July 31, 2012


The Cubs were on the cusp of being the Big Loser in this trade season by not pulling the trigger on any deals. Well, there is an old adage in baseball circles: sometimes the best trade is the one you don't make.

After messing up the Dempster-Atlanta deal, the Cubs traded left handed starter Paul Maholm and reserve outfielder Reed Johnson and CASH considerations to the Braves for two minor league players, pitchers Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino. It appears to be an excellent deal for the Braves, who are in a pennant chase with the pitching rich Nationals. The Braves needed to bolster their rotation, and Maholm is a steady, veteran performer.

Maholm has a 3.74 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 49.9% ground ball rate in 120 1/3 innings for the Cubs this year. The 30-year-old has never thrown particularly hard; his average fastball checks in at 87.6 mph this year, according to FanGraphs. He earns a $4.75MM salary in 2012 and his contract includes a $6.5MM club option for 2013.  So the Braves control Maholm next season plus the Cubs are paying part of his contract going forward.

Johnson, 35, has a .307/.361/.452 batting line in 180 plate appearances this year. The right-handed hitter has played all three outfield positions for the Cubs and owns a career .313/.370/.469 line against left-handed pitching. He's signed to a one-year, $1.15MM contract and will hit free agency after the season.  Johnson is one of those deadline pick up that bolsters a team's bench and gives a manager more options down the September stretch, both pitch hitting and defensive replacement.

So what did the Cubs get back in return? Nothing close to what Dempster trade would have gotten them, quality prospect Randall Delgado.  Instead, the Cubs obtained A PITCHER ON THE DISABLED LIST with a major injury.

Vizcaino, who entered the 2012 season ranked by Baseball America as the 40th-best prospect in MLB, had Tommy John surgery this spring. The 21-year-old posted a 3.06 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 97 innings for three Braves affiliates as he made his way through Atlanta's minor league system in 2011. The right-hander reached the Major Leagues last year, posting a 4.67 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 in 17 relief appearances.
Clearly, the Braves fast tracked Vizcaino through the system to the majors where he had so-so results. A minor league phenom with major surgery is not that comforting or helpful in the near future. The success rate for pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery is good (some pitchers believe their arm is stronger than before), but some do not ever get back to their pre-surgery fastball speeds. Many have to adapt new, more arm friendly pitches, in order to stay on a career course. In normal rehab, it takes 18 months to 2 years until the player is ready to go full bore. So, the trade of Maholm's 18 months left on his contract is for nothing at this point.

Chapman, a 25-year-old right-hander, has a 3.52 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9 in 53 2/3 innings of relief for Atlanta's Triple-A team so far in 2012. He has a career 3.95 ERA and 1.391 WHIP. He has been basically a reliever his entire minor league career. But in 101 games finished, he only has 28 saves. At 25, he appears to be a middle reliever candidate.

Was the Maholm deal a "make up trade" with the Braves for Dempster pulling a reversal no to the teams' earlier trade? The Cubs did not receive very much in return for Maholm and Johnson.

The Cubs also traded Geovany Soto. Soto should have been traded a year ago when he still had rookie of the year type potential on the trade market. But the Cubs kept Soto as the starter. Nagging injuries and bad swing mechanics doomed his value this season.

The Cubs traded Soto to the Rangers for Jacob Brigham, a AA minor league pitcher.
Soto, 29, has a .195/.278/.345 batting line in 194 plate appearances this year. The 2008 NL Rookie of the Year earns $4.3MM in 2012 and is on track to go to arbitration for the third time this offseason. However, the Cubs were going to non-tender him to save money which would have granted Soto free agency a year early. Clearly, the Rangers got Soto as catching insurance in case starter Mike Napoli or backup Yorvit Torrealba go down with injuries.

It was cheap insurance, too. Brigham, a 24-year-old right-hander, had been pitching at Double-A Frisco. He has a 4.28 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 124 innings over the course of 21 starts this year. Brigham is a fringe arm, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. He has a below average career as a starter the past six years, with a .391 winning percentage and 4.40 ERA and 1.395 WHIP. At 24 and 6 seasons in his career but not out of AA ball yet means Brigham can't really be called a viable major league prospect at this point. After 6 seasons of development, a player should have already made it to AAA (and with some ML service time). But with Soto's weak bat, this was really a salary dump by the Cubs (possibly to off-set some of the money being sent to Atlanta in the Maholm deal).

Overall, the Cubs traded three players on the current major league roster for one prospect with major arm surgery and a borderline journeyman relief pitcher. 

The only thing the moves really does is to open up roster spaces. Maholm's spot in the rotation most likely will be filled by Volstad since Randy Wells went on the AAA DL is out for the season (thus ending his Cub career). Johnson's spot on the bench may be filled by a middle infielder like Cardenas. Promoting Brett Jackson to sit on the bench would not be a good move, unless Soriano or DeJesus is dealt. Wellington Castillo will replace Soto and platoon with Clevenger in an extended battle of who will become the starting 2013 catcher. 

July 30, 2012


You have to give props to White Sox general manager Kenny Williams. When his team has a glaring need, he finds a way to make a trade to help the club.

He has been on fire this season. He traded two marginal utility infielders (and one, Lillibridge, was cut by the team who traded for him) and two very low level prospects (#24 and #30 in the lowly rated White Sox system) for Youkilis, Myers and Liriano.

The White Sox had a wormhole at third base. Starter Morel has a back injury and no bat. The Sox tried to bandage the position including using Orland Hudson there. Defense suffered and offensive waned. So Williams got an unhappy Youkilis out of the nasty backstabbing Red Sox clubhouse. Youkilis has immediately paid dividends anchoring third base.

The White Sox, due to injury, have a rookie heavy bullpen which is not what a contender wants to have going into the post-season. As a result, Williams picked up a proven closer from the Astros, Myers, which immediately makes the entire pitching staff better.

The White Sox rotation began the year as a solid core. Danks, Peavy, Floyd and Humber were supposed to carry the team. But Danks got hurt, and after his perfect game, Humber was simply bad. However, a waiver pick up from the Yankees organization, Quintana, has been very good spot starting for Danks.  Now, with the addition of another lefty starter in Liriano, Williams has given pitching coach Don Cooper enough arms to survive the heat of a pennant race in September.  Liriano is not having a very good season for the Twins, but it was clearly a cheap gamble for the White Sox to make. Every pitcher they bring onto the roster, Williams has the confidence that Cooper will correct any mechanical flaws and get an upside performance from any pitcher.

