It is time for the Chicago Cubs to put out the for sale sign. The team is mired in fourth place in a suddenly top heavy division. They are also 11 games out of first place in the N.L. Central and 10.5 games out of the wild card (both at this writing). Each of those facts are ingredients necessary for only one dish – rebuilding pie. Sprinkle a little Lou Piniella retiring and a dash of a Jim Hendry vote of confidence on the top, and the (humble?) pie is complete.
The good news for contending teams is, as the non-waiver trading deadline approaches at the end of this month, the Cubs have some assets that can really help teams win down the stretch this season. One team that really needs some help to win down the stretch is the Minnesota Twins. The Twins sit a disappointing 7.5 games out of the A.L. wild card lead, but only 2.5 games back of the division leading Chicago White Sox (both at this writing). The Pale Hose are by no means a runaway division winner this season, so the Twins are within striking distance provided the front office can add a couple of key ingredients down the stretch. One key ingredient the team needs is a veteran presence in the pitching staff. That is where the Chicago Cubs’ Ted Lilly enters the stage.
Let’s not forget that Lilly is pretty good. He has recorded double digit wins in the past seven seasons before the current injury-shortened stint he is battling through. Lilly tends to throw a lot of innings, but he is able to get a strike out when he needs it or a fly ball. Getting out of Wrigley, where the wind wreaks havoc on fly ball pitchers, would surely be a welcome change for him. Lilly is still pitching below is career ERA despite the injuries he is suffering through.
Okay, we agree he is a good pitcher, and that the Twins could use some pitching help. We, I am sure, also agree the Cubs are sellers. Now, what about the money?
Ted Lilly’s contract has $5.3M remaining on it. According to MLB Trade Rumors (great site, by the way), the Cubs can likely ask for a couple of quality prospects in return. The Twins are clearly building to win sooner rather than later with the addition of Orlando Hudson and Joe Mauer’s huge contract. Therefore, prospects are suddenly expendable. Sounds to me like a match made in heaven.
And, while Lilly is good, the Twins – who do need pitching – do not have many better options. Dan Haren may be available, but his contract is a much different situation than Lilly’s. Lilly’s current line of a 4.07 ERA and 6.5 strike outs per nine innings are not world beating All-Star stats. But, they are solid and will keep a team in the game. The ability to churn out quality starts is perfect for a team as fundamentally sounds as the Twins are every season. Also, it is important to remember that Ted Lilly began the season on the disabled list. September will likely be the month that Lilly rounds into mid-season form.
There are certainly other good players that, for the right deal, can likely be had by contending teams. Most of the 40-man roster is likely for sale in Milwaukee. Roy Oswalt will be changing addresses very soon, and Adam Dunn’s days in D.C. are likely numbered.
But no single player offers the combination of winning experience and steady performance that Ted Lilly does. His contract is tradable and his current team needs to rid itself of the valuable Lilly now as much as the Twins are in need of the pitching booster shot.
Left-handed pitching is so important down the stretch in baseball. When the trees begin to turn yellow and red managers love to turn around switch hitters with consecutive left-handed starters, or throw a several lefties out at another team in a playoff series. Talent, experience, and managerial flexibility all make Ted Lilly the best player to acquire at the 2010 MLB trade deadline.