Second Half Brings Questions for Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs fans can unclench their teeth a bit. It’s the All-Star break. Even if you’re not a fan of the Mid-Summer Classic, you can find consolation in knowing the first season of Rebuild Mode is halfway done. Revel in the elation of All-Stars Bryan LaHair and Starlin Castro representing the Cubs as they try and secure the Washington Nationals home field advantage in the World Series (You read it here first).

The halfway mark is more of a milestone than you may realize. It’s a watershed moment that designates the passage of recognized futility and our inability to turn away. It’s an opportunity to take stock of our “abiding sense of tragedy that sustains us through temporary moments of joy”, as one of my favorite Irish proverbs so easily defines us Cubs fans.

So here we are, the fans, still watching a team that has never climbed higher than 4th place in 2012.

Spoiler! They won’t.

Currently six games behind Milwaukee, we may not see this team reach that plateau until 2014. The last time the Cubs were in 4th was May 14th. From the 16th until July 6th, the Cubs held the bottom rung of the Central Division ladder.

In the days leading up to the break, they’ve managed to squeeze up one spot and overtake the Houston Astros by half a game. We’ve all seen the flashes of play ranging from damn good to spectacular. Darwin Barney has shown masterful defense. Alfonso Soriano has found thunder hiding in a lighter bat, while playing right field on hobbled knees has shown me his heart rivals that of Mickey Mantle.

Yet, there are still question marks. The main discussion seems to always come back to money. What are the players earning and what are they doing to EARN it?

Geovany Soto is batting a pathetic .177 while earning $3 million last year and $4.3 million next year. Ian Stewart, the stop gap in replacing Aramis Ramirez, is no longer at the hot corner. He’s out for the year after wrist surgery and signed for just over $2M. His OPS was lower than Barney’s at .627.

Then there’s pitching. Personally, I was worried less about the pitching for this season than any other aspect. Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza had a 2011 stricken by lack of run support but both managed to get to 10 wins. Paul Maholm had successes on lackluster Pittsburgh teams. Randy Wells had shown ability in 2010 but was also a victim of run droughts. Jeff Samardzija, I assumed, would sense the urgency with which he needed to perform and has done so admirably.

Surprisingly, I’d least thought of Chris Volstad being the question mark. I’d compared him with Maholm and drawn the conclusion that coming from the NL East and facing difficult Philadelphia and Atlanta teams, he should be able to perform in the Central. He’d hovered around the .500 mark until a dismal 2011 saw him finish at 5-13. However, the Marlins did lose 90 games that year.

For the Cubs, Volstad is 0-7 with an ERA of 7.94 before being assigned to AAA Iowa. While there, he’s gone 2-3 with an ERA of 4.44. In his MLB starts this season, he hasn’t allowed less than three earned runs. Volstad gave up four or more earned runs in seven of nine starts. With Dempster back from the DL, Volstad headed back to AAA.

This does nobody any good. The Cubs are spending over $2.6M on a starter who not only hasn’t won a single game for them all season, but is not able to give decent enough starts to remain on a team that is a half game out of last place. What to do?

It’s possible that Volstad could be used as an additional player in a trade, with the hopes of maybe bringing back another prospect. I can’t imagine any team being short-sighted enough to take him in a straight deal. What is out of the question is leaving him in Iowa. The reason a team might take a trade with him tacked on is the same reason why the Cubs may hold onto him in some capacity: you can never have enough pitching.

I see Volstad back in the Cubs’ starting rotation in my nightmares. However, with Garza and Dempster all but buttoning up new jerseys, there will be voids. If the Cubs can’t get an MLB-ready arm or aren’t willing to throw in the towel and give minor league pitchers some experience in the show, someone will have to throw these innings.

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