One thing is certain – Cubs GM Jim Hendry is clearly willing to tweak his Spring Training roster to find the right players that “may” be able to take the Cubs to the next level in the 2009 post-season.
Two things are definitely uncertain – Will it work? Does Hendry have a consistent plan or is he flying off th cuff right now?
The Chicago Cubs traded utility infielder Ronny Cedeno and recently acquired pitcher Garrett Olson to the Seattle Mariners today for reliever Aaron Heilman. The Cubs had just acquired Olson from the Baltimore Orioles a few weeks ago in exchange for Felix Pie, and many thought the move was done in order to re-open discussions with the San Diego Padres for starter Jake Peavy (Padres GM Kevin Towers had indicated that Olson was a player highly touted by his organization). Similarly, the Mariners had just acquired Heilman in a deal that sent J.J. Putz to the New York Mets. Heilman was looking forward to competing for a starting rotation spot with the Mariners this Spring Training, but now his future is up in the air again with the deep Chicago Cubs pitching staff.
Heilman is an Indiana native who grew up a Cubs fan and who now lives in Chicago permanently during the off-season. After being informed of the trade, Heilman was quoted as saying “It’s a dream come true. I always rooted for the Cubs growing up, and now to be a part of that organization, it’s going to be pretty special for me.” The New York Mets drafted Heilman as a first round draft pick in 2001 and pitched for the Mets as a starter from 2003 through 2204. The Mets moved Heilman to the bullpen in 2005 and he has pitched there ever since. His best year as a reliever was 2007 when he made 81 appearances – the 5th most in the NL that year – and amassed a spectacular 3.03 ERA as a set-up man. He issued only 20 walks and gave up only 8 home runs in 86 innings that season. The 2008 MLB campaign, however, was a major disappointment. Heilman still pitched out of the bullpen, but his ERA rose to 5.21 and he issued 46 walks and gave up 10 home runs in 76 innings. Heilman expressed some frustration that the Mets did not want to use him as a starter, and the Mets made the move to trade Heilman as part of the deal that brought Putz to the Big Apple.
Heilman is a power pitcher, and if he can re-master his changeup that was so effective in 2007, the Cubs could use him as their 5th starter in 2009. He will have some competition with Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija, but he may have the edge over both players. Marshall is a lefty, and if he stayed in the bullpen, he would be a 2nd lefty for Manager Lou Pinella to call on along with Neal Cotts. Samardzija has only 3 months of major league experience under his belt. The Cubs have indicated that they will likely keep him in the bullpen until he can add another pitch or 2 to his repertoire in order to keep batters off-guard as a starter. Plus, the Cubs have experienced recent success with moving a reliever back into his original starting role – see Ryan Dempster during the 2008 MLB season who was the Cubs most consistent starting pitcher with a 17-6 record, over 200 innings pitched, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 187 strikeouts.
Where will this all lead? Right now, it is all just a big mess – in a good way. The Cubs have a ton of pitching talent, and competition during Spring Training should be fierce. If Harden isn’t ready to go right away with his right shoulder issue, or if Harden spends time on the disabled list during the season, the depth will factor in the Cubs favor by being able to move a Marshall or a Heilman out of the bullpen into the starting rotation. Will the Cubs still attempt another shot at landing Peavy from the Padres. They would be foolish not to, but with today’s trade of Olson and Cedeno, it’s unclear who the Cubs will deal in order to make the trade happen this time around.
Stay tuned. If the last month is any indication, we are sure to see a few more moves up Hendry’s sleeve before the 2009 Cubs opening day roster is announced…