In Search of the Next Red Baron

The Cubs will enter play on Tuesday night against the Braves with the best record in baseball. The team is playing well in a surprisingly strong NL Central but most, including Lou Piniella, feels the team on the North Side needs to add a staring pitcher in order to keep up the pace. Several reports have indicated Jim Hendry is looking to add an arm to the rotation. Peter Gammons mentioned on Sunday night the names of Gil Meche, Randy Wolf and A.J. Burnett. While some, including Ken Rosenthal, have dreams of a Cubs’ starting five that would include C.C. Sabathia.

The Cubs found themselves in a similar situation back in June of 1984. Jim Frey had a good team but was missing an arm in his rotation. The Cubs were in first place with a 33-25 record….1 1/2 games ahead of the Mets and 3 ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Eastern Division. General Manager Dallas Green pulled the trigger on a deal that took the Cubs all the way to the post season for the first time since 1945. On June 13th, the Cubs acquired Ron Hassey, George Frazier, Darryl Banks and Rick Sutcliffe from the Cleveland Indians for Joe Carter, Mel Hall and Don Schulze.

The Cubs went on a roll, Sutcliffe finished 16-1, won the Cy Young Award and the Cubs won the division with a 96-65 record, 6 1/2 games in front of the New York Mets.

So could Jim Hendry work a deal to propel his team the way Dallas Green did?

Rich Hill

The Rich Hill enigma has set all of this in motion. Lou Piniella penciled in Hill at the beginning of the season for around 200 innings. For reasons unknown, Hill struggled with his command and himself and is down in Iowa trying to sort things out. The easy fix to finding a starting pitcher would be to promote from within. But with Hill’s mental makeup, at this point, he would likely add another fourth starter to a rotation in need of a more reliable presence by Carlos Zambrano.

Ryan Dempster

The Cubs former closer has pitched extremely well this season and with the inconsistency that is Ted Lilly, Dempster has become the team’s number two starter behind Big Z. The concern with Dempster is the amount of innings he has logged and the fact he has not pitched more than 120 innings since 2002. Dempster tossed 66 2/3 last season out of the pen and has already thrown 80 2/3 this year. The last time he pitched 200 innings was in 2001 with the Marlins. Dempster has pitched good enough to make an All-Star roster but the question is not his heart, desire or ability….but his durability.

Ted Lilly

Ted Lilly has been very good, adequate and down right horrible this season. Lilly has the ability to be a solid number two but likely is better slotted as a three in a playoff caliber rotation. Lilly’s velocity has been very inconsistent this year and he is leaving too many balls up and the result is 13 home runs allowed in 13 starts, 72 1/3 innings….Lilly served up only 28 long balls last year in 34 starts, 207 innings. Lilly was the benefactor, along with Jason Marquis, of the wind blowing in on several of his outings at Wrigley last season and more figures to leave the park as the season wears on.

Lilly behind Dempster or vice versa would give Piniella a solid rotation 1-4 with Jason Marquis moved down to the fifth spot and Sean Gallagher becoming another insurance policy out of the pen or down in Iowa.

The Rumored Names

A.J. Burnett

The Cubs were rumored to be interested in the former Florida Marlin in the off-season. Burnett comes with a long history of injury and Scott Boras but when he wants to, is capable of dominating a game on the mound. Burnett is 5-6 in 13 starts, 14 games, for the Blue Jays this season with a 4.98 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Burnett throws strikes to the rate of more than a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio (78 strikeouts and 38 walks in 81 1/3 innings).

Burnett has struggled at the Rogers Centre this season and left to a chorus of boos on Saturday after his worst start of the year. Burnett waived his cap to the crowd after he was pulled from the game and apologized for his actions following the Blue Jays loss to the Orioles. Burnett has a limited no trade clause and can block a deal to 15 clubs. But his struggles at home (2-3 in 5 starts, 6 games, with a 9.00 ERA and a 2.15 WHIP. On the road, 3-3 in 8 starts with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP) might motivate Burnett to seek a change of scenery.

Burnett can opt out of his contract at the end of the season (5-year, $55 million dollar contract with the Blue Jays in December of 2005. Owed $12 million in 2009 and 2010) and with Scott Boras representing him, that move is all but guaranteed. The short-term rental has a lot of upsides….and equally as many reasons not to pull a trigger on a deal.

With the exception of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett is the only other rumored name that would give the Cubs’ rotation a boost. The Cubs will get a first hand look at Burnett on Friday, June13th when the Cubs open a 3-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Against the Central

  • Reds – 1-3 in 6 games with a 6.89 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP. At Great American, no career games
  • Astros – 2-5 in 7 games with a 5.31 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP. At Minute Maid Park, 0-2 in 2 starts with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP.
  • Pirates – 1-1 in 3 games with a 2.37 ERA and a 1.26 WHP. At PNC Park, 1-1 in 3 starts with a 2.37 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP
  • Cardinals – 4-3 in 8 games with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. At Busch Stadium, no starts at the new Busch Stadium
  • Brewers – 1-1 in 2 games with a 6.92 ERA. At Miller Park, 1-1 in 2 starts with a 6.92 ERA

At Wrigley, 2-0 in 3 starts with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP….2 home runs allowed in 20 2/3 innings.

Randy Wolf

Wolf has been a bright spot for a Padres’ staff that has been decimated by injuries. After the weekend sweep of the Mets, the Friars are only 6 1/2 back of the Diamondbacks with a record of 28-37. If the Padres get Jake Peavy and Chris Young back, they might have a chance in the weak NL West….which likely means they will hang onto Randy Wolf.