The plus factor is that adding veterans to a vocal veteran clubhouse can only help solidify a player mission to get into the playoffs and win.

July 27, 2012


The Cubs appear to be falling face on their collective face.

First, it was the Dempster to Atlanta trade that fell a part because Dempster felt "blindsided" by the news of it. If Dempster did not give the Cubs any preferences, then shame on management for not discussing the prospect of trading him. But if Dempster did give an indication he'd go to Atlanta, then shame on him for pulling out at the last moment. For if Dempster wants to stay a Cub, all he has to do is say "I am not waiving my 10-5 rights." Then the Cubs don't have to waste time trying to deal him for prospects.

The Dempster saga was clearly a distraction and a PR disaster.

Second, Garza gets hurt in his last start. It was initially stated maybe an elbow or arm cramps, but turns out to be a triceps injury of unknown severity. However, Garza will miss his next start (his last one before the trade deadline). No team will trade for an injured starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Garza will stay a Cub for the rest of the season.  There is little chance that Garza will clear waivers after August 1st to make an in-season move with so many other teams vying for the second wild card spot.

So the Cubs will have Dempster and Garza on the roster to the end of the season. Then, another problem occurs which should make management nervous. The whole point of trading Garza and Dempster was to bring back high level and major league ready prospects in return to quicken the rebuilding process. Dempster is a free agent at season's end. In order to get a compensatory draft pick, the Cubs would have to give Dempster a "qualifying offer" of around $12.5 million (which is a $1.5 million pay cut). Maybe the Cubs think Dempster will reject the offer and file for free agency. However, since Dempster and his family are now a fixtures in Chicago, it is highly probable that Dempster could accept the offer and be a Cub in 2014. That would set back rebuilding even further.

Garza could head to his last year of arbitration. He is likely going to make the same as Dempster's offer, $12.5 million (an approximate $2.75 million raise). The Cubs may not think Garza is truly a #1 starter since they have been trying to trade him this year. The Cubs don't want to pay a large extension contract for a pitcher on a ball club that will not be ready to compete until 2015. Ricketts has to be counting the days when his payroll is cut to under $100 million. But if Dempster and Garza both stay, then the payroll relief does not happen.

So the rebuilding process stalls in neutral for another year.

July 23, 2012


An unbelievable, baffling afternoon on the Cubs front.

It was reported by multiple sources than the Cubs traded Dempster to the Braves for 22 year old pitcher Randall Delgado (17 starts: 4-9, 4.22 ERA). Then there was a delay about who else may be part of the deal, or that the league office had to approve the deal because of the money changing hands.

But that is pretty standard in big money deals.

However, when the news of the trade hit the inter-webs, it drew a strong reaction from a principal:

Dempster tweets NO TRADE.

Apparently, he learned of the Braves deal from the media and not the Cubs.
He has not approved any trade to the Braves. He was in Pittsburgh getting ready for tonight's game.

And since the Cubs failed to talk to him directly before it got out in the media,
we could assume Dempster is ticked off - - - - and may veto the deal out of spite.

If this is the timeline, it is damning fumble by the Cubs front office. Don't you talk to Dempster BEFORE making the deal and negotiating with the Braves?? You don't cut a deal then go seek Dempster's permission to waive his no trade.  That would be a backward waste of time and resources. 

UPDATE 7-24-2012 9 A.M.:

MLBTR reports this morning that Dempster felt "blindsided when the news of the proposed deal" leaked before the Cubs told him about the possible deal. As we said yesterday, the Cubs brass fumbled their human relations skills badly; by not telling Dempster in advance whether he would take a trade to Atlanta (before starting discussions), it is reported the chances of a deal being completed are only 50-50.

Ricketts brought in Epstein because he was the smartest GM on the market. He was a genius. But the way Cub management has handled this Dempster trade has been really dumb.

UPDATE 7-25-2012 3 P.M.:

The Braves GM says the Dempster deal is dead.
Dempster throws a tantrum in the dugout in Pittsburgh after being pulled from game (a loss).


SPECULATION was that both Dempster and Garza would have been traded last week. But Epstein could not pull the trigger on any deals, even though interest was high on both players.

There may be many factors on why the Cubs are lingering on doing deals.

1. The Cubs may overvalue Dempster and Garza in the market. Teams won't give top ten prospects for a rental player. Teams may only give one high and two low level prospects for Garza.

2. The Cubs are waiting for a team on the fence to get desperate and "over pay" for a Cub player.

3. The Cubs have so many offers that they are in information paralysis mode.

4. Dempster won't waive his no trade.

5. Ownership may be pushing to keep the players in order to sell tickets in August and September.

The problem with waiting to the end is that there may be no buyers at the end.

Dempster had his scoreless streak snapped, so his value went down. Garza has a forearm, well maybe, a triceps injury. So no team is going to trade for a starter with an existing injury. Garza may have no value this week.

Family issues may come into play, too. School is starting soon. Garza is about to become a father. The players don't want to upset family routines.

So it is possible that both Dempster and Garza remain on the Cubs this year. And if so, in order to get a compensation pick for FA Dempster, the Cubs would have to offer him a $12 million offer. And guess what? Dempster could screw up the rebuilding blue print by taking the offer and staying a Cub. Likewise, Garza will make about $12 million in arbitration. So instead of $30 million coming off the books, only $6 million will.

July 21, 2012


Owner Tom Ricketts invested millions in the Dominican Republic in order to create a pipeline of new talent into the organization. He left it to his "baseball people" to run. That means bringing in talent that can make it to the next level. Well, news from MLB this week was that two Cub Dominican camp players were suspended 50 games for failing drug tests. That is not a very good start for Camp Cubs.

Ricketts also said he wanted to instill "a Cubs Way" on how his players will play and present themselves as professionals. Again, he left it to his baseball people to implement a new Cubs way. Well, if character was part of the program, the Cubs latest international prospect signing is puzzling. 

Baseball America reports that the Cubs have signed Dominican right-hander Juan Carlos Paniagua to a contract with a $1.5 million signing bonus, which equates to 60% of next year's total international signing bonus. Under the new CBA, this one move hamstrings other international player signings for the next year.

