Take a good look at your Chicago Cubs when they resume play this weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field.
They may look like this for only a short while longer.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, we’re talking about a team with a record of 33-52 coming out of the all-star break.
But between now and the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline and even beyond, things will change.
Let’s take a look at the major story lines that figure to play out.
Tradewinds are blowing:
The addition of a second wild card to the major-league playoff picture has increased the number of buyers heading into the trading deadline.
The Cubs, who recently escaped the cellar in the National League Central, will be sellers.
Pitcher Ryan Dempster is the most obvious choice to go. He’s in the final year of his contract, and even though he can block a trade because of his veteran status, he has indicated he would go.
The 35-year-old Dempster is 4-3 with a 1.99 ERA, and despite a couple of stints on the disabled list, he has been one of the most effective starting pitchers in the major leagues.
No. 2 starter Matt Garza is a prime trade target, but he represents a more interesting case for the Cubs.
Garza, 28, won’t become a free agent until after next season. He is the kind of pitcher the Cubs can build around for the future, but if another team bowls the Cubs over with a trade offer, Garza could be a goner. He’s 4-7 with a 4.32 ERA.
The Cubs would love for catcher Geovany Soto to get hot so they can move him.
Soto (hitting line of .177/.256/.340) will have five-plus years of major-league service after this year, and the Cubs likely would not offer him a contract next winter rather than go through the arbitration process.
Even though Alfonso Soriano is having a nice year, the left fielder still has two-plus seasons to go on his eight-year, $136 million contract, and the Cubs would have to eat most of the money.
Other potential trade targets include second baseman Darwin Barney and right fielder (and displaced first baseman) Bryan LaHair, but those two have value to the Cubs going forward.
The Rizzo watch:
Anthony Rizzo burst on to the Cubs scene in his first 12 games with a line of .354/.367/.688, including 4 homers and 4 game-winning RBI.
Let’s remember that we’re still in Small Sample Size City with Rizzo, as he has just 48 at-bats. Pitchers will adjust. Rizzo will have to adjust back.
But the swing changes Rizzo made coming into this year may make his own adjustment process easier.
The Cubs are 8-4 since Rizzo’s June 26 call-up, and he has injected some much-needed life into an offense that had trouble scoring earlier this year.
While most of the spring-training and early-season talk had been about center-field prospect Brett Jackson, third baseman Josh Vitters may have leapfrogged Jackson with an all-star first half at Class AAA Iowa.
With Ian Stewart likely lost for the season with a wrist injury, the Cubs currently are going with journeyman Luis Valbuena at third base. Valbuena has performed well in the field and gotten some big hits, but his hitting line is .225/.253/.424.
The Cubs management team wanted Rizzo to get the equivalent of a full Triple-A season under his belt before they called him up. Vitters will have that by the time Iowa’s season is over in early September.
Although some Cubs fans have grown impatient waiting for Vitters, let’s remember that he was only 17 when the Cubs made him their first-round draft pick in 2007 and that he won’t turn 23 until Aug. 27.
Vitters takes a hitting line of .302/.356/.509 with 13 homers into Iowa’s second-half.
Jackson will have just over a full season of Class AAA ball to his credit come September. He’s at .261/.339/.494 with 12 homers.
His 122 strikeouts have been a well-documented source of concern to the Cubs, but Jackson has said he is working to make more contact.
The 100-loss watch:
For a while, the Cubs were on pace to lose 108 games. After a recent stretch of winning baseball, the Cubs now are on pace to go 63-99.
That’s cold comfort, but if the front office unloads the team’s top two pitchers, we could be back to looking at a triple-digit loss season.
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