With a brutal stretch of games coming both in the immediate future and throughout the month of June, the odds that the Chicago Cubs will be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline is increasing every day.

Should that time arrive, two of the players for whom the Cubs will entertain offers are starter Carlos Zambrano and third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Indeed, Bruce Levine suggested in a recent chat that, if the Cubs are out of it by July, they may well find out what they could get for Zambrano and/or Ramirez.

There is no real surprise there, given that, among the Cubs’ larger contracts, Zambrano and Ramirez are two of the more tradable pieces. That’s not to say there aren’t issues.

First, there are no obvious replacements for either player in 2012. As we’ve seen this year, the Cubs aren’t overflowing with internal rotation candidates. The hope would be that prospects like Trey McNutt, who aren’t quite ready to step into the big league rotation this year, would be ready by 2012. Of course, as Andrew Cashner reminded us this year, you count on top prospects at your own peril. As for third base, there are options – DJ LeMahieu, Josh Vitters, Marquez Smith, Blake DeWitt – but none is expected to generate the kind of production the Cubs get (well, the kind of production the Cubs are supposed to get) from Aramis Ramirez.

Second, neither player’s contract is particularly attractive. As we’ve discussed previously with Ramirez, if he’s traded, his $16 million 2012 option kicks in. While the Cubs could throw in some cash to cover that number, they could also just save the cash by letting him walk at the end of the year (with a $2 million buyout). So, in order to trade Ramirez, the Cubs would almost certainly have to find a team that not only wants Ramirez this and next year, but is willing to pay most of his prospective $16 million salary in 2012. That won’t be easy to find.

As for Zambrano, he’s making about $18 million this year and another $18 million next year. Obviously, that rate far exceeds Zambrano’s current utility – he received that contract (1) at the height of the market (though I suppose we’re arguably reaching another height), and (2) at the height of his career. Zambrano is just 30, but it’s an old 30 – he’s already got more than 1750 innings on his arm. $18 million is a lot of money to pay for Zambrano, and, despite the dearth of available pitching talent, the Cubs would have to be willing to eat a considerable amount of that remaining money if they want to receive anything of value in return for Zambrano.

Third, both Zambrano and Ramirez have no-trade clauses in their contracts. So, as was the case with Derrek Lee last year (before he was ultimately dealt to the Braves), the Cubs might line up a good deal for one of the two only to have them reject it. This could force the Cubs to settle for a lesser deal with a team Zambrano/Ramirez finds more palatable, or no deal at all.

The hurdles are not insurmountable, but trading either of Zambrano or Ramirez is going to be difficult. Still, the Cubs will be listening to offers if their losing ways continue.


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