Cubs’ Ryan Dempster resolved to his fate as trade bait; skid hits 10
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com May 25, 2012 11:47PM
Ryan Dempster (left) seems resolved to his fate as trade bait. He picked up the loss Friday despite giving up only one run in 7 1/3 innings. | Gene J. Puskar~AP
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:12AM
PITTSBURGH — Nobody has to spell it out for Ryan Dempster.
He’s been around. He knows the end of his career as a Cub is probably measured in weeks, no matter how many more zeroes he puts up as the team’s best starting pitcher.
In fact, more starts like his 71/3-inning gem Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates — albeit in a 1-0 loss — should only speed up the process.
“I’m not an idiot. I know how things go,’’ said Dempster, a two-time All-Star and the Cubs’ Opening Day starter the last two seasons. “I know how it goes with players in contract years and the team not necessarily doing like they’re supposed to be doing, there’s always a possibility of things. There’s a possibility of being traded anytime.
“But I don’t really think about it. I don’t really worry about it because I can just control doing my job the best I can.’’
That attitude has served him well since the Cubs signed Dempster eight years ago as a free agent still coming back from Tommy John surgery.
In the final year of a four-year contract that pays him $14 million this year, Dempster could be the next player traded from a team that already had the major leagues’ worst record before losing its 10th consecutive game Friday.
That’s the club’s longest losing streak since it opened the 1997 season with a franchise-record 14 consecutive losses.
The club’s no-end-in-sight tailspin and the way Dempster has pitched — 2.14 ERA despite no wins to show for it — could make him one of the most sought-after players before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Probably much sooner than that, depending how aggressive the Cubs’ new front office gets once the focus shifts from the June 4-6 draft to roster-shuffling trade talks.
“You get to that point in the year where decisions, roster moves, a lot of things like that [have to be made],’’ manager Dale Sveum said when asked about how important the next few weeks are for the big-league club. “You get to the point where if you’re not playing well things start changing a lot.’’
Dempster is not only the usually top-valued commodity at the trading deadline — a potential difference-making starting pitcher — but he’s also a guy whose final contract year coincides with dramatic changes in the collective-bargaining agreement that make it foolish for the Cubs not to attempt to trade him.
Draft-pick compensation is so restricted that the Cubs would need to tender Dempster a one-year extension offer of more than $12.3 million at the end of the year — and have him decline it — to be eligible for any draft-pick compensation for him leaving as a free agent.
Dempster knows that as well as anybody. He has full no-trade rights through his status as a player with 10 years service, including five with his current team. But he’s not expected to hold up a trade that works for the Cubs and allows him to shot at the playoffs this year.
“If it’s something they want to approach me with, then I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get to it,’’ he said.
The New York Yankees, who employ his old pitching coach Larry Rothschild, liked Dempster when he became a free agent last time —and signed A.J. Burnett, Friday’s winning pitcher for the Pirates, instead.
The Yankees have starting pitching needs — along with the Boston Red Sox, and perhaps a half-dozen or more would-be contenders.
Dempster, who blamed himself for Friday’s outcome after failing to cleanly handle a comebacker and turn a double play in the second, is trying to focus on now.
“I’d be doing everybody in this locker room a disservice, and I wouldn’t be doing my job the best I could,’’ he said, “if I didn’t just focus on doing everything I can for this team when I’m here.’’