After winning back-to-back division titles, the Cubs now appear on the brink of having two straight years of October golf. The Cubs’ core players are quickly passing their prime as the ballclub becomes increasingly more inconsistent.

Now it’s still early in the season and a Cubs run to a Wild Card spot isn’t mathematically impossible, but even if the Cubs make the playoffs, it is very, very clear they cannot compete with the Cardinals and Phillies in the National League or the Yankees, Devil Rays, or Twins in the AL.

The Cubs are not going to be competitive with those teams in the near future, so they need to look to future and start creating a new core of players.


Untradeable Contracts

The Cubs have more than their fair share of untradeable contracts, possibly the most in baseball. No matter what the Cubs do, these contacts are untradeable unless the Cubs pay a huge chunk of their salary to ship them out.

Alfonso Soriano is likely the most untradeable player in all of baseball. There is no team that will take his contract with the huge amount of years and excessive money owed. The Cubs are likely in for the full Soriano experience, and it could be a very long four years.

Carlos Zambrano is another completely untradeable contract. There is no team that will likely ever take his contract, and the Cubs are in for the long haul. This is not an entirely bad thing—Zambrano is still 29 and has four years of prime baseball left in him. Zambrano will likely never win 20 games or live up to his contract, but he could turn out to be an asset to the team.

Carlos Silva, despite his early success, will be very hard to trade, and the Cubs would likely have to do it in the coming weeks. Likewise, Kosuke Fukudome will be very hard to trade, but with his contract coming to a close next season he could be moved.

Key Trading Chips

While the Cubs have several contracts that are going be to very difficult to move, the Cubs have several players that once they hit the trading block, Jim Hendry’s phone will ring non-stop.

Derreck Lee is one of the finest all-around first basemen in baseball. His defense is excellent and instantly upgrades any infield he joins.  At the plate Lee has a fine eye and a smooth stroke with excellent power. His speed has diminished, and he isn’t quite the five-tool player he used to be, but he still swipes a base here or there.

Lee is in the last year of his contract and would demand a very high price from any team looking for first base help down the stretch. Tampa Bay would likely be put over the top by the addition of a veteran of the quality of Lee.

Aramis Ramirez is struggling mightily at the plate right now, but by the trade deadline if Ramirez is hitting like himself, he will be a very sought-after trade piece. The Phillies would kill for a third baseman with the ability at the plate and in the field like Ramirez, especially if they are facing a serious challenge.

Ted Lilly has been a fantastic pitcher for the Cubs, and a left-handed starter with 45 wins in the last four years will always be in demand. The Cubs could get a very nice price for Lily.

Ryan Dempster has been the ace of the Cubs in the last three years, as his career has been turned around by his time in Chicago. Dempster would be a sought-after pitcher to add to any team looking for that one piece to put them over the top.

Marlon Byrd is another player that could be moved for a nice price.

The New Core

Moving forward the Cubs should look to build around their young, promising players with an eye toward team cohesion.

In the infield the Cubs obviously would keep Starlin Castro to play shortstop, being the Cubs’ top prospect. Castro has the chance to be a Gold Glove defender, a prestigious base-stealer, and have 15-20 HRs a year. Castro has drawn Derek Jeter comparisons from Baseball America, which is high praise. It’s highly unlikely he will fully reach this status, but even a partial realization of this would likely make him the first Cubs’ All-Star Shortstop in a long time.

Ryan Theriot is more than able to take over second base for the Cubs in the long term. A natural second baseman, Theriot will be a very steady defender at second, and his offensive output, while not star quality, makes him a key role player.

Geovany Soto has returned to form and can be the backstop for the Cubs for the foreseeable future. Tyler Colvin certainly deserves a shot at taking over centerfield for the Cubs if Byrd is dealt going into next season.

Mike Fontenot is an ideal bench player for the Cubs. Left-handed with power and able to play shortstop and second, Fontenot off the bench seems to be the right player at the right price. Also Fontenot and Theriot’s lifetime friendship helps make them one of the emotional centers of the team.

As for pitchers, Randy Wells and Carlos Marmol are must-keeps for the Cubs. Wells seems on the cusp of a fine Major League career, and Marmol is just scratching the surface of his closing ability.

Also Jeff Samardzija should not be given up on. Just 25 years old and fantastic athlete, his progress may be slowed by the fact he split his college days between baseball and football, but there is still plenty of time for that ability to translate to production.

In the farm system the Cubs have the fantastic Josh Vitters, who in 2011 could be ready to compete for a third base job for the big league club. Brett Jackson also could be in Chicago by 2011, moving Tyler Colvin over to right field and giving the Cubs their first steady centerfielder in a long time.

Pitching prospects Andrew Cashner, Jay Jackson, and Chris Charpenter all could make major impressions on NL Central hitters in the 2011 or 2012 seasons.

Combine these prospects with any gained through trading away valued veterans, and the Cubs could stockpile prospects to be a powerhouse in 2012 and on.

I also feel the Cubs should make a move for one Major League player. If they are able to deal many of their valuable veterans and package a few prospects, I feel Adrian Gonzalez could be the center of the Cubs’ team for the rest of this decade.

Gonzalez is one of baseball’s finest left-handed hitters with amazing defensive ability and is still only 28 years old. Gonzalez would demand a high price, but if the Cubs were able to stockpile talent with smart trades, I feel he would be worth the price.

With this new core, even if a few players don’t develop, the Cubs would be a talent-laden franchise headed in a totally new, and upward, direction, rather than stagnated in mediocre, one-and-done playoff runs.

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