Cubs trying to rid themselves of several expensive contracts

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But it's not going to be easy. One rival GM said, "They'd have to pay 95 percent of those contracts to trade those guys.'' That may be a slight exaggeration. But needless to say, no one is clamoring for Zambrano and Soriano now, who make $17.875 million and $18 million a year, respectively, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

They'd also have to account for the $4.8-million salary of reliever John Grabow for 2012 if they traded him.

The two most tradeable Cubs veterans, Aramis Ramirez and Kerry Wood, both have no-trade clauses, and both have said they won't waive them. Wood's $1.5 million salary is so under market he could have brought back a nice prospect or two, and Ramirez has been hot enough to justify his $14.6 million salary. The Angels, Diamondbacks, Reds and Brewers are among contenders who look like they could use third-base help.

The market for slugging first baseman Carlos Peña, a productive player, doesn't even look great. The Diamondbacks are the only contending team that looks like it could use a first baseman, and they are leery of high strikeout players since cutting the cord with Mark Reynolds. Peña's batting average has sunk in recent years as teams have learned to over-shift on him. He's hitting .219 this year, which is actually an improvement over his .196 of a year ago, and has 20 home runs and 51 RBIs.

• The Phillies offered top first base prospect Jonathan Singleton, pitching prospect Jarred Cosart and a third piece to Houston for outfielder Hunter Pence, as ESPN's Jayson Stark first suggested, but the Astros said no. That decision to reject such a big offer seems to have halted the Pence talks, maybe for good. The Red Sox and Braves also were in the hunt for Pence with pitching-heavy offers. Houston seems likely to keep Pence now, but will continue to shop starting pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers and outfielder Michael Bourn.

• The Phillies made a last-minute call on Carlos Beltran but word is they have preferred Pence all along. Philly wouldn't trade Domonic Brown, Singleton or Cosart for Beltran, but they like Pence better, at least partly because he can't be a free agent for two more years.

• The Braves still need a hitter and might also consider San Diego's Ryan Ludwick. The Phillies have talked to the White Sox about Carlos Quentin.

• The ChiSox saved about $9 million with their trade of Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to Toronto for reliever Jason Frasor, and is suggesting they may want to cut more. But it's going to be awfully difficult for them to trade John Danks or Gavin Floyd with them only 3 ½ games out in the wide-open AL Central. White Sox people remember the White Flag trade in 1997 that is a blot on the organization's record, although it was engineered by a previous regime.

• The strong belief among some contenders is that the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda will not waive his no-trade clause for a deal. At least five American League clubs have checked in on him -- the Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees. While Kuroda has been noncommittal on his no-trade powers, it seems to some like a long shot that he'd accept.

• The Rays seem to be considering selling off their valuable pieces. They'd have to be blown away to trade starting pitcher James Shields, but it appears fellow starter Jeff Niemann could go. He was offered to the Cardinals along with reliever J.P. Howell for outfielder Colby Rasmus before the Cardinals traded Rasmus to the Blue Jays, as Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (St. Louis countered by requesting either Shields or young starter Jeremy Hellickson). The Rays also may consider trading reliever Kyle Farnsworth, first baseman Casey Kotchman and DH Johnny Damon.

• The Cardinals got relief back in the Rasmus deal but they along with the Rangers are at the forefront of the Heath Bell talks to date, with others showing interest as well. Bell, the Padres' All-Star closer, is believed to prefer to stay in the National League and go to St. Louis. But he doesn't have a no-trade clause.

• Beltran used his no-trade clause to make sure he was traded to one of his preferred destinations in the National League. The Rangers made an offer of multiple prospects for Beltran, but it was shopped to the Giants, who finally relented on pitcher Zack Wheeler, a former No. 1 pick who is well-regarded. The Phillies' offer was said to be weaker than that of the Rangers' and also required the Mets to pay a chunk of Beltran's contract. The Mets will pay $4 million of the $6-million-plus remaining on Beltran's salary. San Francisco thus added the best hitter on the market for only $2 million extra, while the Mets got one of the prospects they sought. They also liked Giants outfield prospect Gary Brown.

• The Blue Jays were generally lauded as the day's big winners by getting the talented Rasmus for Jackson and relievers in an eight-player trade. St. Louis seems to have felt it was better at this time to trade Rasmus, who was having issues with iconic manager Tony La Russa, who complained that he wasn't listening to Cardinals coaches but rather Rasmus' father, Tony. St. Louis will move Kyle McClellan to the bullpen as long as Kyle Lohse's finger is OK. Mark Rzepczynski provides needed bullpen help for the Cardinals against lefties. Octavio Dotel gives them closer insurance -- although if they land Bell, he would be their closer.