Whether Thursday’s big trade of pitcher Scott Kazmir from the Athletics to the Astros opens the floodgate on baseball’s stalled pitching market, it should at least influence the Cubs’ efforts to land a pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Multiple major league officials, including an executive for a rival team that’s also looking for pitching, said they expect the Kazmir trade – for a pair of Class A, second-tier prospects – to help establish a market for rent-a-starters.
If so, that could put the market for that level of pitcher into the Cubs’ wheelhouse, both in terms of prospects they’re willing to trade and payroll flexibility (less than $5 million).
For all the talk of the Cubs landing a pitcher with multiple years of club control, sources say they are “casting a wide net” that also includes at least exploratory conversations on nearly every two-month rental perceived to be on the market.
That includes Marlins’ starters Dan Haren and Mat Latos, according to a source close to that situation. Both have contracts that run through this season, with less than $4 million left on each.
If anything, Kazmir has higher value as a left-hander who has outperformed both Marlins righties this season.
The Cubs also have contacted the Braves about pitching, according to a source, with 24-year-old former All-Star Julio Teheran — a potential change-of-scenery candidate having issues with staff – believed to be part of the conversations.
The Braves don’t seem to have interest in two of the bigger names the Cubs have floated to teams: strikeout-prone shortstop Javy Baez, and All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro (who has a guaranteed $37 million left on the final four years of deal after 2015). But they also have a laundry list of non-pitching needs.
That’s the kind of pitcher the Cubs set as their ideal to acquire when they started checking in with teams — a young veteran pitcher with an established track record and at least two years of club control left, a high enough quality of pitcher to project as a Game 3 starter in a playoff series, ideally.
Castro’s name has been floated even to contending teams, said one source, who believed it’s an effort to determine market value more than an imminent play to move him. As of this week, the Cubs did not expect to trade Castro in a deadline deal.
Baez, on the other hand, was in play at least as far back as May, and his broken finger June 7 derailed early efforts at putting deals together. He’s expected to return to the field for a low-minors rehab assignment this week, which could put him back in the mix next week.
Other notes, based on information from Cubs sources and from sources with rival teams:
— The Cubs were said to be pushing their efforts to find a bat almost as hard as they were looking for starting pitching, at least until Kyle Schwarber’s big week in his return from the minors. Manager Joe Maddon emphasizes he likes his lineup and doesn’t know where he’d play a newcomer. But after one wise-guy reporter told him that’s why he needs versatile Ben Zobrist – a Maddon favorite for years in Tampa Bay – Maddon laughed, said, “Yeah, a guy that plays everywhere,” and then changed the subject.
The Cubs, who tried hard to trade for Zobrist over the winter before the Athletics landed him, have checked in with the A’s on the former All-Star multiple times over the last two months. Reports out of Oakland suggest that in the wake of the Kazmir trade, Zobrist could be the next guy traded by the A’s – but the Cubs are in a long line of suitors at this point.
— Forget closer Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies. The Cubs made their bullpen moves, trading in May for reliever Yoervis Medina and signing former All-Star closer Rafael Soriano, who joined the big-league club this week in Cincinnati.
–If the Cubs add to the bullpen anytime soon it’s more likely to be an internal move such as hard-throwing right-hander Carl Edwards Jr., who has a 2.64 ERA in 44 1/3 innings this season between Class AA and AAA (similar numbers at both stops). The caveat: Rival evaluators say he struggles with command of his curve ball, his second-best pitch (6.7 walks per nine innings).
–Forget Phillies ace Cole Hamels, too. The Cubs have plenty of interest in the opposing starter they’ll face Saturday, but don’t appear to have the combination of payroll flexibility and high-end prospects they’re willing to trade to pull it off. They’re said to still be talking but not pursuing as hard as other teams.
–Put Detroit’s David Price in the same category, with remaining salary on the final year of his contract in excess of their payroll space. And he’ll command more in a prospect package than other two-month rentals, even Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.