While the 2012 Chicago Cubs are playing decent baseball and looking far better fundamentally than most Cubs teams of the past decade, their bullpen has been largely responsible for several late inning losses.
Change a handful of those losses into wins and you have a team that would be right in the thick of contention in a very weak National League Central.
Through games of May 16th, the Cubs have lost five games after having the lead in the seventh inning or later. Former closer Carlos Marmol has three blown saves and has been an adventure most every time out, as has top setup man Kerry Wood. Their poor performances have been a major reason why the Cubs sit 15-22 and seven games in back of the division leading St. Louis Cardinals despite outstanding starting pitching.
With the poor bullpen costing the Cubs several games early in the season, there has been considerable angst among Cubs fans who are clamoring for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to make a move or two to solidify the back end of the pen. However, premier relievers do not come cheaply and for the Cubs to acquire one would cost them one of the few trading chips that they have.
An honest assessment of what the Cubs have of value that they would also be willing to part with is a very short list.
I believe that it is a foregone conclusion that Ryan Dempster will not be on the Cubs roster after the July 31st trade deadline. He is throwing extremely well and with his contract up at the end of the season, he will not require a major financial commitment from whoever acquires him. As long as he stays hot, the Cubs will be able to extract a fairly substantial package of players from a contending team as starting pitching is very tough to add in season.
However, adding a top flight reliever should not be at the top of Epstein and Hoyers list.
Instead, the Cubs will be looking to add a piece to their team that will impact the team 145 or more times a year. That means finding a long-term answer at third base, second base, corner outfield or catcher. They could choose to add a young, top-flight starting pitching prospect but those deals are very tough to make because with the price of pitching in the free agent market skyrocketing, most teams are unwilling to trade such a precious commodity.
Who has trade value that the Cubs would be willing to deal? Dempster -- who I am 100 percent confident will be traded -- and Matt Garza who is a top-of-the-rotation talent but could bring back a huge haul in a blockbuster deal if the Cubs choose to move him and perhaps a prospect or two out of the system if the deal made sense.
Beyond that, the current crop of Cubs talent has very little value to contending teams in terms of being able to receive an impact player back in trade.
So while it is extremely frustrating to watch a struggling bullpen continually give away games, the current state of the Cubs does not have the luxury of trading key players in their system to improve the bullpen of a very suspect 2012 team.
While I do expect Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to be active in moving veterans for young players with outstanding potential, they must remain focused on the long-term plan that they developed upon their arrival in Chicago last fall.