Cubs Actions Before Trade Deadline are Crucial

With the Major League Baseball trade deadline approaching on July 31st, the Cubs have some critical work to do.  It’s become apparent at this point, with a 38-58 record, the Cubs must do whatever they can to improve their team for the future because this season is lost.  Unfortunately, I believe this means that they must unload some of their current major league talent.

It’s obvious by their results thus far that the current roster is not good enough to win on a regular basis.   It also seems that their minor league system is pretty thin as far as players ready to come up and have an immediate impact.  So how can this be corrected?  It may take a few seasons but it is something that can be done.  They can address these issues by signing new talent in the off-season and acquiring prospects through trades.  In two weeks, the trade deadline come and go and some of the progress towards both of these goals will be better known.

The Cubs current payroll is about $127 million.  This is good for 6th highest in the majors.  With ticket sales down significantly in 2011, the Cubs cannot simply just go spend more money than they already have invested.  However, if they can manage to unload some of those big salaries before the trade deadline, they will free up money for this off-season and also get some decent prospects in return.  To me, it’s clear that this is the route that they should go.

With that being said, Jim Hendry has made this a lot more difficult of a task than it should have to be.  Many players have no-trade clauses and some of them are overpaid, which will likely cause potential buyers to shy away from wanting to make a deal.

Alfonso Soriano probably will remain a Cub.  He is the highest paid player on the Cubs at $19 million and still has three years remaining on his contract.  He has not performed up to the expectations his salary warrants and not many teams would want to acquire him at that price tag.

Aramis Ramirez has made himself more valuable of a commodity than he was just two months ago with his power explosion over that time.  Next season, the Cubs can either choose to buy him out for $2 million or keep him for $16 million because there is a team option in his contract.   Some teams may want to take a gamble on Ramirez but he has a no-trade clause and his $16 million team option automatically vests if he is traded.

Carlos Zambrano is under contract for 2012 for around $18 million and also has a no-trade clause.  Although, Zambrano has said we would waive his no-trade clause if the situation came up.  His value seemed to be rising just a month ago when he was turning in solid pitching performances, but his recent injury may have hurt his chances of being dealt before the deadline.

Carlos Marmol is set to make $7 million in 2012 and just under $10 million for 2013.  The Cubs are free to trade Marmol because there are no restrictions in his contract and he also probably has the most value at this point.  He’s still young and at the top of his game, although even that’s been questionable over the past month or so.

The above players are the Cubs highest paid that are also under contract beyond 2011.  I would not hesitate to trade any of them given the opportunity because it would decrease salary, open up roster spots, and bring in young prospects.  The only player I could make a case to keep is Ramirez since there aren’t any imminent third base prospects in-house or due to become free agents this off-season.

Ryan Dempster also has a player option for $14 million next season and will likely exercise his option when the time comes.  Like many other Hendry contracts, Dempster’s has a no-trade clause as well.  Marlon Byrd and Sean Marshall are also under contract for 2012, but their $6.5 million and $3.1 million respective deals come at a decent bargain.

Realistically, the rest of the Cubs that come with decent value are those with expiring contracts.  Carlos Pena, Kosuke Fukudome, Jeff Baker, and Reed Johnson are all turning in decent performances and will likely draw interest from many clubs.  If the Cubs feel like they could use any of these players next season, they have the luxury of being able to trade them now and resign them in the off-season.  They have nothing to lose by trading any of these players and should do so in order to build their farm system.

With the expiring contracts and estimated payments made to arbitration-eligible free agents, the Cubs payroll will be reduced to around $90 million.  This is also assuming Dempster picks up his $14 million option and the Cubs pick up Ramirez’s $16 million option.  A payroll of this level is still pretty high and likely would make it difficult for the Cubs to sign a top free agent like Prince Fielder, who’s expected to earn at least $25 million per season.  If they want to be able to accomplish something of this magnitude, Hendry will have to find a way to unload either Soriano, Ramirez, Zambrano, Dempster, or maybe Marmol.  In my opinion, this would be Hendry’s last bargaining chip to help him keep his job.  He is, after all, one of the main people responsible for the contract mess that the Cubs find themselves in.  Perhaps, trading Ramirez or buying him out in the off-season is likely going to be necessary since it is $14 million that they actually have control over.

Making one of these moves i’s going to be a difficult task and there still might not be many great returns if it’s accomplished.  However, this is still the Cubs best chance to improve in the short-term and down the line as well, no matter how marginal that improvement might be.  I still believe that it would be for the best.

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