Yesterday, SI's Jon Heyman tweeted that Carlos Pena "will almost surely be moved". Indications are the Arizona (per Heyman) and Pittsburgh (per Bob Biertempfel) could be potential suitors.
One benefit of trading Pena is salary relief. As Tim Dierkes of MLBtraderumors.com notes, due to Pena's unique contract, the Cubs could save 2/3rds of his $10 million by trading him now (i.e. 1/3rd of this season's $5 million salary and all of the $5 million deferred to 2012).
However, the Cubs should not be all about saving money at this point. They need to beef up their farm system and, in particular, their minor league starting pitching depth. Thus, if the Cubs need to agree to pay the $5 million of deferred salary to get a better prospect, I would be OK with that.
Of the two suitors for Pena, Pittsburgh might make the most sense. Of their Top 10 prospects, as determined by Baseball America, 7 are pitchers, so they have some pitching depth. With the success of the major league starters this season, Pittsburgh may be willing to part with one of their pitching prospects to beef up their offense.
So, who could the Cubs realistically get in return for Pena?
Well, I would rule out the Pirates top 3 pitching prospects (Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia), right off the bat, as there is no way the Pirates would give up any of them for a two-month rental. However, there are a couple pitching prospects in the Pirates Top 10 that I think the Cubs could have a shot at getting: Rudy Owens or Jeff Locke.
After a strong 2010 season in AA (2.46 ERA and 132 K's in 150 IP), Owens has struggled somewhat in his first year at AAA (4.63 ERA and only 63 K's in 103 IP). Ranked as the Pirates #7 prospect by Baseball America, Owens' fastball sits in the low 90's and he projects as a mid-rotation starter, at best.
Locke has also been less than stellar this year, with a 4.44 ERA in 107.1 IP. His 98 strikeouts look nice (8.2 K/9), but he doesn't seem to miss enough bats (104 hits allowed).
If the Pirates have soured on either one of them, the Cubs could probably get one of those two for Pena. If not, then they may have to turn to the Diamondbacks and try to fill another need. His fastball also sits in the low 90's and he projects as a number 4 starter.
Unlike the Pirates, the Diamondbacks' strength appears to be corner infielders. Arizona had two third basemen (Matt Davidson #3 and Bobby Borchering #7) amongst their Top 10 prospects prior to the season. In addition, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has rocketed up the prospect charts with a strong showing at AA and may have surpassed the D'backs other first base prospect, Brandon Allen, as their first baseman of the future.
If Arizona trades from their strength, then I could see the Cubs possibly getting Brandon Allen or Bobby Borchering (or Davidson--whoever they value less) from them in return for Pena. This would allow the Cubs to let Aramis Ramirez walk or possibly forgo the Albert Pujols/Prince Fielder sweepstakes this offseason and focus their extra dollars on pitching (i.e. where they really need it).
I think that, if the Cubs could get what I suggested from either the Pirates or Diamondbacks, it would help the team in the long run. The problem is, I have a hard time believing, given his contract status and all, that Jim Hendry is looking past 2012.