Ted Lilly made what was probably his last rehab start in Peoria and pitched 7 shutout innings. He only gave up 3 hits, walked one and struck out 9. It would appear that, even though they were just A ball hitters, Lilly has his good stuff back.
It raises the question of how to rearrange a bullpen that desperately needs a shot in the arm. The two obvious candidates to move are Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva and each has their pros and cons.
Gorzelanny has better stuff and has pitched out of the bullpen more. He made 15 appearances out of the pen in 2009. He is younger and should be able to make the adjustment easier than Silva. The cons are that he is lefty and the Cubs have Grabow, Marshall, and Russell all playing significant roles from the left side. It would seem his move would mean that the Cubs would use 4 lefties. More likely, however, a Gorzelanny move to the bullpen would signal that Russell will draw the short straw and head back to AAA. The net gain, since Russell has done well for the most part, would be insignificant.
Silva is righty and has good control -- two areas where the Cubs have struggled. Samardzija and Berg have not been good thus far and neither has shown great command. This is not a good thing when your closer, Carlos Marmol, struggles with control too. Too many people on the basepaths late in the game isn't really a good idea if you're trying to win close ballgames. Silva would help curb that problem and his shift to the bullpen would signal bad news for either Smardzija or Berg. On the other hand, Silva, Dempster and Wells have been the Cubs best starters so far and breaking up the rotation - which has been the Cubs strength so far - may not be the best way to go. And the reality is that teams don't like putting big salaries in the bullpen unless they are closing games.
The Cubs could think outside the box and move Zambrano to the bullpen where he can channel his aggressiveness and energy into one or two innings. We'd still have some control issues, but there is no question Zambrano would be a shot in the arm for our bullpen. The question is what would Z think about it? Should we even care? He hasn't pitched out of the bullpen since 2002 and entered the season as the Cubs "ace" and highest paid pitcher, though you could make a good argument that Dempster and Lilly have been better pitchers over the past 2+ years. I kind of like this idea, but it may not be practical in today's game of big dollars and big egos.
The last option is a trade. The Cubs could deal one of their starters for some bullpen help. Of course, the guy everyone will ask for is probably Randy Wells since he is the youngest, makes the least money, and would be under a team's control over the next several years before he hits free agency. Dempster and Lilly might draw interest but they are probably our best pitchers at this point. Silva has been good but he makes a lot of money for a bottom of the rotation starter and I doubt most teams have been convinced 2 starts into the season that he is anything more than that.
That leaves us back to Zambrano again. He has the big name and the big talent to draw some interest, particularly from New York and possibly from some west coast teams. Unfortunately, he has a big contract with a no-trade clause that makes moving him difficult. The Cubs would undoubtedly have to pay a large portion of his contract and receive little in return -- or they can trade him for another big contract to help defray the cost. It's unlikely, but it's not impossible.
Could the Cubs obtain an overpaid reliever such as Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets? Rodriguez may be a luxury on a team that is probably an also-ran in the NL East. He is still good, but he is becoming less dominant. His K rate has been in steady decline:
2007: 12.03 K/9
It's still good, but coupled with a rising walk rate - up over 5 last year and early this year, it spells trouble. Moreoever, he would bring the same control issues that our relievers already have. The positives? We get out from under Z's huge contract, we get a veteran reliever who can slip in the closer role should Marmol falter, and his K rate, while down, still indicates his stuff is top of the line and should help him overcome his walk rates to some degree. The relievers the Cubs have now have been walking people but also pitch more to contact -- a bad combination late in the game. I think it's a deal that makes some sense for both sides. The Mets would have an intriguing Venezuelan 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation in Santana and Zambrano to go with the rising Mike Pelfrey and future star Jenrry Mejia. That would give them something to build on. If you subtract Rodriguez's contract from Zambranos, the Mets would be getting Zambrano for about 5 years and about 45M (including a 2012 buyout**) -- which is a lot more reasonable. They could even throw in Luis Castillo (while we'd probably have to throw in Fontenot) and reduce Zambrano's cost to about 5 years and about 40 millon. That is a pretty good price for a pitcher of Zambrano's caliber. The Cubs, in the meantime, would get veteran bullpen help and, just as importantly, get out of a huge contract in the process.
** Note: Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, Rodriguez has a vesting option in 2012 that could be worth a whopping 17.5M/yr in 2012 guaranteed if...
55 games finished in 2011, and
100 games finished in 2010-11, and
doctors declare Rodriguez healthy after 2011
If he doesn't meet this criteria, the Mets can buy his last year out for 3.5M
However, if he's setting up for Carlos Marmol it'd be difficult for him to finish that many games, so the Cubs should be safe...I hope. The Mets, on the other hand, are far more likely to get stuck paying him the 17.5M at his current pace...seems to me like they should be motivated to get rid of him before this happens. If you factor in the probability that his 2012 option will vest, the Mets could get Zambrano at a net cost of about 20M over 5 years. However, Z also has a vesting option, which would bring that total back up around 40M over 5 years again. Confused? So am I. Still a pitcher of Zambrano's caliber at 8-9M a year may be enticing enough for the Mets to make a deal.
So will it happen? I can say with almost 100% certaintly that it will not, but it makes some sense if you ask me. The Mets get a potential #2 starter for as low as 4-5M/yr and the Cubs would save anywhere from 23M to 51.5M and get a bullpen arm. Win-win, right? Well, maybe. You'd be taking a risk that Silva can continue to pitch well and that Lilly stays healthy. But you'd also be creating future flexibility for Andrew Cashner who, by the way, had another great performance at AA last night. He now stands at 1-0, 2.60 ERA, 4 walks, 25 Ks in 17 innings. Hitters are batting .119 against him in 3 starts(and no, that's not a typo). Jay Jackson the Cubs second best starting pitching prospect is doing well at AAA as well. So my feeling is take the chance and, in the worst case scenario, you've at least created room in the rotation for our two top pitching prospects and save about 23M. Best case scenario, you save 50M+ and patch our bullpen hole for 2010-2011.
What do you all think?