Cubs' deadline overhaul turned out to be much ado about nothing
The noncontending Cubs seemed oddly possessive of several of their coveted veterans, including outfielder Marlon Byrd, first baseman Carlos Peña and infielder Jeff Baker, before the trade deadline. But while they declined trade overtures for those players and more, they did at least make some attempt to move on from the era of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, by trying to negotiate trades for the two high-priced stars.
Beyond their seemingly predictable inability to win the World Series (which they haven't done since 1908), the Cubs are sometimes a hard team to figure out. Their decisions at the trade deadline were just the latest confounding turn.
The next big questions involving the beloved North Side team will involve the fates of longtime general manager Jim Hendry and relatively new manager Mike Quade. And there might be a surprise result there, as well.
With the Cubs struggling again, Hendry is seen throughout the game as embattled at the moment. But two factors lead one person who has dealings with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to believe that Hendry will be retained: 1) Ricketts is anything but an impetuous fellow, and 2) he likes Hendry. Others connected to the Cubs agree that the rapport is strong between the owner and GM, whose tenure has been marked by some high highs -- like the first back-to-back postseason appearances in Cubs history in 100 years -- and lately, low lows, which is actually much better than most of his predecessors in the history of the star-crossed organization. And if Hendry is retained, the assumption is that Quade, a baseball lifer rewarded with a two-year deal after guiding a stunning turnaround last year, will make it to 2012, as well.
Two more factors weigh in Hendry's favor. Injuries have devastated the team this year, including back-to-back ailments the first week of the season to promising young pitchers Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells. And yes, it's fair to say that the Cubs do have more promising kids under their employ than usual, starting with the DP combo of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney.
The Cubs, though, have been severely hampered by the mega-deals to Zambrano, a quirky personality who has lost some off his fastball, and Soriano, a fading star who has become a huge liability defensively. Those signings were mega-mistakes, though it is uncertain how much responsibility Hendry bears for those contracts since deals so large are often authorized from above. The contracts of Zambrano and Soriano fall into the albatross category, and to that end, the Cubs showed a willingness to pay down the vast majority of either contract if the Yankees would take either player.
There has been some speculation that the Yankees could be a fit for Zambrano, since Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild came to the Yankees from the Cubs, but there is no indication Rothschild would recommend such a move. And while the Cubs seemed willing to pay the vast majority of Zambrano's $18 million salary, it appears that the Yankees gave no more than the slightest thought to a Zambrano deal. They don't see Zambrano as much of an upgrade, if any, over Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova at this point.
Soriano gave his approval to go to the Yankees, and again, Chicago also suggested that it would pay the bulk of his $18 million salary. But the Yankees simply had no room for Soriano, who would be only a DH for them. While Jorge Posada is struggling from the right side, it appears that they will promote ballyhooed prospect Jesus Montero within the next couple weeks instead.
The Cubs' stances on Zambrano and Soriano shouldn't surprise anyone, really. It is time to move on from those mistakes.
But their decisions to keep Pena, Byrd and Baker did shock many. The Pirates showed interest in Pena, the Braves (and likely others) in Byrd and several teams are said to have looked into the versatile Baker. But rival clubs were surprised when the Cubs said no on all three. Chicago also made starters Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster and reliever Sean Marshall off-limits, as they sought to keep productive players under control. They were also unable to consider deals for Aramis Ramirez and Kerry Wood, since both players have no-trade clauses and wouldn't give their approval to go anywhere.
The Cubs did accomplish something, though. They sent disappointing Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome to Cleveland, saving themselves $750,000 of his lucrative contract.
• The Padres have offered Heath Bell a two-year contract for about $14 million, but he is asking for a three-year deal. In the wake of his surprising non-trade from the Padres at the deadline, Bell publicly said that he would accept arbitration from San Diego, which will be offered to him if there is no agreement on a long-term deal or a trade for him by then. Bell is an unusual fellow, but accepting a one-year nonguaranteed arbitration offer would be surprising, since he probably could get a three-year deal elsewhere. The Padres' stance is that they would be OK with him taking arbitration, though it would seem that the draft choices that come with an arbitration rejection would be preferable. In the meantime, Bell will surely be claimed by some team on waivers -- although it seems like a bit of a long shot to think that a trade will be worked out, considering how hard the Padres tried to trade him before the non-waiver deadline.