But more troubling is the fact that his is the third time that Paniagua has signed a contract with a Major League team. In 2009, the Diamondbacks contract with him was voided due to the fact that the player presented "fraudulent documentation" including a false name. After a year suspension, the Yankees signed him but that contract which was also voided by major league baseball for fraud. 

Latin American and Caribbean players have a history of strange birth certificates, suspect documentation in order to claim they are younger (and therefore more valuable) than they really are in order to get a deal.  Paniagua lists his date of birth as April 4, 1990, the same as he did in his previous two MLB contracts. The question is whether the Cubs contract will also be voided by MLB. 

With most foreign players, information is vague. When Paniagua agreed to a $1.1 million Yankee bonus back in March, 2011, the reason for the suspension was unknown, but it turned into his second suspension after getting caught up in some identity and age fraud stuff two years earlier when he was "Juan Collado" and agreed to a $17,000 deal with the Diamondbacks in 2009. After that contract was voided, scouts reported that the pitcher apparently picked up some big time velocity (sitting 93-95 touching the high-90′s). And that is why the Yankees signed him as a power pitcher.

The Cubs stated that they are desperate for pitching so many this is a Hail Mary attempt to find a power pitcher.  But at age 22, this "prospect" needs to be as polished as a U.S. Division 1 college senior starter. There are no readily available statistics from the Dominican leagues. But Baseball America reports that Paniagua hasn't shown the same velocity he had when he signed with the Yankees—he sat at 93-95 mph at a May workout. But scouts saw an improved 81-84 mph slider  that still graded out behind his changeup. He also throws an occasional curveball, and while he was around the plate in Puerto Rico, his command and pitchability have been issues in the past.

So the Cubs signed a player who had a fraud issues with two other clubs. A player that suddenly bumped up his fastball on the radar gun to go from a $17,000 prospect signee to a $1.1 million bonus star in two years. And now, the Cubs sign him for more money than the Yankees even though his stuff has gone down and "his command and pitch ability have been issues."

We have recently read scouting reports with similar harsh words on a newly signed Cub prospect, Geraldo Concepcion, who was a multimillion dollar signee who is struggling greatly in Class A ball.
The trend for Latin bonus baby pitchers is not good for the Cubs.

July 19, 2012


Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune spoke to Cubs President Theo Epstein in regard to the the state of the Cubs. Many of Epstein's statements contradict the mission statement laid out by owner Tom Ricketts when Epstein was hired less than a year ago.

"We're hoping we're very competitive very soon," Epstein said. "Yet wanting it to be so doesn't make it so. You have to build an organization."

Ricketts told fans at the hiring that the Cubs would remain competitive. He said that there would be money to spend on free agents and build a minor league system. Ricketts' promise that the Cubs would remain competitive was necessary in order to preserve the season ticket base and keep fans coming to the ball park. 

"In certain deals, it is (pitching)," Epstein said. "You can express a preference for pitching, but if you're dealing with a club that has better position player prospects and you feel the position players in a certain system are a safer bet or offer higher upside, I don't think it's right to pigeonhole yourself to one situation."

It is apparent that Epstein is trying to get young, fast. He wants to trade veterans for young prospects, preferably pitchers. Reports have noted that in trade discussions, the Cubs are looking for under 21 prospects (A ball) which means that it will take years to develop through the system (if you promote them one level per year). Instead of being competitive, the Cubs appear to be big market bottom dwellers for the next three to four years, which would be unacceptable to the fans and ownership.

"As a whole, not specifically regarding potential deals, we need to add a lot of pitching to the system. It's not enough to have a handful or two. You need waves and waves coming through your system, and we don't have that. We hardly have even one wave coming, so we need to rebuild a lot of pitching depth."

It is ironic that this philosophy mirrors Jim Hendry's last five year plan: sign a ton of pitchers and see if any pan out, instead of correctly evaluating talent on an individual basis to get MLB talent at any position. Hendry drafted a lot of college pitchers because he needed to have an army of new arms ready each season. At one point, he had 2/3 of his 40 man roster filled with pitchers. And what happened? The system was without talent at key positions, especially third base, second base and power hitting corner outfield slots. It is so bad that Vitters is the only third base prospect in the organization. And Hoyer is not too keen on him, either.  Hendry rolled the dice on over-emphazing pitching and lost. Now Epstein is over-emphasizing pitching (at a riskier lower level of acquiring high school/teens in the last draft and in future trades). And that should be a major worry since he has said the team will not be competitive for years (which is exactly the opposite Ricketts said when he hired Epstein).
"It's a nice way to add talent to an organization without giving up talent," he said of free agent acquisitions. "But you can not make an organization that way. We have a lot of steps ahead of us that we need to take care of before we're in position to add a finishing piece or two through free agency."

However, the Cubs last playoff squad was primarily built through free agent signings. The idea that the sole focus of the Cubs organization now is to sign or trade for young minor league talent only means that the selective rebuild is now a demolition job. To foreclose the thought of signing a free agent because you are rebuilding is a narrow minded, pigeon-holed blindness in the reality of the business.

"We'll always be on every free agent and see if it's the right player or the right value. But if we sat around and drew up a plan and had free agency as the answer to most of our problems, we'd be on a fool's errand there."

The idea that free agency is not the answer to the Cubs problems may relate back to the issue of money. The Cubs are no longer the cash machine that the Tribune owned; attendance is down so revenue is down. Ricketts has begged the city and state for money to rehab Wrigley Field (but at the same time spent tens of millions of dollars on adjacent real estate purchases). One thing is certain: the Cubs payroll will begin to drop quickly starting next year as at least $30 million in contracts come off the books. The Cubs payroll will probably be below $95 million for 2013, which gets the Cubs into middle market levels. For every dollar of payroll saved, another dollar goes to ownership profit. If the Cubs lose 100 games in 2012 and another 100 or so in 2013, there may be a very small fan base left in 2014 when the "new prospects" begin to get ready to make their major league debuts.

But there are troubling signs that "the process" may be more important than promoting talent quickly. The Cubs now have a rule that they want position players to have at least 500 ABs at AAA before being promoted to the major league team. That means a full season in AAA. It seems like an arbitrary wall, and will not solve an injury problem during the season. 

In addition, there are stories that the Cubs are primarily focused in on trading Ryan Dempster to the point of not listening or processing other trade requests, like on Matt Garza or even Darwin Barney. If true, that means the decision making process is glacial in the front office. Epstein added another layer of management with his team over the retained Hendry team, but with all those executives you would hope that they could do more than one thing at a time. If not, the Cubs are doomed by seized managerial rust in the gears.

