The Chicago Cubs Overpaid for Two Lefties Today

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJuly 31, 2009

CHICAGO - JULY 8:  Kevin Hart #22 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the game on July 8, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

On Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs made a necessary trade and added two pitchers in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Both John Grabow and Chicago-born Tom Gorzelanny pitch left-handed. That's what made the deal necessary.

Just as the Pirates did in trading infielder Freddy Sanchez to the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, the Bucs again came away from the trading table with more value than they probably should have.

In the Giants trade, Pittsburgh received one of the top pitching prospects in San Francisco's system in Tim Alderson.

In Thursday's deal with the Cubs, Pittsburgh unloaded a couple of lefties that had little future in the Steel City and got a couple of very good pieces in return. The Cubs sent young starter Kevin Hart and minor league reliever Jose Ascanio, along with a minor league infielder, to the Pirates for the two lefties.

In sending Ascanio and Hart to Pittsburgh, the Cubs overpaid.

Grabow will turn 31 in November, and is currently making $2.3 million in 2009. He has appeared in 45 games, in which he has recorded 16 holds and 41 strikeouts in 47.1 innings pitched. He has a fair WHIP of 1.50, and an ERA of 3.42 this year. Grabow's contract expires after this season; he's a rental.

He brings immediate depth to the Cubs bullpen, where Sean Marshall has been the only left-hander for months. Marshall has pitched very well, but it would be irresponsible for the Cubs to believe the former starter can be their only lefty reliever the entire season (and postseason).

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Gorzelanny, meanwhile, turned 27 just a couple weeks ago and is under contract for a few more years at a significantly smaller number than Grabow ($433,000 for 2009).

He has struggled in his major league career, though, and has had an especially hard time at Wrigley Field. This season, Gorzelanny is 3-1 with a 5.19 ERA in just nine big league games. His WHIP is a surprisingly low 1.15, but he is an admitted project.

After Thursday's game, Cubs GM Jim Hendry said that, if Gorzelanny can "get his stuff right," he could help the Cubs out in the next few years. Hendry also pointed out that one of the positives to Gorzelanny is that he's under contract for a few seasons after 2009.

The cliff notes scouting report on the two pitchers the Cubs received is simple: one's a rental that pitches left-handed, the other pitches left-handed and will be around for a few years.

Chicago needed a lefty, and acquired two.

But at what cost?

On the day the Los Angeles Dodgers paid two highly regarded prospects for Orioles closer George Sherrill, the Cubs traded a couple of pitchers that not many scouts are terribly excited about in the long term. Neither Hart or Ascanio projects to being anywhere near the two Dodgers pieces sent to Baltimore.

And yet the Cubs have had a recent record of success with players that have stayed under the national radar. Geovany Soto was a nice story, but certainly not a front runner for last year's National League Rookie of the Year Award when the season started.

But there it is, sitting in his locker.

Ryan Theriot never "wowed" anyone while he was climbing the Cubs ranks at shortstop, but he's quietly been as effective as any National League shortstop not named Hanley Ramirez over the last three seasons.

This year, as the Cubs dealt with an injury bug that was at least polite enough to take turns in the starting rotation, Randy Wells has emerged as a legitimate candidate for the Rookie of the Year honors Soto brought home last year. His victory Wednesday was his seventh in his last eight starts.

Which brings me to Hart.

Hart has taken a secondary role in the organization's pitching group behind Wells as the replacement starter when someone goes down. This time around the rotation it's been Ted Lilly's spot that Hart was filling.

In his five starts this year, Hart has not yet allowed more than three runs (which he did on Thursday in the Cubs' 12-3 blowout of the Astros). In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a recent trade that's taken place within minutes of one of the pitchers involved throwing a quality start.

Hart's got significantly better numbers than Gorzelanny or Grabow. After his performance on Thursday, Hart ran his record to 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA. His achilles' heel had been walking batters, but he's much more effective lately. In fact, Hart has eight strikeouts and only three free passes in the 12 innings he's pitched in his last two starts.

His numbers are better than Gorzelanny's, and he's six months younger than the newly-acquired lefty. But that final point is precisely why Hart was available in a trade like this: he pitches right-handed.

So does Wells. And Jeff Samardzija. And Jeff Stevens. And Mitch Atkins.

Do I need to continue?

The problem with unloading a player because you have a bounty of similar players, just to fill an immediate need, is that sometimes you guess wrong and lose a quality player in the process.

Ask Hendry if he'd like to revisit the Juan Pierre for Ricky Nolasco trade from a few years ago.

Hart had just started to establish himself as a major league starter, and the Cubs traded him to baseball hell. On many levels, I feel bad for the kid.

And yet the Pirates, and their fans, should be excited about the direction their new management is taking the franchise. They took one of the top prospects in baseball away from the Mariners, Jeff Clement, and then stole Alderson from the Giants on Wednesday.

On Thursday they added another quality arm to their organization. As any successful franchise and general manager will tell you, there's no such thing as "too many pitchers."

Odds are that Grabow will not be re-signed in three months and will disappear. Gorzelanny is under contract, but needs to figure some things out before he can be counted on in any capacity. The odds of the 2010 Cubs getting contributions from either player they added Thursday is a huge question mark.

To circle back to my initial statement, though, this was a necessary move because of the state of the Chicago Cubs roster and payroll.

Rich Harden is a free agent when this season ends. Lilly and Derrek Lee are both under contract only until the end of next season, at which point Aramis Ramirez has a player option he'll need to decide on. Milton Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome, the two-headed underachiever in right field, are both under contract until the end of 2011.

The Cubs' window is closing.

Hendry will spend the next seven months making moves and deals that are specific to maximizing the chances of this team winning a championship. After 2011, it's going to be roulette in Chicago, with the hopes of the franchise that's drafted as poorly as any in baseball resting on unknowns to overachieve like Theriot, Wells, and Soto.

So here we are, at the 2009 trade deadline. The Chicago Cubs added a couple left-handed pitchers. But are they worth the cost? We'll see.

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