&Fukudome (plus minor league pitching prospects) to the Mets for Beltran and righty reliever Brian Stokes. But why the Mets would deal their across-the-board offensive leader for Fukudome and Harden is a mystery. So don't count on it.
Or how about Rich Harden & Fontenot to the Rays for Percival, Aybar & Gross? The Cubs get desperately needed depth, but no big stick out of this trade.
Maybe Ted Lilly to the Rangers for Michael Young? Not my favorite scenario personally.
How would you respond to Rich Harden and Kosuke Fukudome to the Giants for Barry Zito and Pablo Sandoval? I think that any trade which would net the Cubs Sandoval would be one worth strongly considering, although the Giants are neither so stupid nor so desperate to trade him for a couple of stop-gaps.
No matter what they do -- and whatever it is, it'll be surprising -- the Cubs are probably working hard on making one of their players expendable in order to fix up the offense. But it's unlikely that any blockbuster trade is coming, and more likely that any trade made will be for good, sturdy spare parts but spare parts nonetheless.
Then again, I could be wrong. When it comes to trade speculaton, bloggers usually are.