Then there are the reports that the Royals of all teams are interested in acquiring Garza. Many people say that is impossible; the Royals are not buyers. But in some respects, the new CBA and a minor league system that has produced some talent, the Royals --- a small market team that gets the benefits of revenue sharing and competitive balance pick ---- can make a deal for a veteran pitcher to anchor their staff for the next few years at $12 million/per. Garza fits that mold of a Greinke replacement. Garza will get $12 million in arbitration for 2013, and the Royals will offer him $12.5 million tender for 2014 (and if rejects it, the Royals get a first round compensation pick). The Royals can trade their new competitive pick (#1 in sandwich round) to the Cubs with some low level prospects for Garza. It would be like a small market team vulture picking the carcass of a fallen, bloated big city water buffalo but it makes some logical sense. It feeds the Epstein need to amass draft picks and young players. And it also plays well in the Royals scheme: a big name at a reasonable price and a high draft pick if he leaves for free agency in 1.5 years.

It is such a simple deal that there is no reason it should not get done quickly. But then again, Dempster is a free agent, riding a 33 inning scoreless streak. His value is at its peak. Ten teams may be in the mix. So the entire focus of the Epstein brain trust is looking over scouting reports for 10 teams to make prospect lists? One, that should have already been done before trade discussion start, and two, the Cubs brass should already have a blueprint of positions to fill throughout the grids of their entire system roster charts and lists of who is expected to fill those slots (internally or externally).

The Cubs have said that they want to remain competitive, but all signs point to the opposite. The Cubs want to trade their valuable veterans to gain a hoard of young pitching prospects, but it seems like they can't pull the trigger as quickly as say, a Kenny Williams whose trade for Kevin Youkilis has turned out to be the deal of the decade. Maybe the pressure on Epstein is so great that he does not want to make "a mistake," but in every deal there is risk. But to minimize risk, you must have quality information. But the Cubs always speak about the "process." The process is the key to success. 

We have come to learn that when people use doublespeak to discuss the importance of "a process," in reality, they are clueless on how to apply facts and experience to a given situation to get the correct result or solve a problem. Politicians are masters of the doublespeak answer. Epstein is trying hard to put a political polish to the rotten apple that is the current state of the Cubs. But the next twelve days will really tell whether Epstein and his crew have the ability to make excellent decisions in the trade market or whether they are all talk.

July 18, 2012


If the Cubs really blow up their veteran roster at the flea market trade deadline, we hate to rain on that parade but the Midwest does need it . . . .  how does the rest of the seasonal roster fare in a talent drought?

1. DEMPSTER trade. He would most likely be replaced in the rotation by Volstad (yuck).

2. GARZA trade. He would most likely have to be replaced by a rookie pitcher coming back in the trade or by a recalled Randy Wells (ho hum).

3. BARNEY trade (to the Tigers). Barney would be replaced by Cardenas, which is a move to determine if Cardenas can be a full time player.

4. SOTO trade (unlikely). It would create a Clevenger-Castillo platoon.

5. DEJESUS trade (unlikely). He would be replaced by Sveum favorite Reed Johnson.

6. REED JOHNSON trade (possible to a contender trying to upgrade bench). He would be replaced by Campana, in another move to determine if he can be a full time player until Brett Jackson gets his artificially imposed 500 AAA at-bats for a call-up.

7. SORIANO trade (impossible). Soriano will remain the Cubs LF for the duration of his contract, until he is replaced in the future by Almora or Soler.

8. LaHAIR trade (no interest). Unless LaHair is tossed into a trade to get better prospects, he will remain the old rookie for the remainder of the season. If he is traded, most likely replaced by Sappelt in a minor league call up or by Baker.

9. MARMOL trade (highly unlikely). If he is gone, then Russell would be leading a closer-by-committee situation with Camp and Corpas.

10. CASTRO trade (super unlikely). Castro has been named a foundational piece along with Rizzo as part of the Cubs long term plans. He may only be replaced at short when Baez is ready in a couple of years.


Maybe this is the plug that has kept the trading season from taking off full tilt.

MLBTR and MLB.com report that the league is going to conduct its new Competitive Balance Lottery today. Under the new CBA, in theory, small-market and low-revenue teams will have the chance to win extra selections in next year’s amateur draft. The ten smallest-market teams and ten lowest-revenue teams will have the chance to win extra selections in 2013.

How these extra draft picks are determined is confusing. Some small-market teams are low-revenue teams, but there are a few small market teams with high payrolls. Reports state that there are 13 clubs involved in the first-round lottery: the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Indians, Royals, Athletics, Pirates, Padres, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers and Cardinals. 

How the Cardinals need "competitive" help is somewhat baffling; and the Pirates are in first place in the NL Central. And the Tigers are a deep pocket team on par with the Yankees, Angels and Red Sox in payroll flexibility.

The first six selections will be made between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. A second group of six picks will be available to the teams from the first group that didn’t get an early pick, plus the Tigers. 

The second group of selections will be made after the second round of the draft. 

But here is the key element of this new system: MLB teams can trade the draft picks they obtain in the Competitive Balance Lottery. The picks, which can only be traded once, cannot be sold or traded during the offseason. In theory, the draft picks could be involved in some of this summer’s deadline deals. 

So, a team not a party to the Lottery draft wants to get extra draft picks (i.e. the Cubs management would LOVE to add more draft picks as part of their rebuilding process), that means the big market and large revenue teams will pay and trade to get one or more of these high value draft slots.

July 16, 2012


Poor Dale Sveum. He was put in a position at the beginning of the season to babysit a bad team through the start of a long, tenuous rebuilding process. He was given below average talent and dead money contract veterans and quickly the team sank to the bottom of the standings. No pressure from new Cub management, because even really bad losing gives them a number one or two draft pick next year.

But now, the Cubs have won 12 of their last 16 games. Ryan Dempster, the trade gem of trade bait for the last three weeks, has a 33 IP scoreless streak. His trade value is at an all time high. It was speculated that he won't last the week in a Cub uniform. He just needs to agree to be traded to a team who may given him an extension, like the Dodgers.

You also have other players coming around. Soriano came back from the break with 2 HRs, and Barney started hitting while announcers began touting his exceptional fielding percentage at second base (possibly to bolster the rumors that the Tigers need a second baseman for the second half push).

