ST. LOUIS — The Cubs have the prospects to make deals. They might or might not have the wherewithal to take on big salaries at the July 31 deadline. There’s no doubt they have to strengthen their rotation.
The Cubs didn’t need an 8-1 loss to their biggest rival to know they need more pitching. It became obvious in front of another sellout crowd at Busch Stadium, with Donn Roach up from Triple-A Iowa making a spot start and the St. Louis Cardinals running away in the National League Central.
The Cardinals knocked out Roach in the fourth inning and cruised to their 50th victory this season, leaving the Cubs 10 1/2 games back in the division and looking for help in the wild-card race.
One way to ease the organization’s business vs. baseball tension has been this idea the money will be there for the right player at the right time. The Ricketts family would make it work with Crane Kenney’s business operations department generating the revenue and Theo Epstein’s baseball side building the perennial contender.
It doesn’t sound like the Cubs have green-lighted — or completely ruled out — a massive investment (Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels?) at this point.
“We haven’t brought that player to them yet,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That’s a conversation where we haven’t brought that idea to them. Maybe this deadline will be that moment. It may not be. But we certainly haven’t crossed that bridge yet.”
It’s unclear what happens to the $20 million earmarked for the losing Masahiro Tanaka bid, which boosted this year’s payroll to around $120 million. Or how soon the Cubs might tap into a new TV megadeal. Or when the cable bubble might burst.
“It all depends on how that contract would fit into our books over the next couple years,” Hoyer said. “Would it make sense? Would it limit us in the offseason to what we might want to do? But we have flexibility this deadline.”
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The Cubs probably won’t flex the financial muscles you’d expect from a big-market team, but maybe there’s an opening for smaller deals if a renovated Wrigley Field becomes the place to be this summer and this team stays relevant.
The immediate focus is now on the rotation as Tsuyoshi Wada deals with a left shoulder injury. It’s up to Jason Hammel to stop a four-game losing streak on Sunday night at Busch Stadium.
The Cubs (39-34) can then regroup with an off-day on Monday in New York and will line up Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta for a three-game series against the Mets. They wouldn’t need a fifth starter again until the Fourth of July against the Miami Marlins in Wrigleyville.
Roach escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and left a 2-1 game with the bases loaded again in the fourth, ultimately getting charged with four runs on eight hits. The Cubs need help, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a No. 1 starter.
“We’ll see where we are as we get closer to the deadline,” Hoyer said. “You can’t make someone available. You can’t make deals that aren’t there. That’s why I think it’s going to be a deadline where we have to be creative and think through a lot of avenues.
“But we know we need to add starting pitching, whether it’s minor-league depth, whether it’s innings to get us through the season. We know that’s going to be a focus. We just have to make sure that we really leave no stone unturned.”