Cubs

Five guys the Cubs should not trade

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Five guys the Cubs should not trade

With the Cubs in complete rebuild mode, they appear to be willing to listen to offers on anybody and everybody. The Sean Marshall trade proved that (though he was also their second-best trade chip behind Matt Garza).

That stands to reason. If this new-look front office is looking to build from the ground up, loading up on prospects and young players is the way to go. Trades are sometimes the easiest way to do that.

But who should Epstoyer (remember, the celebrity name for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer) not deal?

1. Starlin Castro

This one's pretty obvious. In a dismal 2011 season, Castro was the lone consistent bright spot on the Cubs. He's growing as a player and will continue to improve his power, baserunning ability and fielding. There's no doubt he is the most marketable player on this franchise and that may not change for decades.

In 2012, he will again be the main reason fans show up to Wrigley Field. Unless, of course, there is some miracle and the Cubs actually contend.

2. Andrew Cashner

Cashner won't turn 26 until the final month of the '12 season and is the team's best young pitcher. The only issue is his shoulder injury last season and how he bounces back. He figures to slot in as a solid member of the rotation in 2013 and beyond, but could wind up making some starts next season if his shoulder holds up.

Cashner may not become an ace, but he should be an integral part of the team's pitching staff nonetheless.

3. Brett Jackson

The Cubs' top prospect is said to be above average in every aspect of his game, but not stellar in any area. Because of that, there's some question if he will ever become a star. But even if he doesn't, I'll take a 23-year-old (he will turn 24 Aug. 2) who will get on base, score runs, drive in runs, steal bases and hit the ball out of the ballpark while playing good -- but not great -- defense.

No way the Cubs should deal this guy. He's getting close to big-league ready and probably figures to make his debut sometime in 2012.

4. Trey McNutt

He has the same birthday as Jackson, but is a year younger. McNutt was selected in the 32nd round of the same '09 draft, but was never expected to be an elite prospect. However, a stellar 2010 season put him on the map. He struggled badly at Double-A in '11, but is the team's best pitching prospect. Maybe that says some bad things about the shape of the minor leagues.

Either way, if the team is looking for young pitching with high upside, there's no point in trading a guy they already have that fits that same bill.

5. Matt Szczur

The Cubs' fifth round pick of the 2010 draft appears to be on a rapid ascent through the team's minor league system. He starred in rookie ball and two levels of Class-A after being drafted and then was a delight at two levels last season.

The freakishly athletic Szczur will probably start 2012 in Double-A, but is already on the 40-man roster (as per an agreement in his contract) and could have an impact on the Cubs as early as 2013.

When the offseason started, I would have put Matt Garza and Sean Marshall on this list. A left-handed reliever who can get righties out consistently is extremely hard to come by and a guy with the makeup and talent of Garza is exactly what the Cubs need in their rotation.

But I've now come to realize they are the two best trade chips the Cubs have. Marshall already proved it, as he had a very nice return for a relief pitcher.

Could Garza be next? Toronto is looking for a starter and they have plenty of prospects to give up.

The sad part about this list is it includes just one guy who had an impact in 2011 (Castro) and only Castro may have a huge impact next season. Cashner is coming off a serious shoulder injury and could wind up as just a sixth-inning guy for most of the year while McNutt and Jackson need strong spring trainings to break camp with the big-league club.

Just shows how important this rebuilding process is for the Cubs.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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