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Cubs embark on more rebuilding while White Sox gear up for title run

Ryan Dempster

Ryan Dempster

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CUBS’ TRADES Since Monday

Braves get: Paul Maholm, LHP; Reed Johnson, OF

Cubs get: Arodys Vizcaino, RHP (AAA); Jaye Chapman, RHP (AAA)

Rangers get: Geovany Soto, C

Cubs get: Jacob Brigham, RHP (AA)

Rangers get: Ryan Dempster, RHP

Cubs get: Christian Villanueva, 3B (A); Kyle Hendricks, RHP (A)

Updated: September 2, 2012 6:25AM

Was it necessary to burn down the village to save it?

Evidently. As the non-waiver deadline for baseball trades came and went Tuesday, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took a blowtorch to the Cubs’ present in hopes of creating a brighter future.

That more or less has been their strategy since they took over as the front-office brain trust and found they had inherited a rather sorry supply of bona fide prospects. Pitching arms were especially scarce throughout the organization, so they embarked on a plan to replenish.

They never said it was going to be quick, and they never said it wasn’t going to be painful. We’ll learn just how painful in the next two months. Their two best starting pitchers, their regular catcher and a serviceable fourth outfielder were sacrificed for an infusion of training-wheels talent, all of it at least a year or more away from Wrigley Field employment.

And there won’t be any rebates on those $100 field-box tickets.

If you’re curious about whether the Cubs are any closer to winning a World Series today than they were Sunday, it’s impossible to know. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg aside, even a can’t-miss prospect is just a prospect until he proves himself big league-capable on a daily basis. Of the five youngsters the Cubs just acquired, only two have pitched above Class A. Only Arodys Vizcaino, 21, has major-league experience — a month’s worth — and he is coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

While that’s not the risk factor it once was, good health is never a given with pitchers (surely you remember Mark Prior).

For all the anticipation it stirred on the North Side, the deadline dealing, in and of itself, isn’t likely to affect Cubs history much. In the ‘‘Moneyball’’ era, young talent is the coin of the realm, protected accordingly. Pennant race-altering trades, such as Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz (1987) or Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell (1990), rarely happen anymore as numbers-conscious general managers weigh the value of a quick fix against the potential of a long career.

What the frantic deadline speculation did was to prove yet again how much Cub fans care. The attendance has held up remarkably well, considering the Cubs haven’t stuck their noses above fifth place. At 37,387 fans per game, a ninth consecutive season of 3 million in attendance is within reach — or was.

The Cubs seemed to have bottomed out at 24-48 on June 24. Anthony Rizzo arrived two days later, and the team has gone 19-10 in the five weeks since, invigorated by the promise of youth.

But the front office wasn’t fooled. The Cubs were a fifth-place team with Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm fronting the rotation, with Geovany Soto behind the plate and with Reed Johnson taking right fielder Bryan LaHair’s at-bats against left-handers. They might have been a sixth-place team if the Houston Astros hadn’t collapsed after starting their housecleaning a little earlier.

Now the Cubs have joined the Astros in writing off the 2012 season. Steve Clevenger, with a nice left-handed bat, will get a chance as the every-day catcher. If he’s up for it, the Cubs have in place their catcher, first baseman (Rizzo), second baseman (Darwin Barney) and shortstop (Starlin Castro). And it’s probably only a matter of time before outfielder Brett Jackson and third baseman Josh Vitters get called to Wrigley.

But with a starting rotation of Jeff Samardzija and who-the-heck-are-ya, a 100-loss season is a strong possibility, along with the No. 1 pick in the draft next June.

More prospects. Tough sell to a fan base that, with a few exceptions, hasn’t been alive to see the Cubs in the World Series.

But it’s all about patience. What’s another few years to a franchise that has been peddling hope for more than a century?

Hope isn’t so much a futures commodity on the South Side, where the White Sox’ acquisition of pitcher Francisco Liriano might be the move of the season, trumping their earlier deal for third baseman Kevin Youkilis.

General manager Ken Williams targeted rotation help weeks before season-ending shoulder surgery was prescribed for John Danks. Liriano, just 28, wasn’t a bad consolation prize after the Los Angeles Angels beat him to Zack Greinke.

For reasons involving youth and experience, wear and tear is a concern with Chris Sale and Jake Peavy. Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber have been up-and-down all season, and Jose Quintana hasn’t been as mysterious to hitters in his second trip around the league.

Liriano, a lefty with quality stuff and veteran know-how, can
be a top-line guy for the Sox
if he’s right, and he gives
them the option of a six-man rotation to lighten the load on Sale and Peavy.

Getting Youkilis to fill a hole at third base and adding Brett Myers for bullpen depth left Williams with little to do at the deadline. He did plenty — and at minimal cost.

With two months of the season remaining, the only real certainty in baseball is the Cubs. They’re a long way away.

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