The Cubs have pitching.
The rotation of Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny, and Randy Wells has been good enough to post a FIP of 3.87 (fourth in MLB), an xFIP of 3.99 (second in MLB), and a total of 55 quality starts (second in MLB). And that's all without removing Carlos Zambrano's less-than-stellar outings from the bunch.
Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall have been great, James Russell and Andrew Cashner have held their own, and Bob Howry has pitched much better than I anticipated.
Sure, there have been some bumps in the road, but having 10 pitchers who are performing at those levels on one pitching staff is nothing to sneeze at.
Had the offense put together a more consistent showing, this team would likely be in a much different situation than they currently are.
Unfortunately, the offense hasn't been everything that Cubs fans had hoped it could be. Instead, there's a good chance that some of these faces won't be around much longer and some fresh ones will come in to replace them.
I could write a dissertation on the Cubs' possibilities for the future on the mound, but I'll spare you that headache. Instead, I'll do my best to cover the more immediate and more likely scenarios as concisely as I can.
Silva is 31-years old and in the midst of a breakout season. The Cubs owe him a little less than $4 million for the rest of this season, $6 million next season, and at least the $2 million necessary to buy out his 2012 mutual option (worth $12 million if exercised).
Considering the injury history he already has at his age, the Cubs will most likely have to cover a little bit of that $12 million, but a team looking for a hot hand could very easily want him as the trade deadline nears.
Lilly is the 34-year-old owner of an expiring contract. He's been a solid starter since joining the Cubs, has had a good season overall in 2010, and will probably be a Type-A free agent this offseason.
With all of those factors combined, he's probably not going to be in blue pinstripes much longer.
Dempster is 33-years old and, assuming he exercises his 2012 option, he has two years left on his contract over which he will be owed the $27.5 million originally agreed upon, plus the $3 million he agreed to defer before this season and the $4 million he's still owed for this season.
Although he has also been a solid starter since moving from the bullpen before the 2008 season, any team that might want to acquire him would likely be turned off by all the money left on his contract. It would become even harder to move him because of his 10 and five rights that give him no-trade protection.
In other words, don't expect him to be going anywhere this season, but start paying attention around this time next year if some young pitchers are making a push for the major leagues and the Cubs are out of contention again.
Howry has been a surprise, but he's only making the prorated league minimum of $400,000 and probably wouldn't get the organization much value in any trades. Since the bullpen is still pretty young, he'll more than likely finish out the season with the Cubs.
John Grabow is 31-years old and is due a little more than $1 million for the rest of this season and $4.8 million for 2011. With his on-field struggles and injury problems, he's not going anywhere this season.
If Marshall continues his great season and Russell finishes strong, the team might try to move him this offseason, but they would probably have to eat a good portion of his 2011 salary.
Zambrano is another beast altogether. He's due a lot of money, has no-trade protection, has a bit of an injury history, has a bit of a tantrum history, and hasn't pitched very well this season, to say the least.
Although the Cubs may want to shop him, he's probably seen as a "buy extremely low" commodity by the rest of the league right. Since Carlos does have a lot of potential, the team would have to hold on to him and let him pitch to build his trade value if they're seriously considering the move.
That being said, your guess is as good as mine in regards to what will happen and the timeframe surrounding it.
Marmol, Marshall, and Angel Guzman (almost forgot about him, didn't you?) are under team control for two more years, Gorzelanny for three, Wells for four, and everyone else for at least five.
Marmol, Marshall, and Guzman aren't going anywhere. They will likely be the foundation of this bullpen for the next few years, especially if Guzman can get back to form and stay healthy.
I once said that I would be somewhat surprised if Gorzelanny were still on this team after the trade deadline, but I would like to back off of that now. He should be an option for the rotation next year and, since he's under control for the next three years, there's no reason to move him, especially with no sure-fire big league lefties developing in the minors and Lilly most likely on his way out.
Wells will remain in the rotation until he proves he isn't deserving; Thomas Diamond or Cashner could move into the rotation this year if Lilly is traded; Jay Jackson, Casey Coleman, and Jeff Samardzija will probably be competing for a spot in the rotation next year; and guys like Austin Bibens-Dirkx or Chris Carpenter might not be too far behind.
In the bullpen, plenty of options should be available, such as Esmailin Caridad, Jeff Stevens, Jeff Gray, Brian Schlitter, Blake Parker, Marcos Mateo, John Gaub, and Rafael Dolis.
A few guys are probably going to be on their way out before next season rolls around. In some cases it's to maximize value, others to clear salary, and the rest to open up roster spots for younger players.
With the wealth of talent that is toeing the rubber for the Cubs at various levels, more than a few of them should at least develop into serviceable major leaguers.
To read part five, which sums everything up, follow this link.