Bloated contracts could spoil any fresh start for Cubs
By GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 8, 2011 8:22PM
Pitcher Kerry Wood, the only Cub who might interest teams, leaps into the ivy in pursuit of a fly ball during batting practice before a game against the Astros on May 31. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP
The Cubs soon might be ready to unload pricey veterans, but finding buyers won’t be easy. (The first figure below is the amount remaining on the contract. The second figure is the 2011 total prorated for half the season.)
$26.9 million, $8.9 million
Scouts like what they see on the mound this year, but past baggage and ’12 salary temper interest.
* Has full no-trade rights
Updated: September 18, 2011 12:15AM
CINCINNATI — Blow it up? Start over? Get rid of all those fat-salaried Cubs and start rebuilding for next year?
Not so fast, Cubs fans.
All the talk in recent days about whether this veteran or that veteran would waive his no-trade clause when the Cubs become sellers ahead of next month’s trading deadline misses the most important point:
Nobody’s buying. And in most cases, it’s probably going to stay that way.
Conversations with talent evaluators and team officials from both leagues, including four larger-market clubs, paint a dreary picture for the Cubs’ chances of moving some of the contracts they’d surely look to shop and getting talent in return that would help their rebuilding process.
That doesn’t mean they won’t be able to move a player or two at the deadline, and making trades is one of Jim Hendry’s major strengths as a general manager.
But the kind of fire sale being called for by fans and media will be a hard sell at best, will cost millions in salary-eating at whatever level it’s accomplished and has almost no chance of bearing the kind of rebuilding fruit that teams such as the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins have achieved with selling sprees over the last decade or so.
The only veteran Cub who other teams consistently suggest has the value to stir a market of bidders is reliever Kerry Wood, who only has a low salary ($1.5 million) because of the personal ties that prompted him to offer the Cubs a drastic discount in the first place.
Wood also has full no-trade rights, and he said he hasn’t considered if a scenario could arise that would make him want to waive them.
‘‘I’d have to talk to a lot more people,’’ he said. ‘‘I’d have to talk to my wife. I haven’t really even thought about it yet.’’
Aside from the potential to get a good prospect for Wood — or to offer Wood a chance for a ring — the Cubs have no incentive to trade him.
And the players they might have the most incentive to trade don’t figure to have many takers — certainly not without significant cash involved to cover the salary obligations.
For example, one rival executive from a big-market club said pitcher Carlos Zambrano has impressed this year by looking more in control on the field and more mature.
But that said, ‘‘You’ve still got to decide whether you want to take the chance on him with [his meltdown track record],’’ the exec said. ‘‘The money’s no problem for this year [about $9 million for half the season], but when you look at two years, that’s a lot [$18 million in 2012].’’
Although the New York Yankees have had on-again, off-again interest in Zambrano in recent seasons — and have a need for starting pitching — a source close to the Yankees suggested that with former Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild now in New York, the chances of the Yanks going after Zambrano actually decrease. Never mind the fact that Zambrano has a no-trade clause and said this week, ‘‘I want to be a Cubbie for life.’’
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez has said repeatedly this week that he won’t waive his no-trade rights if asked, even for a chance to go to a contender.
‘‘Playoffs are never a sure thing,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes it works [to get traded to a team in the race]; sometimes it doesn’t.’’
It’s a non-issue unless his third homer of the season Wednesday was the start of a monster, monthlong power binge. Ramirez’s $16 million option for 2012 vests with a trade, and even then it would take plenty of Cubs cash to start a conversation.
Kosuke Fukudome ($13.5 million) and Carlos Pena ($10 million) could draw some interest, but only if Fukudome stalls his post-April fade pattern and Pena starts pushing his home-run total closer to the National League leaderboard. Even then, those would figure to be late deals with cash needed at closing, especially for Fukudome.
All of which points back to that rebuilding question and how quickly it could be pulled off.
In other words: Not so fast, Cubs fans.