By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Across the country – and throughout the blogosphere – baseball watchers everywhere have been scratching their scalps raw this week while trying to figure out exactly what it was that the Chicago Cubs were up to last weekend at the MLB trade deadline.
When they were, you know, up to pretty much nothing.
Labeling the team a “Deadline Loser,” ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark wrote about Chicago’s Less-and-Less-Lovable ones: “Between no-trade clauses, contracts that acted like no-trade clauses and low-energy under-performance from so many guys on this roster, the Cubs headed for the auction stand with almost nothing they could sell, other than Kosuke Fukudome.
“And once Fukudome was gone, that’s exactly what they did get moved: Nothing.”
Meanwhile, over at Grantland.com, writer Jonah Keri also took the Cubs’ “non-decision-making” to task, firing off the condemnation that, “There is no clearer mark of trade deadline cluelessness than the non-contending team that does nothing … if you’re out of it, and you have players whom other people actually want, what the hell are you waiting for? …
Keri continued his rant about the Cubs, writing: “They had multiple players with real trade value and no keeper value with teams sniffing around. Yet they didn’t make any trades. They didn’t seem to want to field offers at all, preferring to let the baseball world know that fifth place would be just fine.”
Well, as disgusted as I’ve been with the Cubs’ performance this season – this four-game win streak notwithstanding – I’m not going to agree with Keri on that one. Rather, I think Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts does indeed want a first-place team (and, certainly, first-rate attendance).
I’m just not sure he knows how to get there.
But I’m also not sure that the Cubs’ inactivity at the trade deadline was at all the colossal mistake that so many people seem to want to make it out to be. And now, let me tell you why.
First off, many critics have ripped the Cubs this past week for their unwillingness to part with the likes of Carlos Marmol and Carlos Pena, while also expressing disappointment in the team’s inability to part with the likes of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano.
Well, as I wrote last week in regards to Zambrano, if the Cubs had been able to deal him in order to dump his bloated salary, then by all means they should have done it. Same goes for Soriano.
But, if the ballclub was going to trade either of those players and still have to foot the bill for most of their multi-year contracts – as was widely reported – then just keeping them both was a wiser move.
After all, paying players just to go away doesn’t give the Cubs any additional money to pay new ones to arrive this winter.
Now, in the case of Marmol, Keri demanded through his piece at Grantland.com to know why the Cubs wouldn’t trade their closer to an interested contender. But I instead ask, why on Earth would they?
With his recent struggles, Marmol is currently at what has to be the lowest trade value of his career. Beyond that, he’s only 28 years old, is signed through 2013 and still has the tools and make-up to be the kind of closer that the Cubs will want (and need) if they actually become good again in the near future. At this point, he’s still worth hanging on to.
Meanwhile, the decision not to deal Pena does seems like a bigger head-scratcher. After all, with his one-year contract, his decent power numbers and the likelihood of the Cubs pursuing a marquee free-agent first baseman in the offseason, Pena looks like natural deadline trade bait. But I think people need to fish a little deeper.
Because, while the Cubs might indeed want to sign Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols this offseason, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to do so. And if they can’t? Well, then having Pena back at first base is probably your best option.
And, fact is, if you trade Pena, there’s almost no chance that he’d sign back with the Cubs if they find themselves in a first-base pinch.
Now, as to why the Cubs weren’t willing to trade a Marlon Byrd here or a Jeff Baker there, I can’t say. But perhaps the offers for them just weren’t very good (entirely possible). So why trade for just the sake of making a trade?
On face value, I completely understand why the Cubs’ lack of action is so baffling to so many. However, I have a different guess as to why general manager Jim Hendry was so quiet at the deadline.
And it’s because, perhaps, he was told to be.
SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported this week that Hendry still has a strong rapport with Cubs ownership, according to people connected to the organization. But even if Tom Ricketts loves Hendry, I find it difficult to believe that the Cubs chairman will be foolish enough to bring him back for yet another go-around in 2012.
Not if Ricketts wants to actually sell tickets.
And if Hendry isn’t going to be back next season, do you really want the guy making a bunch of trades this season that will impact the ballclub well into the future? I know I don’t.
Now, I very well might be giving Ricketts far too much credit, but I’d also like to believe that the reason why Hendry’s hands were so still at the deadline is because the Cubs chairman had them tied.
And that he’s willing to wait until this winter to make a deal.
By naming new management for the franchise.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.