After spending $10 million on Carlos Pena for a year, it's clear that the Cubs are making some attempt to compete in 2011.
It's based largely on the hope that aging veterans can rebound, and a couple young kids can improve, though it's hard to find optimistic Cubs fans these days.
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But GM Jim Hendry is also trying to buy time, waiting for bad contracts to leave the books so he can try to put a legit team on the field again.
Given the opportunity you have to think he'd move any of those wretched contracts, and the Cliff Lee deal gives him another shot at trading Carlos Zambrano.
He pitched well enough down the stretch that perhaps new Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild can convince N.Y. GM Brian Cashman that Zambrano is worth the two years and $36 million left on his contract.
Joe Girardi is definitely capable of managing Zambrano and Rothschild knows him better than anyone, so perhaps Zambrano would consider waiving his no-trade to be reunited with his pitching coach.
He might also approve if the Yanks pick up his option for 2013, which is worth $19 million.
There are certainly better options out there for the Yanks, such as Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who's due $68 million the next four years.
But the Mariners would want a king's ransom for Hernandez, whereas the Cubs would probably sell cheap just to get that money off the books.
At the end of 2011, the Cubs will be done with Aramis Ramirez ($15 million), Kosuke Fukudome ($13.5 million), Carlos Silva ($11.5 million), John Grabow ($5 million) and Pena ($10 million). Throw in Zambrano and you save $73 million in salary for 2012.
That's a legit chance to go after free agent Albert Pujols and rebuild the club, even with Alfonso Soriano still in Chicago through 2014 at $18 million annually.
In a perfect world, New York or Texas panics now that Cliff Lee is back in Philly and they both call the Cubs looking for help in the rotation.
Even as well as Zambrano pitched when he returned, and he did pitch with great movement and location, Hendry's been through too much with Zambrano to believe he's not going to blow a gasket again. If he can move him, doesn't he have to do it?
Yes, Zambrano looked like a real major leaguer again, but even if he were capable of winning 20 games while throwing 91 mph, does that really do the Cubs any good?
Does that put them in the World Series next year? And if it doesn't, shouldn't the goal be to shed salary?
This isn't about whether you like Zambrano or don't. This is about the future, since the Cubs don't look ready to compete again in 2011.
The Yankees are going to look at all options and Ryan Dempster is another, with two years left at $27 million, but Hendry is very fond of Dempster so it's hard to imagine Dempster going anywhere.
The Cubs should be looking to dump any salary of any kind, but that's predicated on the notion that they're planning for life after these contracts, and aren't going to spend more money attempting to compete in 2011.
The Pena deal suggests they're not really sure which way to go, and are still hopeful about next season. Maybe with the right players in exchange for Zambrano, or with that salary gone, they could think about competing again.
But until the phones start to ring, look for blanket denials from the Cubs that they're shopping Zambrano, or that they've even heard his name mentioned by anyone on this planet or any other. They'll claim they've never considered trading him.
The truth is they can't do anything unless Zambrano waives his no-trade.
It would be some holiday gift for Cubs fans if he said, "Yes.''