But a real dynamic at work here is that some players may have finally realized that they are playing for a job for this year and next. Players on last place teams are more likely to be tossed aside like the weekly trash if management believes it has found someone even potentially better. When a player is feeling the pressure that he is playing for a contract next year (that includes Dempster), a human survival dynamic kicks in; more concentration. Better command and control. It brings confidence.
Good performance streaks have a habit of being contagious.  Like the stellar 3-6-1 game ending double play by the Cubs in the Diamondbacks series: a month ago, that play would have probably led to a wild throw or two and a big inning by the opponent.

So Sveum does not want management to break up his team now that they are winning. But the irony is that the management can leverage the better play for better prospects in trade negotiations. So Sveum should just be content to ride out the over-performing current Cubs until the trade deadline.

July 13, 2012


The Braves will start former Brewer Ben Sheets tonight. Sheets has not pitched since 2010. He blew out an elbow and had to have surgery. He is another one of those comeback rehabilitation projects many general managers are fond of experimenting with during a season. Sheets has been on the disabled list seven times in his career.

But the Braves rotation has been hit with injuries and inconsistency. So the idea of bringing in a veteran pitcher makes some sense. But the trend is trying a re-tread first; it costs less money than trading prospects for an established veteran pitcher.

Teams are guarding the hen house (minor league prospects) closely. The Tampa and Florida model of promoting your minor leagues quickly is becoming standard operating procedure throughout baseball. Teams are also guarding their piggy banks, as the economy is not as robust as economists and bureaucrats claim it to be in this election year. Adding a quality veteran starter will cost you a big bump in payroll and probably two of your top ten system prospects. Many owners and general managers would rather wait out their pitching storm with a comeback player or a rookie than gambling on a trade.

There may be many players available at the July 31 trade deadline. But the market for Buyers seems to be more tepid than previously thought. The Dodgers have been talking to the Cubs for weeks on Dempster and Garza, but no deal is close. The Cubs have no use in not trading their veteran talent, but it appears teams like the Dodgers, who have a several quality minor league pitching prospects, are not willing to give up too much "just to make a deal."

Whether Sheets is ready or able to contribute to the Braves playoff run is to be seen. But the prospect of Sheets being a contributor after a long lay-off is less than 50-50.

July 11, 2012


Each major league team has a 40-man roster. In theory, the "best" organizational prospects are on the 40 man roster in order to be protected from Rule 5 drafts or easily promoted to the active 25-man team roster.

At the halfway point of the first season of the Epstein-Hoyer era, here are the players on the Cubs 25 man roster who are not currently active on the major league roster:

LHP Jeff Beliveau
RHP Alberto Cabrera
RHP Lendy Castillo (DL)
RHP Casey Coleman
LHP Gerardo Concepcion
RHP Marcos Mateo (DL)
RHP Blake Parker (DL)
RHP Chris Volstad

C Wellington Castillo
C Blake Lalli
INF Adrian Cardenas
SS Junior Lake
3B Ian Stewart (DL)
3B Josh Vitters
OF Dave Sappelt
OF Jorge Soler
OF Matt Szczur

These are the players most likely to be called up as replacement players during the season. Most have some major league experience, while a few are prized prospects who have received generous major league deals.

As for the pitchers, not much help in the short term. Castillo was a Rule 5 pick up who is being hidden on the disabled list to avoid returning him to the Phils. Castillo clearly was not ready to jump from AA to the majors. Beliveau looked good in spring training, but has been quiet this season. He has a few more years to develop. Cabrera has been moved to the minor bullpen and could develop into the Cubs future closer; he has a live fast ball in the high 90s. Coleman and Volstad are both failed starters who service time with the Cubs is numbered. Mateo and Parker are on the DL, and project to be fill in bullpen pieces not major rebuilding components. Concepcion was one of the big international splash signings, but as posted earlier, some scouts think he will be a bust.

As for position players, Castillo has been up and down - - - he may wind up as a back up catcher some day. Lalli appears to be a journeyman minor league catcher. Cardenas lost his utility role to Valbuena, but they seem to be interchangeable bench players. Stewart appears headed to the bust category. Lake is getting a lot of good press as a power hitting shortstop who most likely will move next year to 3B at Iowa (with most likely Vitters finally getting promoted to the big league team in 2013). Sappelt, who was part of the Marshall trade, appears to be blocked by a boatload of Cub outfield prospects. Szczur is another one of these football players returning to baseball - - - he has speed and good defensive skills in CF and most believe he will move up quickly through the system as a possible traditional lead-off hitter. Soler is the big unknown. The Cubs project him to be a big, power hitting corner outfielder. But no one has really seen him play at a competitive level.

You could say that the real Cub prospects are not listed on the 40 man roster yet because they are still at least a year away:  Brett Jackson, Javier Baez, Robert Whitenack, Trey McNutt, Ben Wells, or Reggie Golden. Or, they have just been drafted like Alberto Almora, Duane Underwood or Pierce Johnson.

But the 40 man roster can give one a clue on the strengths and weaknesses of a team. The Cubs clearly need help in pitching, catching, third base and the outfield.

July 10, 2012


CBS Sports report was quite harsh on one of Cubs new management's prized prospects:

The Cubs spent $6 million and a 40-man roster spot on 20-year-old Cuban pitcher Gerardo Concepcion, but scouts who have seen him pitch in the Class A Midwest League have come away totally unimpressed. "They're trying to tell people it's just mechanics that he needs to get straightened out," one scout said. "But I'm telling you, he stinks. If he was in a junior college game you were at, you'd leave." Concepcion is 2-6 with a 7.39 ERA in 12 starts for Peoria.

There are a few risks in signing prospects:
1. The younger the prospect, the more chance of failure than success.
2. There is a maturity factor that can impede development.
3. The younger the prospect, the more likely his stats are inflated because he faced lesser talent than older prospects (like college players).
4. Young, international prospects are a greater risk for all the above reasons plus language and cultural issues when they come to the U.S.

You don't spend $6 million in the dark hoping for the best; you normally would shoot yourself in the foot instead. Concepcion had an almost non-existent resume. Cuban baseball is still insulated, and the international teams play a limited schedule. It is very hard to judge the current standard of Cuban baseball. Some Scouts used to believe that a player on the Cuban national team could be at a talent level of major league-AAA caliber; but now most believe national players are developmental, around high A ball.

