I think if you took a straw poll of prognosticators, a strong majority would agree that Ryan Dempster is a more attractive trade target than Carlos Zambrano.

While Dempster’s season, on the whole, may look worse than Zambrano’s, Dempster is on the upswing while Zambrano is trending downward. Dempster has been consistently solid over his time with the Cubs, while Zambrano has been erratic. Dempster is roundly considered a valued member of the clubhouse, while Zambrano is, at times, detrimental. Dempster is due just $13.5 million this year (with a $14 million player option in 2012), while Zambrano is owed nearly $18 million this year (and another $18 million in 2012).

So, as we move into the 2011 rumor season, it’s natural that Ryan Dempster’s name will emerge as a trade candidate. But, unlike with Carlos Zambrano, one important question lingers before we even get to the rumors. Would the Cubs really consider trading Ryan Dempster?

Dempster’s contract theoretically expires at the end of the year, but he’s got a $14 million player option for 2012, which he’s certain to exercise if he’s still around. He’s also got no-trade rights. He’s a fan favorite, and he’s been a mainstay in Chicago for eight years. And the city and team been very supportive of the Dempster Family Foundation. You can see the not-on-the-field reasons the Cubs might be reluctant to explore a Dempster trade.

But, he’s a desirable piece on a sinking ship. He’s turned his season around, and once again has the look of a guy who could help a playoff contender both reach and achieve in the playoffs. You can see the reasons the Cubs might be willing to explore a Dempster trade.

A few of the pundits have weighed in on the subject, but none comes to a definitive conclusion.

Jayson Stark says the Cubs are unlikely to trade Dempster.

Believe all mid-June trade rumors at your own peril. One name, for instance, that’s being bantered about heavily all of a sudden on the rumor circuit is Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. But one NL executive who spoke with Cubs GM Jim Hendry came away with the impression there was no likely scenario in which Hendry would be interested in moving Dempster, who holds a player option for next year at $14 million and has 10-and-5 veto power over any trade.

Bruce Levine agrees that Dempster is the subject of many a rumor, but says the Cubs probably won’t consider dealing him unless they’re overwhelmed.

I know [Dempster] has value. I know there are teams interested but you have to keep some good players on this team. He has had a slow start but he is a quality pitcher and leader. Unless you could get somebody to overpay and Dempster agrees that it’s best for him, I don’t see it happening.

But Phil Rogers is a little more flexible on the subject, as he is wont to be.

Since a horrible April, Dempster has gone 4-2 with a 3.21 ERA over a stretch of nine starts. He breezed through seven scoreless innings against Milwaukee’s tough lineup on a night when the wind was blowing in on Wrigley, continuing a long run of success against the team built around Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. If you can pitch well against the Brew Crew, you can hold your own against American League lineups too. That’s why Dempster would be in demand if the Cubs let it be known they were making him available.

For a team as thin in pitching as the Cubs have become, the decision to deal Dempster (who could kill any of this talk, as he has 10-and-5 trade veto power) would be crucial to your plans in 2012, if not the next few years. Personally I’d only do it if someone overwhelmed me, but if the Yankees were hungry enough for him that they’d deal one of their young pitching studs, Dellin Betances or Manny Banuelos, I couldn’t say no.

Is it smart/fair to have Hendry, who is tied as much to Dempster as he is any player, be the guy to handle this difficult issue? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

Rogers, to his credit, raises two interesting points: (1) to what extent should the team’s 2012 plans inform what they choose to do with Dempster, and (2) how will the personal relationship between Dempster and Jim Hendry affect a possible trade?

To the latter point first, I’m inclined to believe that a GM fighting for his professional life isn’t going to let a personal relationship interfere with his decisions. Further, to the extent that the two have a good relationship, that could actually cut in favor of the Cubs’ ability to work out a trade – Hendry could be more comfortable undertaking the indelicate task of feeling Dempster out about whether he would approve a trade, and to which teams he would be willing to go. Hard feelings might not be a consideration.

To the former point, I’m not sure how much Dempster should be counted on in 2012. I say that not because he will be 35 next year or because his skills are declining. I say it more because his $14 million salary is an awful lot to commit to a middle of the rotation pitcher on a team that may not be competitive. With respect to dealing Dempster (moreso than any other player they’ll consider dealing this trade season), the Cubs will have to decide in advance just how much they expect to compete (and spend) in 2012. If they move Dempster, odds are good they’re not expecting to compete (or spend voluminously) in 2012. Sure, there’s always a chance that the Cubs could bank on signing a free agent starter in the offseason, but it’s more likely that dealing Dempster would be viewed as opening up a spot in the rotation for a kid like Trey McNutt (and opening up (or pocketing) the attendant payroll savings).

  • Michigan Goat

    I wonder if this could happen: Demp accepts a trade but does not exercise his player option, and returns to the Cubs in FA for a two/three/four-year deal worth around $18-$25M. I’m not sure that’s a good deal for the Cubs, but I think Demp wants to retire a Cub and he has shown great consistency and should have 1-2 years left in the tank. I know if Hendry is still around this is exactly what will happen. I do think offers should be seriously considered and if we can get a good prospect for him we must trade him.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      That’s a pretty serious wink and a nod type deal. Dempster would have to have a whole lot of trust that the Cubs would make due. Also, draft pick compensation could be a problem, as the Cubs might lose a second rounder to re-sign Dempster, thus negating some of the value in trading him in the first place.

      • Michigan Goat

        I didn’t even consider the draft pick loss that would hurt, but if Hendry is still around I could see this type of deal happening. I also don’t think Demp wants to leave Chicago and he would only accept a deal if he thought he could return next year as a Cub.

        • Fishin Phil

          If Dempster takes that deal and wants to come back, he better be real sure who the GM is next year.

          • EQ

            It seems like those deals never seem to happen though.. It would be a great idea but I can’t think of any time that anyone worthwhile has ever been traded and then signs right back as a FA with the team that traded them.. I could be wrong, but it never happens..

            It would be a great move though.. especially if we could get a great prospect back and then Demp back next year..

            • Toosh

              The Cubs once traded Dickie Noles for a PTBNL. The player? You know it! Dickie Noles!

      • Jeff

        Doesn’t he have one of those clauses that kick in for next year if he gets traded? I am not sure, it might only seem like every contract Hendry gives out has that clause in it.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

          I don’t know that he does, but it doesn’t really matter – a $14 million player option for him is as good as a guaranteed year.

          • Jeff

            I guess that’s true to a point. Let’s say he goes to the Yankees and struggles. I think he would be likely to turn down the option and pick where he wants to pitch for the last couple of years of his career.

  • http://Bleachernation Ramy16

    Trade him for manny banuelos.. He’s been to inconstant