I know that its only May, but when you're in rebuilding mode, like the Cubs, its never too early to start thinking about the July trade deadline. The Cubs will obviously be sellers again, but what assets do they have that might be of value to other teams?
Here's a look at some players who may be of interest to other teams and the potential return the Cubs could expect for them.
Dempster is probably the best trade chip the Cubs have at this point (unless Matt Garza becomes available--more on that later). So far this year he has a sparkling 0.95 ERA and a 29/9 K/BB ratio in 28.1 IP. Contenders are always looking for starting pitching and this year is no exception with the Yankees and Red Sox among the teams in need. Dempster seems to have regained his form after a sub-par 2011 and should net the Cubs 2-3 prospects with at least one in that team's top 10.
Marmol is struggling this year and may soon be out as the Cubs closer, but his live arm could still be of use to a contender in a setup role. Given that he is being paid $7 million this year and is owed $9.8 million for 2013, the Cubs would probably have to kick in some money to get a decent prospect in return. However, the Cubs have shown a willingness to do just that, most recently with Marlon Byrd. Expect the Cubs to net a mid-tier prospect (someone in a team's 11-20 range) or a former top prospect that needs a change of scenery.
Maholm hasn't exactly been great this year, so teams will not be knocking down Jed Hoyer's door for him, but after the top pitchers are off the market, Maholm could appeal to a lot of teams, if only because he's left handed. He's signed for a reasonable $4.25 million this year with a $6.5 million option for 2013 that carries a $500K buyout. Again, depending on how much money the Cubs throw in, I would expect they could get another mid-tier prospect for Maholm.
Its hard to get a read on Soto career trajectory. Is he the guy who had an OPS of .868 and .890 in 2008 and 2010 or is he the guy who had an OPS of .702 and .721 in 2009 and 2011? So far this year, it appears to be the latter, as Soto has struggled mightily and is losing playing time to Steve Clevenger. Soto is making $4.3 million in his second year of arbitration and will likely see an increase in 2013 because that's just how the arbitration process works. Once again, we're probably looking at a mid-tier prospect in return and that's if the Cubs throw in a few million in the deal.
Garza is the Cubs wild card. Everyone in the organization is saying they want to sign him to an extension and build around him, but there has not been much news on the extension front. For his part, Garza has not let his uncertain future hinder his performance. He has been very good so far with a 2.67 ERA and 36 K's in 33.2 IP. Bruce Levine has been saying for months that "if Garza is not signed to a long-term deal by July, he will be dealt." If the Cubs do end up dealing Garza, he should command a pretty steep price. We're talking at least 3-4 good prospects, with at least two in a team's top 10.
The Albatross will likely be a fixture in left field for the Cubs for the next two years unless the Cubs can find some sucker to take him off their hands. Ideally suited for the DH role, Soriano still has some pop left in the bat, having never failed to hit more than 20 homers since his rookie year in 2001. By the time July rolls around, Sori will still have around $45 million left on his contract and you can bet that the Cubs would have to eat a large chunk of that to be rid of him. Even if they do, the Cubs will likely not get much in return. Best case would be a fringe prospect. Worst case would be a bad contract in return. If the Cubs cannot find a taker and Brett Jackson is knocking down the door, they may be better off just releasing Soriano and eating the remainder of his contract.
As I said before, this should be an interesting July and could go a long way towards the Cubs rebuilding efforts. The returns they get this year, along with their high draft picks this year and next, could very well determine how soon they can become contenders again.