Concepcion had all the risk factors plus the "mystery" factor that no one had really seen him pitch in person. At the time of the player signing, many other clubs were stunned a) by the amount of money spent and b) giving a 20 year old a major league contract (and 40 man roster spot). Further confounding other organizations was the fact the Cubs sent Concepcion to Class A Peoria, where based upon the Cubs hype, he should dominate the competition.

When another scout opines that one of the alleged best 40 players in your entire organization "stinks," you have to consider whether it is just sour grapes or a really, really bad trend. At this point, objectively you have to lean toward the "stink" or bust label as a 7.39 ERA in 12 starts shows no improvement, only bad consistency.

In a broader context, this report sheds light on a nagging concern: Epstein is used to throwing money at roster problems and hoping that the problems resolve themselves. In Boston, he spent big money on free agents who turned out to be dead money contracts. Epstein took credit for Boston's championships, but local writers still defer to former GM Dan Duquette who drafted and built the core players on those teams as the real architect of the Red Sox success. Hoyer short term in San Diego yielded a press clipping portfolio of having one the of the best farm systems in the league, but after  one anomalous year, the Padres have fallen back into the cellar.

Since the blueprint for the Cubs rebuilding, talent evaluation is critical. And at this point, there is very little good news on Cub prospect front.  Epstein and Hoyer have concentrated on signing younger players (especially pitchers) to re-stock the system, but that means a longer redevelopment period with more risk. They have also spent more money on younger talent than the average club. The signing of high school outfielder Alberto Almora for $650,000 more than the slot figure of $3.25 million will cost the Cubs a reported luxury tax of $280,000. An extra million here and there suddenly adds up to payroll issues in the future at the major league level. Ricketts has claimed that the team is poor; he needs public money in order to rehab Wrigley. But signs point to the baseball side burning through money like there is no tomorrow.

The only optimistic catch has been Anthony Rizzo. Most people believe he is the real deal. However, he has not gone through the league once, and pitchers will make adjustments and find his out pitch (off-speed down and away). He will have to make adjustments unlike other fast starters like Micah Hoffpauir, who fizzled quickly once the league caught up to him. The only big trade of the off-season was Tyler Colvin for Ian Stewart. Stewart was coming off a horrible, injury plagued season - - - and was a bust this year for the Cubs. That was a bad deal. The big free agent signing was David DeJesus to play RF. Recently, substitute Cubs broadcaster Dave Campbell remarked that DeJesus was at best a "fourth or fifth outfielder" because he does not hit for power or RBI production to be a corner outfielder or the speed and average to be a lead off hitter. The major league roster is filled with bench players who are starting because there is no depth.

The end of the year report card on Epstein's first season may be pretty harsh.

July 9, 2012


The standings at the All-Star break usually determine the buyers and sellers as the trade deadline nears at the end of the month.

AL East:
Yankees turned a slow start into a 52-33 record and a 7 game lead on Baltimore. The Rays are 7.5 games behind and the Red Sox are 9.5 games behind. Unless the Red Sox get on a post break hot streak, they may be Sellers like the Blue Jays.  The Yankees need a starting pitcher or two to balance their strong offense. The Orioles are just happy to be near the top, but may not have the financial footing to make any big moves.

AL Central:
The White Sox used a squad of unheralded rookie pitchers to shore up their rotation and bullpen to grind out a 47-38 record and a 3 game lead on Cleveland. The favored Tigers are 3.5 games behind and  the Royals and Twins are far off the pace. Cleveland is looking for a serious bat for their weak line up. The Tigers are scouting pitching and infield help. The White Sox deal for Youklis has had outstanding returns (14 RBI in 13 games and good defense at third). The Royals may be sellers for the right price and the Twins have a high priced core of underperforming stars so it hard to say if the Twins will do anything except stand pat and try again next season with the same cast.

AL West:
The Rangers have been the dominate team, from the pre-season moves to the present. At 52-34, Texas has a 4 game lead on the Pujols-Wilson big free agent payroll Angels. Oakland and Seattle are not in contention and could be major "blow up the roster" trade partners for prospects. The Rangers appear to only want to tweak their roster with upgrades in the bullpen or bench role players. The Angels have promoted from within with rookie Mike Trout as a potential superstar in the making so they may not have to make deals.

NL East:
The Nationals had been so bad for so long their high draft picks are finally panning out in a big way. The Nats are in first with a 49-34 record, 4 games ahead of Atlanta. The Nationals overstocked on starting pitching and may have a nice trade piece in Lannan (LHP) for a line-up changer. The Braves pitching has been inconsistent and their line up has been re-tooled to be better defensively. The Braves could make a move for another starter or may think ahead to replace the retiring Chipper Jones at third. The Mets are 3.5 games behind and are on the fence. They could use help in the line up, especially in power numbers, and on the pitching staff. The Marlins are 9 games out and potentially the biggest pre-season bust in the league after spending lavishly in the off season. However, that title may go to the Phils, who are mired 14 games behind Washington with little hope for a turnaround. The Phillies are actively seeking to trade FA Cole Hamels, which could lead to a fire sale of their other veterans like Victorino.

NL Central:
This division was always slated to be the weakest in the majors. The Pirates are in rarified air, in first, with a 48-37 record, one game up on Cincinnati. The Pirates have been looking to upgrade hitting in the infield and are always looking for another starter. Pittsburgh does not have the money to add a big money contract to the payroll which should limit their trade options. The Reds have a pretty solid line up, so pitching upgrades are a possibility. The Cardinals have been racked with injuries, but only 2.5 games out means they could trade for a veteran starter and hope for a Pittsburgh fade. The Brewers are on the fence at 8 games out. The team could ship Greinke for high level prospects in the right deal, or try to extend Greinke and trade Marcum to the pitching starved AL. The Cubs and the Astros are out of it, but the Cubs have the most trade bait (Dempster, Garza, Soriano, LaHair, Soto, DeJesus, etc.  - - - everyone except Rizzo and Castro.) The Cubs should be the most active trade partner this year.

NL West:
In a traditional close boxing match most pundits predicted, the Giants and the Dodgers are battling it out for first. The Dodgers have a slim half game lead over their rivals. The Dodgers have been scouting Cubs starter Dempster for weeks. The Dodgers could also use a first base bat (LaHair?) and bullpen help. The Giants starting pitching has been less than expected (Lincecum has the worst ERA in the league) but San Francisco is always in need of a bat or two. The Diamondbacks are another team on the fence; 4 games behind the leader but as a small market team may pursue neutral small deals to ride out the season. The Padres and the Rockies are out of contention and should be aggressive sellers. The Padres have had much interest in Headley and Quentin so one would expect new ownership to allow management to pull the trigger on such deals.

