Just when you think they will start to turn it around, the Chicago Cubs prove that they don't look to be contenders in the NL Central. And with the Cincinnati Reds looking to stick around and battle it out with the St. Louis Cardinals, is it time to shed some payroll?
Last week, Ken Rosenthal of foxsports.com reported that Ryan Dempster has agreed to defer $3 million of his salary this season to help the Cubs acquire some help for the 2010 season. Very nice gesture by Dempster, except that Hendry didn't use it to get any relief pitchers, the biggest offseason weakness that every Cubs fan could see. Instead, right now the Cubs are only to get pitchers like Bobby Howry, who was jettisoned last week by the Arizona Diamondbacks for sucking. Howry had a 10.67 ERA in 14 and a third innings. Sure, he's been better than that since coming to the Cubs, but his K/9 rate is way, way down this year, and that's a number you don't want to see decrease if you're a reliever. Of course, he's still better than John Grabow, but really, who isn't?
Grabow is one of those rare lefties who doesn't get lefties out. Grabow for his career has a better batting average against righties than lefties, .265 vs .261. But instead of going after anyone else this offseason to help get lefties out, GM Jim Hendry resigned Grabow to a 2-year deal in the offseason, including a $2.1 million dollar raise for 2011 and Grabow has rewarded Hendry with 9.43 ERA in 20 innings so far and a .356 batting average against. Way to go Jim.
As for shedding payroll, Hendry's first order of business should be shipping out Carlos Silva. Yes, he's been the best starter on this team. Isn't that precisely the reason you should move him? To get value for him while you still can? Silva is owed $25 million for 2010 and 2011, including a $2 million buyout. Send him and the $9million that the Seattle Mariners are giving you and try to find someone willing to take him off your hands. Is it tough to do? Sure it is. It's going to get tougher once Silva starts regressing to the bad Silva of the past couple years.
Who else can the Cubs move. Well, therein lies the problem. Hendry gives out no-trade clauses like they're going out of style. They have 7 players with no-trade clauses, including the most disappointing players of the 2010 season, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. That leaves the previously mentioned Dempster and CF Marlon Byrd as their best marketable pieces, and both have big contracts for a team to take on, Dempster being owed $27 million for 2011 and 2012 and Byrd $12 million for 2011 and 2010 because of a back-loaded contract.
As for Ramirez and Lee, they are both in contract years, so it's a bit surprising to see them perform so poorly. Except that Lee is turning 35 this season and the most comparable player to lee after last season was Kent Hrbek who faded, quickly after turning 33. Does not bode well for a recovery for Lee. Ramirez is another story. Ramirez turns 32 towards the end of June and before this season hasn't shown much of a downtrend before getting hurt last season. Even after he came back from the injury, he hadn't slowed down that much, hitting .304 with a .496 slugging, with the .496 SLG even with his career numbers. A .496 OPS in 2010 is not getting it done. His thumb has been bothering him lately, though that can't be the excuse for the whole season. A scary thought? Most comparable player through 31 years old for Aramis? Scott Rolen, who has had poor power output up until his rebound this season. If Ramirez doesn't improve, I would bet he will not opt out and the Cubs will be on the hook for at least $16.6 million more. Cubs fans might want them to take a look at top 3B prospect Josh Vitters, but the 21 year-old isn't quite ready, hitting only .234 in AA after being called up, including .125 is his last 10 games.