Wolf’s contract and Jim Hendry’s history with Kevin Towers makes this a strong possibility. Towers will likely not want much in return (low A prospect, think Jose Ceda for Todd Walker) and the 1-year deal Wolf signed for $4.75 million will not put the new ownership on the hook for next season and beyond.

The addition of Randy Wolf would not give the rotation the solid number two starter it needs. Wolf is 3-1 in 6 starts at PETCO with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP….and on the road, 1-3 in 7 starts with a 5.31 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. In 7 career starts at Wrigley, 1-4 with a 5.36 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP. Wolf has allowed 8 home runs in 40 1/3 innings.

Gil Meche

The Cubs were reportedly on the verge of inking Gil Meche in December of 2006 before the Royals swooped in and outbid them. Jim Hendry signed Ted Lilly with the same money and the Royals over paid for one of Piniella’s former starters (5 years, $55 million through 2011). With the pending sale of the team, the likelihood of this trade happening is very slim at best. Meche was a victim of a bad team last season (9-13 in 34 starts with a 3.67 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP) but has been a huge disappointment for Trey Hillman this year (3-8 in 13 games with a 5.54 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP) while opponents have hit 11 home runs in 76 1/3 innings with a .278 batting average.

Meche would not be an upgrade over Ryan Dempster or Ted Lilly.

C.C. Sabathia

The name that has the Faithful drooling….a top two of Carlos Zambrano and C.C. Sabathia would give the Cubs arguably the best rotation in the National League. The Indians are not hitting, their bullpen is horrible and they are 6 games under .500 and 8 1/2 games back of the front running White Sox. If the Indians do decide to call it a season and trade the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner it will cost someone a ton of talent. Sabathia does not figure to resign with the Indians and will become a free agent at the end of the year….many have speculated his contract could surpass the extension signed by Johan Santana.

Sabathia started the season on a bad note. Some thought he was injured and other speculated the pressure of pitching for a contract was getting the best of him. Sabathia was 1-4 in 5 starts in April with a 7.76 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP but bounced back nicely in May with a 2-3 record in 6 starts with 2 complete games, a 2.44 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with nearly a 6:1 strikeout to walk ratio (41 strikeouts and 8 walks). The encouraging stat is his home-road splits….at the park formerly known as the Jake, 2-4 in 8 starts with a 5.40 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP, on the road 1-4 in 5 starts with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP.

Against the Central

  • Reds – 2-0 in 7 starts with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP
  • Pirates – 2-0 in 3 starts with a 1.64 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP
  • Cardinals – 1-0 in 2 starts with a 4.63 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP
  • Brewers – 1-1 in 2 starts with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP

Sabathia has never pitched at Wrigley or faced the Astros.

Jerry Crasnick was asked about the possibility of the Cubs acquiring Sabathia during a live chat Monday on Crasnick said he could see the Cubs making a big run at Sabathia. Crasnick speculated Mark Shapiro would likely ask for Josh Vitters, Tyler Colvin, Jose Ceda and Jeff Samardzija (Crasnick was probably unaware that the Shark is on the Cubs 40-man roster and has a no-trade clause) and Jim Hendry would likely offer him Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno….”and maybe they can meet in the middle.

If the Cubs make the move for Sabathia it will cost them a big part of their future, but a future that Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry will likely not be around to see. If Sabathia was to sign elsewhere in the off-season, at least the Cubs would receive a couple of draft picks in compensation.

The move would be very costly, but possibly one that ends the draught the mainstream media likes to talk about every time they possibly can….

Aaron Cook

Another pitcher that could be a good addition to Piniella’s staff is Aaron Cook. The Cubs have not been connected to Cook by the mainstream media and this is just pure speculation. Jayson Stark mentioned last week that the Rockies (24-39, 9 1/2 back of the Diamondbacks) might look to move Aaron Cook, along with Matt Holliday and Brian Fuentes before the deadline. The Yankees are rumored to be very interested in adding Fuentes to their pen.

Aaron Cook, like Gil Meche, is owed a lot of money which probably makes this a remote possibility at best. Cook signed a 4-year, $34.5 million dollar contract back in December with a clause that adds a $1 million dollars to each year if he his dealt ($8.75 million in 2009, $9 million in 2010, $9.25 million in 2011 and a mutual option in 2012 worth $11 million with a $500,000 buyout).

Cook is 8-3 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP for a team with only 24 wins. He is 3-1 in 5 starts at Coors Field with a 2.33 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP….on the road, 5-2 in 8 starts with a 3.78 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Cook’s worst start of the year was at Wrigley (7 runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings) but in 13 games this year, he has allowed 2 or fewer earned runs in 10 of the 13.

Against the Central Since 2005

  • Reds – 1-0 in 2 games with a 4.38 ERA
  • Astros – 2-0 in 4 games with a 2.96 ERA
  • Pirates – 0-1 in 2 games with a 5.84 ERA
  • Cardinals – 0-3 in 3 games with a 4.79 ERA
  • Brewers – 2-1 in 4 games with a 2.77 ERA

The Rockies are a very talented young team and with the fact Todd Helton is going to anchor 1st base for the foreseeable future that removes a good trading chip away from Jim Hendry. The Rockies pitching staff is in disarray and Cook gives them a solid piece to build on….but if they do shop him, the Cubs would be wise to see what it would take to add him to the roster.

The Cubs do not appear content with their current roster and if the rumors are correct, Jim Hendry is trying to add to a team that already owns the best record in baseball. What a difference a couple of years makes….looking to tweak a solid team is a far cry from the days the 25-man roster included as many middle infielders as relievers.

Quote of the Day

"There are places I remember. All my life though some have changed. Some forever not for better. Some have gone and some remain. All these places have their moments ... " John Lennon/Paul McCartney