Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are playing a fascinating game of chicken. The Cubs have one of the most attractive pieces to offer at the trade deadline in Ryan Dempster. They have several teams interested, but they find themselves in a battle of wills between themselves and the Dodgers (and maybe a few other teams). As we have learned the Dodgers do have an offer for Ryan Dempster on the table. The Cubs would like to trade him before his start in just a few hours, but the Dodgers are reluctant or unwilling to part with top prospects for the rental.
The Cubs have positioned themselves to make a move today. They acquired a veteran minor league arm that could fill in the rotation and they called up Casey Coleman to have just in case as well. These two moves could also be part of signaling the rest of baseball that now is the time to make your best offer for Dempster. The Dodgers are the presumed favorites in terms of their offer to the Cubs and Dempster’s preference, but their offer is not exactly what the Cubs want for this attractive piece. Ryan Dempster is still scheduled to take the mound in St. Louis.
It is funny to think how the discussion around Ryan Dempster has changed in the past year. Last year by the end of today his ERA sat at an even 5, and many were openly hoping that Dempster would turn down his player option. The thought of him being tradable for anything was the farthest thing from most rational fans’ minds. Today he is the NL leader in ERA and has a career high 33 inning scoreless streak.
It is unreasonable to expect the Cubs to land a top prospect like Zach Lee in a deal from the Dodgers. Zach Lee is a top 50 prospect in baseball by almost everyone’s definition and those guys are being hoarded right now in the game. Teams are unwilling to part with those type of players for rentals in general, and Dempster is a known quantity at this point. He is a good pitcher that can be a solid middle of the rotation starter, but he is not the front line pitcher that his numbers would paint at this point of the season.
On the other hand, Ryan Dempster is a good pitcher and the Cubs should get some quality prospects back in a deal. The amount and quality depends on how desperate a team gets. So that is why we find ourselves in this game of chicken between the Cubs and Dodgers (and possibly Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, and Tigers). The Cubs are likely to get pitching prospects back in the deal, and there is a better than average chance that you might not have heard one or more of the prospects in the deal. There is also a better than average chance that none of the players Cubs get will make an impact on the Cubs major league roster.
So why then are the Cubs trying to trade Dempster if he isn’t worth a surefire stud prospect? Theo Epstein described the exact reason just a couple of day ago when he talked about building waves and waves of pitching. He characterized the Cubs as barely having a wave of pitchers coming. The Cubs started to build those waves with a pitcher heavy draft and the signing of 22 year old right handed pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua from the Dominican. The arms the Cubs are likely to get will add to that building wave, and that is how you maximize your chance of developing pitching.
Ryan Dempster will get traded, and the return is likely to disappoint many Cubs fans considering Dempster is a very likeable, team leader that is playing great, could read over his ability level. I am interested like everyone to see the return, but I am fascinated by the Cubs playing chicken with the rest of baseball. I am waiting anxiously to see who blinks first.