After a two week holiday, it's nice to be back. Or at least it would be if I wasn't coming back to the realisation that the Cubs are now tied for fourth in the division with the Cincinnati Reds (who've gone 35-25 since they fired their manager), and that Matt Lawton has been traded.
Not that Matt Lawton being traded in itself is a bad thing: not at all, for while the Cubs mustered just an unremarkable pitching prospect by the name of Justin Berg, who like most pitching prospects deep in the system enjoys only the slightest chance of ever contributing at the big league level, that's a whole lot more than they'd have got had they held onto him. Had he stayed, Lawton, a free agent at year's end whose current contract rules out offering arbitration with a view to draft pick compensation as a viable option, would have walked away leaving the Cubs with nothing, and he'd have left the Cubs a million dollars lighter in the pocket between now and then too. This trade isn't a case of the Cubs' front office being cheap though, it's a case of them being sensible, if not courageous too, for it takes a big man to be at as ease with his mistakes as Hendry has shown himself to be here.
That said, there is only so much praise you can heap upon someone for clearing up their own mess. On deadline day I wrote...
Whichever way Hendry tried to spin it in the press conference, this trade is a rental. Matt Lawton is entering the final months of a four year deal that's paying him $7.5m this year. And when this season is done, Lawton, whose contract includes no options, will file for free agency. With Lawton turning 34 in November, and doubtless looking for a multi-year deal all the same, this being a rental or not, it's probably best left that way.
But it is a rental. And that says much for the Cubs' attitude towards this season, it says that they still clearly think they can make the playoffs. But this team right now stands at just 53-52 and is very much flawed, as this lousy homestand against lousy Western opposition [Giants, Diamondbacks] has demonstrated. Nomar, Wood and Williamson, who Hendry is viewing as mid-season pickups, will not change that, promoting Van Buren won't either, and neither will Matt Lawton, whose simply not an impact ballplayer.
The Cubs only gave up Jody Gerut, who managed just 18 plate appearances with the Pirates before succumbing to the problems with his knee that have ruined his season, but right now the Cubs' delusions of competitiveness mean that in the long-term they've exchanged him for Justin Berg, and that's just an unjustifable trade. In the short-term, Lawton gave Dusty Baker a convenient excuse to screw over Matt Murton, and the Cubs threw in a million dollars or so too. And for what? Parity with the Cincinnati Reds in 2005? I need a holiday.