We knew, I think, when the Cubs made multiple trades in the days leading up to (and now, past) the July 31 trading deadline, that the final two months of the season were not going to be easy ones. The team is in transition, rookies are getting more and more playing time, and the Cubs have had a rough go of it on the road this year anyway.
Monday's game, a 2-0 loss to the Padres, proves the point, I suppose. The Cubs had just five hits -- a double by Darwin Barney and four other singles. And it's not as if this were Clayton Kershaw again; Eric Stults, who shut the Cubs down (along with help from four San Diego relievers), is kind of their version of Justin Germano, only lefthanded and two years older. The Cubs seem back to their old ways of losing to lefthanded starters; the loss drops them to 12-20 vs. LHP. Only the Rockies, at 10-21, are worse in the National League.
There is one instructive thing we can learn from last night's game, and his name is Huston Street. Why Huston Street? Follow me past the jump.
Like the Cubs, the Padres are a team in transition; they just missed the playoffs in 2010, then dumped quite a number of players and are rebuilding with young players. But last offseason, they traded for Street, then the Rockies' closer. They didn't really need him; it appeared to be a salary dump by the Rockies, who owed him $7.5 million this year.
Since the Padres are buried deep in the NL West (only the Rockies are worse), they get little attention, but Street has been one of the best (if not the best) closers in baseball this season. With Monday night's save against the Cubs -- in which he threw just nine pitches -- he's got 19 saves, zero blown saves, just three runs allowed all season, and only 11 hits and eight walks given up in 34 innings. That's a 0.79 ERA and 0.558 WHIP.
Street was recently signed to a contract extension by the Padres, that tore up his $9 million option for 2013 and replaced it with a two-year deal worth $14 million, with a $7 million club option for 2015.
What does this have to do with the Cubs? Well, we now have four potential building blocks of the next Cubs contender in the starting lineup (Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters). Jeff Samardzija could be a starter on those teams; maybe Travis Wood can as well.
We're seeing the organization trying to acquire as many good young players as it can in order to bring, as some here have put it, "waves and waves" of talent. That's great. But if, during that build, someone like Huston Street becomes available -- and I'm not saying a closer or even a pitcher -- either by trade or free agency, you grab him now. Street was reasonably priced for San Diego and, at 29, could be part of the next Padres contending team, especially with new ownership about to be in place there.
I hope Theo & Jed will be looking for opportunities like this in the offseason. Note, this does not mean buying a closer, specifically, or the shiniest toy in the shop, or spending hundreds of millions on a 30-something free agent whose best years are behind him. It's finding value that will still be there when the Cubs contend again, no matter what position such a player would play.
A couple of other things to note about events Monday:
Matt Garza has a "stress reaction" in his right elbow and could be shut down for the season; he's not going to pick up a baseball for at least two weeks. This could lead to this problem:
Without much of a chance to prove himself, even his offseason trade value would seem to be limited at best. That is why general manager Jed Hoyer suggested to reporters on the road trip that the Cubs are now expecting Garza to be a member of the 2013 rotation.
That could be fine; if Garza is healthy going into 2013, he could be traded at the deadline next year -- or extended.
Finally, Brett Jackson had four at-bats Monday night, and struck out four times. This has been the biggest worry about him this season, his large number of Ks. Monday was just one game. But this sort of thing can't be repeated very often, if at all. Still, I'd send him out there every day for the rest of the season. He'll either make the adjustments he needs to and become the player the previous regime hoped he would when he was drafted -- or current management will move on.