Ignore the rumor that generated some Twitter buzz on Monday night: The Cubs are not on the verge of acquiring James Shields.
But the Cubs are looking hard for pitching help and see the San Diego Padres as a possible match, major-league sources said, with Tyson Ross being viewed as an ideal fit leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.
Ross is 28 years old and won’t be positioned to become a free agent until after the 2017 season, which makes him an attractive win-now and win-later player for almost any contending team.
Ross is making $5.25 million this season, but the right-hander won’t come cheap in terms of prospects if the Padres slam the reset button after a frenetic offseason led by new general manager A.J. Preller.
Ross made the National League All-Star team last year, finishing at 13-14 with a 2.81 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 195-plus innings. He has size (6-foot-5) and smarts (Cal-Berkeley). He also leads the majors with 57 walks this season (6-8, 3.45 ERA).
To stay in the playoff hunt, the Cubs (52-46) clearly need some help at the back of their rotation and will at least try to add a No. 5 starter. Dallas Beeler (0-2, 6.43 ERA) is up from Triple-A Iowa and will make another spot start on Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field.
Monday also marked the day the Cubs formally released $52 million bust Edwin Jackson, which again underlined the organization’s pitching deficit.
Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer weren’t huge fans of Andrew Cashner when they took over baseball operations after the 2011 season, feeling like the former first-round pick would max out as a reliever. They flipped Cashner – who has shown signs of being a top-of-the-rotation starter – a few months later for future All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
While a Cashner reunion sounds doubtful, the Cubs see Ian Kennedy as a decent rental at the right price. The Scott Boras client is owed less than $4 million for the rest of this season before hitting the free-agent market.
Kennedy won 21 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 and showed up in the Cy Young voting that year. He’s never quite reached those heights again in an up-and-down career, but he did make 33 starts and throw 201 innings for the Padres last season.
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Still, San Diego can’t expect a huge return for a two-month rental with a 6-9 record and a 4.58 ERA.
“If we do something on the bigger end, it will involve players who will help us beyond this year,” Epstein said. “If we do something on the smaller side, it will probably be more for a rental player. And if we do nothing, it will be because we couldn’t find anything rational that we could actually do.
“I don’t know which of those three directions it will go yet.”
The Cubs already had their chance to get Shields, who sat out there as a free agent past Super Bowl Sunday. Shields had helped lead Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays into the 2008 World Series, and changed the culture around the Kansas City Royals team that won last year’s American League pennant.
The Cubs floated a three-year, $60 million concept that included a significant amount of deferred money, while Shields grabbed the four years and $75 million guaranteed from the Padres.
Before Monday night’s 9-8 comeback win over the Rockies, Epstein signaled the Cubs aren’t close to any deals that would involve taking on a big contract.