C.C. Sabathia, the AL Cy Young Award winner in 2007, comes to Milwaukee to help the Brewers in their pursuit of the Cubs.
Associated Press file
The entire dynamic of the National League Central race changed Monday when the Milwaukee Brewers obtained ace lefty C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians for four prospects.
But if there's a seismic shift in competitive balance, the shock waves probably are reverberating more in St. Louis today than they are in Chicago.
The Brewers showed they're serious about getting back to the postseason for the first time since 1982 by trading for Sabathia, whom they probably will lose to free agency this fall.
The Cubs entered Monday 3 games ahead of both the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the suddenly cutthroat Central after having taken two of three over the weekend in St. Louis, where they probably should have swept the Cardinals.
While the Cubs have issues of their own concerning their starting rotation, the Cardinals have even more.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry watched the proceedings from his office Monday and said he's neither going to react in knee-jerk fashion nor is he going to stand still.
"Obviously, he's a tremendous asset to the Brewers," Hendry said of Sabathia. "We felt all along that the Brewers and the Cardinals were never going to go away. Moving into July, we never approached the situation that we were just good enough as is to get in (to the playoffs). We certainly have visions of trying to do much more than get in. That hasn't changed.
"The type of people that we have pursued and will continue to pursue is not going to be a reaction of Sabathia going to the Brewers. It's going to be a process of us feeling we have to continue trying to get better to play past the first of October. We never took it for granted that, 'Oh, we can kick back and we'll be fine and we'll get in and take our chances.' Our goal is to try to play for another month after the season ends."
Hendry had contact with Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro about Sabathia, but the Indians wanted prospects who can play at the major-league level as early as next year, and the strength of the Cubs' system with position players is at the lower levels.
As reported in Sunday's Daily Herald, the Cubs are looking hard at pitchers, with Oakland's Rich Harden being a prime player of interest. However, Athletics GM Billy Beane has not decided whether he'll be a buyer or a seller and may not do so until close to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.
The Toronto Blue Jays may make A.J. Burnett available, but he does not appear to be a "must-have" for the Cubs. San Diego has a pair of interesting pitchers in lefty Randy Wolf and former Cub Greg Maddux.
"If we can add a significant piece, we'll try to, whether it becomes a pitcher or a position player," Hendry said. "Who knows if we add one, two or three people before then? I don't know. Making deals of importance is not based on just what you want to do."
Hendry pointed out that the Cubs have been "aggressive" traders in recent years but that he could not "promise" a deal because of what other clubs might do. In-house, the Cubs seem pleased with the work of lefty Sean Marshall, who beat the Cardinals on Sunday and has done a solid job since rejoining the rotation in late June.
Left-hander Rich Hill, who opened the season as the Cubs' No. 4 starter before being banished to Class AAA Iowa in early May, appears to be making progress in regaining his command in Rookie League ball in Arizona. Hendry said it's not important where Hill is pitching now as much as it is that he keeps throwing strikes.
The Cubs play the Brewers at Miller Park on July 28-31 and figure to see Sabathia then. The two teams meet at Wrigley Field on Sept. 16-18 and close out the season in Milwaukee on Sept. 26-28.
The way the National League is shaping up, the wild card likely will come from the Central. That means a Chicago-Milwaukee or Chicago-St. Louis championship series is well within the realm of possibility. If it's the former, the Cubs figure to get quite and eyeful of the 6-foot-7, 290-pound Sabathia.
"Anything we do from here on out is not a reaction to what they (the Brewers) did," Hendry reiterated. "It's what we were planning on trying to do anyhow. It's not, 'They're a whole lot better; we better step it up.' They were real good without him. And we never assumed the Cardinals were going away whether they added players or not. Our goal is not just to get in. It's to advance, which we weren't able to do last year."