Members of the "Trade for Freddy Sanchez Club" or any fan rooting for a big offensive pick-up before next Friday's trade deadline can't be pleased to see that Ted Lilly has officially gone on the disabled list. With Cubs' starters 1 through 4 having all been on the disabled list at some point this season, the Cubs have to address their needs, and picking up a fifth player who can play second base is not one of them.
Though it would seem the greater need is left-handed bullpen help, the starting pitcher injuries have to make the Cubs' nervous -- they are the only reason this team is a contender this season. Carlos Zambrano saw time on the DL in May, Rich Harden at the end of May through early June, Ryan Dempster earlier this month and now Ted Lilly.
As respectable as Kevin Hart has been in his last couple of starts, he's not a solution for a team 1/2 game out of first place should guys like Dempster or Lilly miss more action than desired. The only other player who warrants starting time on the roster is Sean Marshall, who seems to have fared better out of the bullpen and still remains the only lefty available. Jeff Samardzija is not ready to be thrown to the fire yet.
Essentially, the Cubs either need another starter to keep Marshall in the bullpen or a left-handed reliever to give the Cubs flexibility should injuries linger in August and September and Marshall be needed to make a few starts.
It's been established by Jim Hendry that the Cubs are not in a position to land a big player that might involve big money. That eliminates your Cliff Lees or Seattle pitchers (should the Mariners decide they're dealing) which makes relief pitching more likely.
In terms of relievers, the Cubs did sign former left-handed Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan to a minor league contract, but he's an experiment at the moment. One option the Cubs have looked at is Baltimore closer George Sherrill, who has been impressive this year but doesn't look like a long-term closer career-wise, making him a fit as a hold guy. Given the Hendry-MacPhail connection, a deal with Baltimore is certainly not something foreign to the Cubs.
Sherrill, obviously a lefty, is signed to a one-year contract worth less than $3 million. He would be an excellent late-inning option alongside Carlos Marmol and Angel Guzman, which would demote a flaky Aaron Heilman to a smaller role. Sherrill keeps guys off base (13 BB/38 K in about 39 innings) which would make him useful in late-inning jams that wilder pitchers like Marmol shouldn't be tossed into. Sherrill has several suitors meaning bigger offers, but he might fit too nicely to not consider making an even-ended trade for. His teammate, Mark Hendrickson, is a cheaper left-handed option with both starting and relief experience, but looking at his numbers, he would be like adding another Marshall who just has more MLB experience.
Another option that's not as impressive is former Dodger lefty and now Nationals reliever Joe Beimel. The vet has kept his ERA below 4.00 since 2005, an upgrade from Heilman, which is the pre-requisite here. He's not as impressive as Sherrill in terms of strikeouts and keeping men off base, but he would be much easier to obtain.
Also worth bringing up again is the Pirates' John Grabow. He comes with the same price tag as Sherrill but the players given up in return would be much less in terms of quality. After a rough start to the season, Grabow has averaged one bad appearance per month, giving up earned runs in only 4 of his last 28 outings.
As for finding good starting pitching that's available, this is where it gets dicey. The more affordable contracts come with too much risk, such as the Indians' Carl Pavano, whose inconsistency would torture Cub fans. Justin Duchscherer of the Athletics is also reasonably priced albeit inexperienced as a starter, but he's coming off elbow surgery and the Cubs don't need that headache.
One slightly less scary option is former White Sox starter Jon Garland. Currently with Arizona, if the the Cubs wouldn't have to pay him much of his $6.2 million and didn't have to give any true prospects, Garland would be a serviceable, experienced addition. Despite having control issues this season and an ERA over 4.00 most of his career, he's had a good July and manages at least 6 innings whenever he has a good day (plus he's never missed serious time with injury). If the Cubs feel more confident in their offense, Garland becomes appealing, otherwise the risk isn't worth it.
With the Cardinals now having made three deals to bolster the top/middle of their lineup, the Cubs have to respond. With moves for Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo and now Matt Holiday, St. Louis appears deeply serious about seizing the 2009 division crown (seeing as Holiday becomes a free agent come next season) more than planning for the future. If their pitching stays strong and two of their three new players put up good offensive numbers, any distance from the rest of the Central makes them instant division favorites.
As much as its the Cubs' offensive that really needs to get going to make them the favorites, depth at pitching is a concern that can be addressed, where there aren't players with huge contracts underperforming. It's safe, it's reasonable and it's something the Cubs can afford despite their fragile state.