July 7, 2012


When the Cubs blew up the bullpen in the off-season to rebuild the starting rotation, some critics felt that a team that is rebuilding should not destroy its best and set part for the sake of "over correcting" a known deficiency.

Bad teams are usually bad just about everyone, as the Cubs have shown all season long. But the bullpen has been Exhibit A since the beginning of the season. It was so bad that even Kerry Wood decided it was better to retire.

In last night's Mets opener, Carlos Marmol, the bullpen anchor, was back to his really bad form.  Marmol had a four-run lead to hold onto and barely made it through the 9th.

"The ninth inning was exciting," rookie Anthony Rizzo said in the Tribune. "But it sure was good to win."  Only a rookie can call "bad" the word "exciting."

With an 8-4 lead in the ninth, Marmol gave up a solo home run to Jordany Valdespin, walked the bases loaded and gave up a two-run single to Ike Davis to make it a one-run game. Manager Dale Sveum already had used Shawn Camp and James Russell and had Chris Volstad warming up in the bullpen in case of emergency.

"If they tied it, he was out," Sveum said. "(Manny) Corpas was down with back spasms, so it would've been Volstad."

But Marmol induced Lucas Duda to hit a liner back to him, and he threw to Rizzo for the game-ending double play.

Volstad, a failed starter, as a reliever to your erratic closer?? Fans were staring into the abyss of hell with that notion.

The future of the bullpen is shaky. Marmol, 29, is owed $9.8 million for 2013. He is a free agent in 2014. Currently, he has zero trade value and his contract is an anchor around his neck. In 2012, he is 1-2. 5.61 ERA in 31 games. He has pitched 25.2 IP, 20 H, 28 BB, 33K, 1.870 WHIP and 8 saves. His lack of control and no confidence in his fastball (which is his now secondary pitch) makes him more of a batting practice pitcher than a major league closer.

But there are not many options. Former Rockies closer and rehab project de jour, Manny Corpas, is now considered injury prone. Corpas, 29, has given the Cubs 0-0 record, 1.98 ERA in 13 games. He has only pitched 13.2 IP, 10 H, 8 BB, 9K, 1.171 WHIP. He can go through arbitration and retained to 2014, but that seems to be a waste of a roster space long term.

Another reconstruction project is Shawn Camp. Camp, 36, is 2-4, 2.86 ERA in 42 games. He has pitched 44 IP, 39 H, 12 BB, 1.114 WHIP and one save. He has been the random plug in a leaky bullpen. But at age 36, he is not the future and is not part of the rebuilding plans.

From the Cubs own system, James Russell, 26, appears to have developed into a solid lefty reliever. He is 2-0, 2.86 ERA in 42 games. He has pitched 40.2 IP, 36 H, 18 BB, 1.254 WHIP and 2 saves. His father, Jeff Russell, was a major league closer. James does not have the overpowering stuff to be a consistent closer, but he is a valuable piece (like Sean Marshall was last season) in any bullpen.

Rafael Dolis looks like closer material. He has the size and look of the Lee Smith-type reliever. Dolis, 24, is 2-4, 6.75 ERA in 25 games. In his  26.2 IP, he has  23 H, 20 BB, 11K, 1.613 WHIP and 4 saves. He was the team save leader when he was last demoted to Iowa. Since that point, Marmol took over the closer role from the bullpen committee. Dolis' stats are high for a reliever, but this is his first extended tour with the Cubs. It is unknown whether he will develop into a quality reliever, but this is the year to test him.

Complicating the problem is that the Cubs farm system is devoid of AAA and AA pitchers who can immediately fill needs in the rotation or the bullpen. The Cubs drafted 22 pitchers, but almost all will start out in instructional- rookie ball and will not make it to AAA for three or four years.

The only way to trade Marmol at this point would be to package him with other players the trade partner really needs (a starter in Dempster or an infielder like Barney) PLUS eat most of Marmol's remaining salary for 2012 and 2013.  If every trade requires the Cubs to pay to get rid of its dead money contracts, there will be no budget for the team to fill in roster spots with veteran free agents in 2013 and 2014. And that is the Catch-22 the Cubs find themselves: their star specialists are too expensive and/or too bad to trade for prospects.

July 6, 2012


It was almost painful to watch as it probably was to scout. Matt Garza struggled in the first inning against the Braves last night. But it did show the stark difference between two clubs: one rebuilding but trying to win and the other a professional contender in the midst of a pennant race.

Garza threw 44 pitches in the first inning. In this era of pitch counts, Garza had used up almost half of his bullets in one prolonged inning, giving up four runs in the process. What really did Garza in was the  "quality at bats" by the Braves hitters, who kept fouling off pitches and running the pitch count high at bat after at bat. Juan Francisco had an epic 15 pitch at-bat. He followed that up in the fourth inning with a 12-pitch at-bat. In this era of pitch counts, a team that can make the starter throw more pitches early will knock him out quicker. And that is what happened last night; Garza lasted only 4 innings, with Garza served up three home runs in a 7-3 loss

It is the second marginal outing in a row for Garza. He trade value may be slipping as teams will look toward bigger names in the trade market, like Cole Hamels of Zach Greinke, if they come on the market. Garza's All-Star break numbers are not stellar with a 4-7 record and 4.32 ERA.

Garza was frustrated by his performance, but his manager did not help his cause or trade value.

The Tribune asked Garza about his performance.

"Pretty crappy," he said. "I started out great, got sick, and then it just went to a crap show from there. I pride myself on what I do, and I'm not too happy with the way I ended this half."

"Francisco killed the whole outing really," manager Dale Sveum said, adding Garza has fallen into a pattern of getting two strikes and not being able to put batters away.

Quality starting pitchers know how to "put batters away." Sveum basically said his starter is ineffective in putting batters away, especially when ahead in the count. This pattern will affect the trade value placed on Garza by other teams. Teams don't do "change of scenery" trades during a pennant chase; teams want quality pitchers to fill an immediate need to produce wins.

So far, Garza has not shown he can produce wins.

