By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The trade market will be in full bloom for the next six weeks.
On Chicago’s north side, the Cubs (36-34) remain in second place in the NL Central, a half-game behind the division-leading Brewers (38-35). At this rate, winning the division will be the only path for an NL East or NL Central team to make the postseason, as the NL West boasts two teams in the Dodgers and Diamondbacks that are at least 7.5 games clear of the Cubs in the wild-card race.
So, what will be the moves that Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer try to make? The Cubs’ quest has long been to add more starting pitching, and the club has all of its scouts out looking for the best starter available. The Cubs’ desire is to add a contract-controllable young starter.
With many teams in the American League close to .500, the buyers and sellers aren’t clearly defined right at this moment. Every AL club except the White Sox, Tigers and Athletics are within two games of .500 entering play Wednesday.
The Cubs will be hoping pitchers like Rays right-hander Chris Archer, Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander and Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish become available. Of those three, only Darvish is a free agent this offseason.
Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray, Twins right-hander Ervin Santana and White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana will also be sought by contenders.
“The American League is incredibly jumbled up,” Hoyer said when asked about possible trade partners. “That is why deals don’t usually get done this time of the year. People are still sorting it out. Teams are close enough right now that they will not admit they are sellers. The next five weeks will determine a lot about who ends up on the other side of the fence.”
While the concentration is on the starting pitchers, don’t be surprised if the Cubs search long and hard for a lead-off hitter as well. Speedster’s like Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and Miami’s Dee Gordon may be on the market with both of those teams out of the race.
Despite Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s great success at lead-off — he’s reached base to start all seven games he’s been atop the order — he belongs in an RBI slot, and Hoyer has previously said Rizzo batting lead-off isn’t a long-term solution.
“I don’t think you rule out anything if it makes us better,” Hoyer said Tuesday evening. “Pitching is a priority now and the place we need to go. Still, you never rule out anything if you can help the team improve.”
The idea of finding a lead-off man from within the 25-man roster remains a possibility too, Hoyer said.
“Joe (Maddon) has people on the team that can fill that role,” Hoyer said. “It hasn’t happened yet this year with the exception of Rizzo. I am not sure that is the permanent solution. It has worked so far. Again, our focus has been on the pitching side.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.