Ryan Dempster packed his Cubs duffel bag and handed it to a clubhouse attendant late Thursday afternoon. He buttoned the cuffs to his yellow dress shirt, knotted a tie and put on his plaid navy blue sport coat. His locker remained intact.
After a 4-2 win over the Miami Marlins, there were indications that Dempster was on his way to St. Louis, and not yet traded to a contender. That morning, he said there was nothing imminent, not that I know of, and looked forward to making his next start on Friday night against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
But Dempster looked like someone who was taking it all in, throwing batting practice to his young son Brady and running the bases at Wrigley Field before the game. This is his ninth season in Chicago, a city he loves, but his time appears to be coming to an end.
Hours later, the Cubs announced they had acquired right-hander Justin Germano from the Boston Red Sox for a cash consideration and designated Jairo Asencio for assignment. The word out of Des Moines was that Casey Coleman had been scratched at Triple-A Iowa, perhaps because the Cubs may need a starter on short notice.
Its kind of business as usual, Dempster said. Nothing changesIm focused on getting out there and getting ready to pitch.
The trade deadline isnt until July 31, but its hard to see Dempsters value going much higher. He hasnt given up a run in 33 consecutive innings, a streak that was interrupted for a trip to the disabled list with a sore lat muscle. Would the Cubs run the risk of another injury?
All this chatter comes at a time when the Cubs (38-53) are playing as well as anyone in baseball. Theyve won 14 of their last 19 games, and you saw the formula on Thursday against Mark Buehrle and the Marlins (44-48).
Paul Maholm went eight innings and gave up one run. They got just enough offense from Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 150th homer in a Cubs uniform, and lefty-killers Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson (combined four hits, two RBI, one run scored, one sick catch in right field). Carlos Marmol has now converted his last 10 save opportunities.
Obviously, theres rumors and whatnot going around, but we joke around were going to start adding pieces, Baker said. We take a lot of pride (in what we do) and obviously we dont want to let down the people that believe in us. Going out there and playing better baseball is part of the gig. Hopefully, we can just stay under the radar and keep going.
That becomes far more difficult without Dempster, who has no-trade rights and a 1.86 ERA. Even Maholms recent hot streak 4-0 with a 0.89 ERA in his last five starts could make him an attractive trade chip.
You understand thats part of the season, Maholm said. The trade deadlines coming. If your names out there, then obviously somebody wants you, and thats not a terrible thing. I signed here to play here and to win here.
Whatever happens in the next 10-12 days, I think everybody in the clubhouse is professional enough to deal with it. They come in each day, prepare and expect to win.
The Cubs quietly stole a series that was supposed to be a media circus all about the returns of Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano. The former White Sox manager still loves pointing to his ring finger and tweaking Cubs fans, but he respects Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
Guillen said he loves the way Darwin Barney plays and thinks Starlin Castro is going to be a superstar. The Marlins manager described Anthony Rizzo with one word: Wow.
They have a good thing going, Guillen said. Theyre going in the right direction. Its going to take a little while, (but) I like what I see.
Hopefully, they put the right people around those guys. I know the presidentGM they know what theyre doing. They got credentials. They did it in the past and a lot of people in Chicago are expecting theyre going to do the same thing they did in Boston.
At the age of 35, and in the final year of his contract, Dempster doesnt seem to fit into those rebuilding plans, even though he might be the most-respected player in the clubhouse. If this has been a distraction at all, its hard to notice.
Im just anxious to pitch tomorrow, Dempster said. Thats all Im worried about.