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The deadline is finally upon us. All the speculation and rumors will swirl into one flurry of moves, or the black clouds may pass overhead with only a sprinkle. All through the MLB, the trade front has changed on a daily basis with injuries, volatile standings, and already completed transactions.

The Cubs have everyone- fans and Lilly suitors alike- wondering just how they will erupt. While everyone had them penciled in as sellers before the break, the Northsiders started playing much better ball and still have many meaningful games left against division rivals. It’s pretty tough to predict who will be donning new threads come August, but one thing I expect is for a lot of players to move, which certainly involves the Cubs. Even if they are serious about contending this year, they need to consider 2011 for their own good. They have expendable, MLB caliber players and a few expiring contracts.

If the Cubs decide to…

Hold

Trade Lilly, Nady, and either Baker or Fontenot.

A large priority is shoring up the bullpen, while also aggressively pursuing a first baseman that can be a 1-2 year stop gap, if not more. If Lilly moves, call up Jay Jackson and take chances between him, Marhsall, and Cashner as spot starters. Darwin Barney could also be granted a shot as a backup bench player if Baker or Fontenot departs.

Sell

Trade Lilly, Lee, Nady, Baker and Theriot.

Open up gaps for more young players to get a shot. A solid first baseman for the future should be the top priority, and guys like Lilly or Lee could bring one in. For example, Yonder Alonso is blocked at first base in Cincinnati, but would still demand a sophisticated package for the Cubs to acquire him. Other slightly more attainable upgrades include Scott Sizemore & Chris Davis, depending on how desperately the Tigers need pitching or the Rangers need a first baseman for the stretch. These may be the best possible aspirations, and they should be willing to take less, especially if they have an opportunity to shed any large contracts. That means Silva, Soriano, Fukudome, Zambrano, & Ramirez could see have new area codes as well.

Buy/Free Agents

Trade Lilly, Nady, and make young pitchers and catchers available.

Since the Cubs should definitely not be in buying mode this year, let’s also consider their free agent options at the end of this season. For one, I can’t stop thinking about who could replace Derrek at first base. They could also try to reel in a solid middle reliever. The Cubs have quite a few good young arms in Jeff Stevens, James Russell, Justin Berg, Mitch Atkins, & Esmalin Caridad. The middle relief market is unique, and most arms are highly unpredictable. If they can be included in a package deal to help facilitate a trade then pull the trigger. I would try to sell especially high on Jeff Samardzija.

Trade/Free Agent Targets:

-Jorge Cantu- A high strikeout rate could be worrisome, but he’s a consistent hitter with some pop. He would add a veteran presence in replacing Derrek Lee and can play some third base when A-Ram is ailing. Cantu could either be acquired this week (unlikely) or signed in the offseason; he would probably come cheaper via trade, though.

-Carlos Pena- Could be signed as a free agent, granted the deal isn’t ridiculous (in other words, he would inevitably have to lower his asking price). Pena is streaky, but provides excellent run production and respectable defense at first.

-Brandon Inge- I just want to see him play in the NL. A scrappy ballplayer, Inge plays multiple positions with stellar defense and is a good clutch hitter. The Cubs are still pretty locked down at third base and catcher, though, so this deal really has no urgency- he would jam up the infield. But he’s such a good role player that I would at least pursue him on the free agent market as a defensive upgrade and then try to find a way to get him in the lineup if he signs.

-Franklin Morales- I consider most relief pitchers practically impossible to predict on a season to season basis. But Morales represents the type of pitcher I wouldn’t mind taking a chance on- he’s pitched in the playoffs and has shown signs of success. Since the Cubs are almost all youngsters out of the pen, a little experience and another lefty arm to support Sean Marshall couldn’t hurt. That doesn’t mean that Hendry needs to give him a 7 million dollar deal, however.

A few lesser-impact options at first: Daric Barton, Adam LaRoche, Matt LaPorta…any others?

Trademania!

Let’s pretend Hendry allows the fans to call in for some proposals this year. What deals would you like to see, and what are some that you feel can (or will) legitimately take place? Here are a few ideas- some with fairness to both teams, and some with my bias left unattended:

Xavier Nady for a PTBNL. Salary dump for the Cubs with hopefully a decent draft pick in return. Likelihood=9.

Jeff Baker or Mike Fontenot to the Padres for a minor league pitcher. The Padres are looking for affordable infield depth last I heard, so the Cubs can personally phone them and tell them to take their pick. If the Padres have talent to deal, Ryan Theriot could yield an even better player for the Cubs. Likelihood=7.

Ted Lilly for Matt Joyce. More of a foundation for a deal- if the Rays are looking for a solid lefty with a good repertoire in the AL East, then the Cubs can try to capitalize on their needs by starting with a high asking price. They may not be able to get Desmond Jennings, but could probably wrench away one solid prospect from the Rays fertile farm. I like this as a potential sleeper deal. Likelihood=5.

Derrek Lee and Wellington Castillo for Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis. The Angels are a tad overloaded with C/1B’s, and the Cubs should try to pounce on that. Napoli is a great option for an instant impact bat at first if he can handle the adjustment to a full-on position switch and a new league. The Cubs stay young, but also risk downgrading defensively. The Angels get a rental and another good young catcher to fill the void. Likelihood= 4.

The Double Play

Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot for Brandon Inge and Scott Sizemore. A whole mess of infielders changing leagues. Who could resist the Bayou Boys, packaged together like that? Realistically, though, I think the Cubs would have to spice up this deal a little more to make it genuinely appealing to the Tigers- perhaps Darwin Barney instead of Fontenot. Inge is still injured and the Tigers just acquired Jhonny Peralta, so this proposal is more a pipe dream, but it has a fun combination of risk and reward in the infield for both teams. (In case you haven’t noticed, I really want to see Inge in the NL.) Likelihood=3.

The “Apocalypse Now.”

Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome for Ike Davis, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and Jeff Francoeur. A combination of popular names all brought together as one dangerous recipe for both teams. The Cubs are in favor here because they get Davis, so let’s say they kick in most of the insane amounts of money owed in this deal. Lilly would prosper pitching in front of the gigantic basin that is Citi Field, and the Mets unload a lot of money at the end of the season. Time’s running out for this one! Likelihood=2.

The Blockbuster.

Starlin Castro and Randy Wells for Mike Leake and Yonder Alonso.  Somebody take Leake away from Dusty Baker! I still would not give up Castro, but I’d be salivating and very tempted to just cover my eyes and press the button on this one. I threw in Alonso for good measure and still couldn’t fully justify it. What makes this a blockbuster is that the Reds would probably be equally intrigued and apprehensive at the same time. Likelihood= -1.

The deadline will be filled with surprises as usual. All I can say is that I hope the Cubs are at least active, as I expect a lot of players in the MLB to be moving around. There’s a great opportunity for the Cubs to begin moving in a new direction as they prepare for the 2011 season- they have some money coming off the books at season’s end and a crop of promising prospects on the horizon. Since the trade market changes on a hourly basis, all we can do for the time being is look forward to any incoming talent and wave goodbye to those who have already put their time in.

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