• The Mariners wouldn't talk to the Yankees about Felix Hernandez. But there is a belief that the Yankees would have been willing to offer their four vaunted prospects (Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Jesus Montero and Ivan Nova) for Hernandez. As for Erik Bedard, who went to the Red Sox in a seven-player trade, Yankees people believed that Bedard "wouldn't last 20 minutes'' in New York. Boston doesn't seem like a very good fit for Bedard, either. But the Red Sox badly needed a starter with the knowledge that Clay Buchholz is likely out for the year, and while Bedard's showcase last Friday did not go well, the Red Sox saw a solid simulated game at Fenway before that.
• With the Yankees' suddenly improving starting pitching depth, they aren't expected to revisit trade talks with Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. They offered to pay $21 million of the $38 million remaining on Rodriguez's deal before the deadline.
• Before making a couple of trades that brought in a handful of prospects, Astros ownership hired an independent scout to evaluate their entire minor league system. The scout identified fewer than five players who should even play in the major leagues.
• Astros GM Ed Wade has taken hits for his frequent deals with his old team, the Phillies. But one scout sent an email titled, "In defense of Ed Wade's integrity.'' That scout pointed out, regarding the Hunter Pence trade, that first baseman Jonathan Singleton "has a chance to be a monster,'' and went on to say, "he's extremely athletic for a player with such a naturally intimidating physique,'' and "I would put him on the short list of power-hitting prospects.'' The scout compared Jarred Cosart's "big arm'' to those of Daniel Bard and Brandon League and further opined that Josh Zeid "will be a useful relief piece relatively shortly.''
• The Tigers' trades for Doug Fister, David Pauley and Wilson Betemit weren't exactly blockbusters. But they represent major improvements. No team was getting worse production at third base or from the fifth spot in the rotation than Detroit. So the upgrade should be noticeable.
• The Diamondbacks are looking to pull off a miracle. The promotion of power-hitting Paul Goldschmidt (who hit his first home run on Tuesday) could be a key in that endeavor.
• Johan Santana has been trying to return much earlier than other pitchers from shoulder capsule surgery. But it looks now like he's going to have to wait until next year. New discomfort has him seeing a doctor rather than pitching as scheduled this week.
• Baseball people seem to agree that B.J. Upton needs a change of scenery. Most players thrive in Tampa, but word has gotten out that manager Joe Maddon is frustrated with Upton. He'll be a better candidate for a winter trade because non-contenders will have a chance to consider him, as well.
• Rays GM Andrew Friedman worked throughout deadline day despite having to have an emergency appendectomy the day before. He just worked from his hospital room.
• It's always hard to predict who will be traded in the waiver period. But there are plenty of DH types who could be candidates to go -- including Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, Vladimir Guererro and Johnny Damon. Not too many teams need a DH, but perhaps at least Thome or Giambi could be used as power-hitting pinch-hitters.
• Phil Hughes regained his form from a year ago in a big performance on Tuesday at the White Sox, likely saving his spot in the rotation. Odd as it may seem, the Yankees actually have six viable candidates for the rotation now. They may also have big-time talents coming up from the minors. Manuel Banuelos, just promoted to Triple-A Scranton, should be up with the Yankees at some point soon.
• There just weren't left-handers on the trade market. The A's didn't want to trade Craig Breslow, and the Marlins wanted to keep Randy Choate (and everyone else) as they head to their new stadium next year. Matt Thornton was discussed, but the White Sox weren't giving him away.
• Baseball powers seem determined to convince the players union to agree to a slotting system for drafted players. Some of their hope rests with current major leaguers, who seem divided on this issue. However, the union does not want to agree to any sort of "capping,'' as it is concerned about a slippery slope situation. This issue appears to be one of the biggest points of contention in negotiations that have been kept very quiet so far.
• The loss of 100-mph-throwing right-hander Rubby de la Rosa, who will have Tommy John surgery, is the latest blow to the Dodgers.
• The team of Orel Hershiser and Steve Garvey look like they'll have plenty of company in trying to buy the Dodgers. Magic Johnson told the