By Phil Rogers
11:55 AM EDT, March 24, 2011
Talking baseball while saying goodbye to Elizabeth Taylor:
1. There's nothing harder for baseball managers and executives at this time of the year than considering tomorrow as well as today. These guys are held to such a high level of accountability that it’s natural to always want to give their teams the best shot possible of winning games. But there are seasons when you need to think beyond the next week, and this is one of them for the Cubs.
Of course, there’s a perfect storm that could be imagined in which Mike Quade’s team could win 88 games and challenge to the end -- although you do talk to scouts who think Cincinnati is going to win 95-plus games. But perfect storms are unlikely, and the 2012 and 2013 seasons are given.
With that in mind, there’s no way Carlos Silva should be able to rally his way into Quade’s rotation. The Cubs absolutely need to give at least 50 starts to young starters this season, and that’s probably not going to happen without Andrew Cashner in the rotation to start the season.
Given that Randy Wells is showing signs of bouncing back from a disappointing 2010, the Cubs have only one opening in the rotation. Silva would love to be in it, and he threw so well on Wednesday -- retiring 17 of 18 Athletics at one point -- that a case can be made to ignore his awful start to spring training. But Silva is just passing through. Giving him starts -- at least with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano healthy -- would be a waste of time.
Releasing Silva would cost the Cubs $8 million, and I don’t think it would be a bad option. If a team would take him in a trade, that would be great, even if you had to pay almost all of his salary. But that seems very unlikely.
There is one decent fit for Silva, and he said it Wednesday. That’s the bullpen, where Quade is going to need a long man and has no shortage of openings beyond the back-end trio of Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood (who is looking great) and Sean Marshall.
The question I had about Silva and the bullpen is whether he will be happy enough to be a good teammate in that role. He says he can. “Inside, as long as I wear this big league jersey, especially the Cubs jersey, it's a blessing," Silva told reporters Wednesday.
That’s a good sign. So was one other thing that Silva said. He told reporters that he felt a pep talk from Ryan Dempster had played a role in his turning around what has been a rotten spring.
You can’t spend 15 minutes around the Cubs without someone telling you something Dempster did that proved his value as a leader and a genuinely good person. I vaguely remember giving him a hard time for not playing for Canada in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. I’d like to rescind anything and everything I’ve ever written about Dempster that wasn’t positive. Dude is really, really impressive.
2. And now that we’re on the subject of Dempster, what about extending his contract? This is probably premature, as he’s only in the third year of a four-year, $52 million contract and he’s clearly happy. He has a player option to return next season (at $14 million) and if he was your stock get-as-much-as-I-can-get player you might wonder it will use it to opt out early and look for a fat long-term deal on the free-agent market. I don’t think Dempster will do that. But I also see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to pitch effectively for at least another three years, as he’s a workout fiend who takes terrific care of himself. It would send a nice message about rewarding performance on and off the field to lock him up through 2013, maybe even ’14. As he heads toward his 34th birthday, he may not be a No. 1 or 2 starter on a top staff, but he’s a darn good pitcher and a leader -- the perfect guy to build a young (younger, anyway) staff around.
3. Lastings Milledge has had a great camp for the White Sox, but just might find himself in Triple-A to start the season. You can argue that he belongs in a left-field platoon with Juan Pierre -- although Pierre actually hits left-handers better than right-handers -- but Ozzie Guillen and Ken Williams are down to one spot for two guys, and the more versatile Brent Lillibridge could wind up with the spot because Milledge (hitting .319 with four home runs, 10 RBIs and three stolen bases in 15 games this spring ) came to camp on a minor-league contract.
If the White Sox do successfully stash Milledge at Triple-A, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for him because it would allow him to continue to get 25-30 at-bats a week, maintaining the progress he has made this spring. It would also be a sign of one thing to really like about the 2011 White Sox. This is a much deeper team than recent ones. There will be guys at the Triple-A level to fill the holes that are opened up by injury. One of those is catcher Tyler Flowers, who may have come further than any player in camp, including the remarkable Dayan Viciedo, who looked solid in the outfield before breaking his thumb.
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