With the All-Star game over, the American League won 3-2, and the second half starting on Friday for the Cubs, what will the last 74 games of the season bring to the Northside of Chicago? The trade deadline is a short 19 days away and the rumors have begun to fly. Many feel that Dusty Baker is on his way out as manager of the Cubs but there are other questions that the Cubs must answer over the next 2 1/2 months.
The Cubs do have players they could trade to contenders that they will eventually lose to free agency and getting even a low level prospect would be better than nothing at all. Todd Walker, Henry Blanco, John Mabry, Greg Maddux, Phil Nevin, Juan Pierre and Scott Williamson could all bring pieces to the Cubs that could help them down the road.
The Cubs attempted to trade Walker before the season started and they could not find a trading partner and there are not any rumors, to this point, about the Cubs finding a trading partner for Walker by the deadline and likewise with Mabry or Blanco. But with Geovany Soto on the horizon as the future backup for Michael Barrett any deals for Blanco should be listened to. Juan Pierre is an interesting commodity. Pierre cost the Cubs a lot of pitching this past off-season and between the fact he struggled at the beginning of the season and most of the contenders have a proven lead off man, would the Cubs be able to find a suitable trade partner for Pierre? Felix Pie has struggled at Iowa this season and unless he shows major improvement in the second half he could not be ready as projected for 2007. Pierre should be kept in Chicago and not traded.
The names that have the most talk surrounding them are Nevin, Maddux and Williamson. Williamson, when healthy, is a proven commodity and with the lack of quality relievers in the Majors, Williamson could bring a quality role player in return, one of those players that can help take a team to the next level, like a Hector Luna or future trading chips for Jim Hendry to find what he is looking for. Phil Nevin could also bring a few prospects and a major salary dump from an American League contender. Glendon Rusch’s name was brought up on XM Radio as a pitcher that might be moved to a contender looking for left-handed help. Another name that could bring a couple of prospects to the Cubs is Will Ohman, there has not been much mentioned concerning Ohman, but like Rusch, lefties out of the pen are usually in high demand.
Greg Maddux has received the most attention as of late. There have been reports that the Padres, Diamondbacks, A’s, Dodgers and the Brewers are interested in Maddux. It would be another sad day for the Cubs to lose Maddux again, but it would be a very smart move as well as he might bring more in return than anyone else the Cubs may deal. The Brewers have a lot of talent in their farm system including a very impressive outfielder by the name of Nelson Cruz with the Nashville Sounds (AAA). Cruz has been kept from the Brewers due to Carlos Lee. Cruz’s teammate with the Sounds Tony Gwynn, Jr. is also another very exciting prospect in the Brewers organization.
The other names to watch for before the trading deadline are Aramis Ramirez and Jacque Jones. Ramirez has a clause in his contract that gives him an out at the end of the 2006 season if he chooses. Ramirez will probably be able to increase his salary as a Free Agent and if the Cubs have any inclination he could opt out of his contract, they must get something for him and not allow him to walk away. Jones signed a 3-year deal and has performed better than most thought he would, but like Maddux he could bring the Cubs more than just a prospect at the deadline and any offers made for Jones should be listened to.
The Cubs must be very cautious over the next several weeks and utilize what they have to get what they need. The Cubs farm system has not developed the way it should have and has been depleted of quality prospects either due to trade or injury. Mr. Hendry must do what he can to rebuild their farm system as well as put a winning product on the field at Wrigley.
The Cubs have actually had more success this season at the Major League level from pitchers they received from AA West Tenn than from AAA. The Cubs must promote Rich Hill and Angel Guzman to the Major League level and find out what future they have with the Cubs. With the recent injury to Mark Prior and his status unknown, the apparent season ending injury to Kerry Wood and the set back to Wade Miller’s rehab, the Cubs must trade Glendon Rusch and find out what those two have to offer. Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol have been more productive than the two pitchers that have been at the top of the Cubs pitching prospects for the last several years.
This organization is at a pivotal point, after coming so close to the prize a few years back they have steadily declined ever since….some have called it a hangover, some call it bad planning. Their disabled list has gotten as much attention over the past three seasons as their lineup card but their front office has failed to get the point. The organization must make changes and build a winner on the Northside before all of the blue turns to black in Chicago. Make a decision and stick with it and quit playing the wait and see game, it has been long enough.