July 3, 2012


This year will be an interesting trade market for starters if rumors are true that the Phils may market Cole Hamels (free agent walk year) and the Brewers market Zach Greinke.

The question is whether Cubs Matt Garza gets lost in the shuffle, or becomes more a value play for teams looking for another arm for the stretch drive.

Garza is 28. He has been in the majors for 7 years. He has pitched well in the high intensity AL East against the Yankees and Red Sox. He has a type A personality and hyperactive bench guy. But in his two years in Chicago, he may becoming a frustrated pitchers due to lack of offensive support.

In 2011, Garza was 10-10, 3.32 ERA, 198 IP, 1.258 WHIP and 3.13 K/BB ratio. All solid numbers.

In 2012, Garza is 5-6, 4.01 ERA, 89.2 IP, 1.160 WHIP, and 3.08 K/BB ratio. More earned runs but on par with last season.

For his career, Garza is 56-60, 3.85 ERA, 1.290 WHIP and 2.38 K/BB ratio. His best season was 2010 with the Rays, going 15-10.

Despite the apparent consistency, Garza's record hovers around .500. Is this a No. 1 starter profile? Can you build your rotation around him?

Teams want an anchor No. 1 guy who wins 6 out of every 10 starts; takes the ball and ends losing streaks. Garza clearly is not in the league of a Halladay, Sabathia or Kershaw.

That is why Garza's name is always on the trade rumor board. The Cubs gave up five prospects for him. It is doubtful that the Cubs will get that much in return. Garza has one more year of arbitration left before free agency (2014) so he can be expected to earn at least $12 million next season.

The Cubs have to balance this against what the 2013 rotation will be without him:

WITH: Garza, Samardzija, Maholm, T. Wood, (???????)

WITHOUT: Samardzija, Maholm, T. Wood, (??????), (??????)

All of these players would be pitching in slots above their talent level. Samardzija is not a #1 or #2 starter. Maholm appears to be a #4 and T. Wood a #4/5.

And the tea leaves forecast that the Cubs will not attempt to re-sign Dempster ($14 million) and Zambrano's contract expires ($18 million), so the Cubs are not going to spend that $32 million salary relief in 2013. If they trade Garza, the salary relief expands to nearly $41 million for 2013. With declining attendance at Wrigley, money management will become a critical factor on how the baseball team is going to be run in the short term. Rebuilding means shrinking the salary structure to take the pain of losing seasons. Trading Garza would fit into that blueprint.

On the other side of the coin, some would say the Cubs need to spend the $12 million and keep Garza as the #1 just for the sake of appearances. Garza is a durable starter who will go out and pitch well for 30-33 starts. You have to give the fans more than just Rizzo and Castro's offensive potential. And the fact that there are no AAA starting pitchers ready to take Garza's spot (let alone the vacant #4 and #5 slots), that factors into keeping Garza (until the trade deadline next season). Otherwise, you have to spend almost as much money on journeymen starters who won't perform well and have no place in the long term future of the club.

Garza is more "tradeable" than Dempster, but Dempster is probably going to get dealt first. Then, the Cubs have to decide whether Garza is more valuable in anchoring the rotation for 2013 or more valuable getting "assets" ready for a run in 2015.

July 2, 2012


The unintended consequences of the new collective bargaining agreement are becoming apparent. More teams are spending mad money on international free agents before the July salary cap deadline of $2.9 million.  The Cubs signed Soler to a 9 year, $30 million contract to beat the signing restrictions.

In addition, teams that used to trade for pending free agents ("rent a player") did so a) for a pennant push and b) they could receive supplemental draft picks if the rented player went into free agency.

According to FoxSports, the trade game has changed:

If a player has six or more years of major-league service and has no contract for the upcoming season, then he's a free agent. In baseball, being a free agent means you're free to sell your services to any team you wish.
But that's not all there is to the process. Teams losing a highly regarded free agent can be compensated in the form of draft picks. That will happen less often under the new collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect with the 2012 season.
Before, players were classified as Type A or Type B free agents based on statistical comparisons to other players at the same position. The level of draft pick compensation — first round, second round, etc. — hinged on their Type A or Type B status. Now, the system is simpler. For one thing, only players who spend the entire season with one team will have compensation attached to them.
All eligible players will become free agents after the World Series is over. A quiet period of five days will follow, during which only the player’s most recent team will be able to negotiate with him.
By the end of the quiet period, the team must decide whether it will tender the player a “qualifying offer” — a guaranteed one-year contract equal to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players from the previous season. For the 2012-2013 offseason, the figure will be between $12 million and $13 million — a high enough number that a relatively small group of players will receive the offer. (Almost no relief pitchers will earn that much, meaning more free-agent-eligible relievers will be traded in-season under this CBA.)
If a player is tendered the qualifying offer, he will have seven days to decline or accept. If he declines, his soon-to-be former club will receive two draft picks if and when he signs elsewhere. Let’s say Team A loses a free agent to Team B. Team A will receive Team B’s first-round selection the following year (unless it is one of the top 10 picks, in which case Team B’s next pick is substituted), along with a pick in the sandwich round, between the first and second.
There is LESS incentive for a contending team to pick up a rent-a-player. Since a rental player is not on your squad for the ENTIRE season, NO compensation is allowed when he bolts to free agency. So general managers have to weigh in that factor of whether the trade is really an attempt to sign the player to a contract extension.  The new system also hinders bottom dwelling clubs from trading their pending free agents for prospects because trade partners will not part with top prospects if the rent-a-player is not going to re-sign a contract extension. You will probably see smaller deals being done like the Yankees weekend acquisition of relief pitcher Chad Qualls from the Phillies for "a player to be named later or cash."  Usually, those players to be named are low level minor leaguers or a cash sum of $25,000 to $100,000.
Then you have some veteran players with no trade clauses, 10 and 5 rights, or limited trade approval contract deals that can veto trades. Houston's Carlos Lee vetoed a trade to the Dodgers. Apparently, he preferred the battle for last place over a pennant chase. But many veteran players would rather stay in the town that they currently play for family or business reasons than relocate across the country and play for a new team. Old habits are hard to change. Lee still may get traded, but he may not be a content player.
The current prediction is that general managers have to be more careful than ever in trying to make deals this season. It may make more sense to hold on to your own pending free agents in the hopes of getting high draft compensation picks (which probably are more valuable in the rebuilding program than minor level trade prospects).