Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Nathan injury hurts Cubs' pen, too

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Joe Nathan's elbow injury could deliver yet another blow to the Cubs' bullpen.

With the Twins' All-Star closer facing the likelihood of Tommy John surgery, the Twins are suddenly in the same market for a late-inning reliever that the Cubs are - with every bit as urgent a sense of need.

And for maybe the first time ever, the Twins are at no discernable financial disadvantage as they go head-to-head with the Cubs to fill a roster hole.

While the Cubs have a larger payroll and much larger revenues, that payroll budget is tapped. And chairman/owner Tom Ricketts has made it clear that while he'll consider lifting the lid some to accommodate a reliever, that move must be prudent and could affect how much the Cubs will be allowed to spend closer to the trading deadline.

Think the small-market Twins are dealing with the same restrictions? Certainly, Minnesota has financial limitations, but this is also a team that has traditionally played its payroll cards modestly in part to allow for necessary movement when it sees a chance to contend.

Not only is this one of those moments for the team - just look at its list of winter moves if you don't believe their planning on a sixth division title in nine years - but the opening of their new stadium this season only adds motivation to spend a little more to cover Nathan's loss.

Which means every potentially available quality, veteran reliever from San Diego's Heath Bell and Toronto's Jason Frasor to possibly even free agent John Smoltz could be in Minnesota's sights.

Bell ($4 million) already appears out of reach for the Cubs unless a chunk of salary goes to San Diego in a would-be trade.

But if the Twins pull off a deal for Frasor ($2.65 million), that could take the Cubs' top option off the board and put a big dent in their ability to assemble a bullpen they can count on entering a season that could have a lot to say about the direction the team - if not several Cub decision-makers - heads, beyond 2010, under new ownership.

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It appears that the Cubs organization is comfortable with rookies Gaub and Caridiad going into the season as the most likely to take Guzman's innings in the set-up role. Both pitchers are young, cheap, and eager to make more of an impression on the club. With rookies, there are always the dangers of inconsistency and being unable to adjust to the league. As replacements to the inconsistent Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilman, I think they should do fine, provided they keep their confidence and go after the hitters. As a replacement for the much more dependable Guzman, it waits to be seen. Personally, I'd like to see us go into the season with 2-3 rookies in the bullpen and see the organization reap the benefits of its pitching-deep system. Should they be successful, we'll be able to use potential bullpen dollars to keep Lee and/or Lilly on the team after the 2010 season. To the best of my knowledge, only Marmol and Marshall will be arb. eligible, so the bullpen will be one of the youngest and cheapest parts of the roster.

I pretty much agree with Aaron W.The Cubs should be able to make do with what they have on board already.Obviously a veteran is as much a risk as a rookie or other youngster with a good arm.Many of those veterans are inconsistent too.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on March 9, 2010 3:19 PM.

Cubs' Guzman plans career-threatening surgery was the previous entry in this blog.

Theriot wins Cubs leadoff job is the next entry in this blog.

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