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Paul Sullivan: With big ticket items off the board, Cubs’ trade options appear unappetizing

CHICAGO – Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline long ago morphed from a few weeks of speculation in your local newspaper to a full-fledged spectacle played out on TV, radio and the internet.

The evolution of the website, the six-hour trade-deadline countdown show on MLB Network and the proliferation of rumors on Twitter accounts of trusted media brands such as Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, Bob Nightengale and others keeps fans up to date on the latest information from anonymous executives, scouts, agents and players.

It’s good for the game, keeps everyone in the media busy and keeps players on their toes, wondering if they’re on the trade block.

But this year’s trade deadline, which arrives at 3 p.m. Tuesday, is shaping up as one of the dullest in years, especially with Manny Machado already off the market and seemingly no other superstars on the block. Orioles closer Zach Britton, the most prominent reliever, went to the Yankees on Tuesday for three prospects. Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi was dealt to the Red Sox for another prospect.


Are we supposed to hold our breath until we find out where Mike Moustakas lands after no one signed him in the winter, forcing him to crawl back to the Royals? Does the 2018 version of Cole Hamels excite anyone? Will James Shields and Joakim Soria be touted as some contender’s version of a significant deadline pickup? With Brad Hand off the board, should teams looking for bullpen help settle for the best available Brad, be it Brach or Ziegler? Would any Orioles starter – either Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman or Andrew Cashner – have enough time left to get the Oriole-ness out of his system?

Unless some unforeseen name such as Jacob deGrom, Chris Archer or Jose Abreu turns into a realistic trade piece, we’re going to have to keep refreshing our favorite trade-rumor sites while knowing there’s really nothing there to see. Cubs President Theo Epstein is looking for pitching help, but the pickings are slim.

Near the end of May, when Epstein was squelching the Machado rumors, he said the Cubs needed to look inward.

“We have more than enough ability to win the division, to win the World Series, and we really need to focus on our roster, get the most out of our ability and find some consistency,” he said. “Everybody’s talking about making trades. The first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are.”

The Cubs presumably know who they are now: a team with enough ability to win the World Series but still lacking depth in the rotation and bullpen. That combination led manager Joe Maddon to employ position players as relievers this week as if that is normal.

“There’s a time and place for position players to pitch,” said Jon Lester, who pitched six strong innings Wednesday in the Cubs’ 2-1 victory over the Diamondbacks. “You never want them going out there when (they’re) on your team, but there are times throughout the year that happens.

“It seems it has happened quite a bit here lately. Hopefully that’s the end of it and we can get these guys some rest.”

Despite being in first place with 61 games remaining, the Cubs are in an untenable position because of the uncertain recovery time of injured starter Yu Darvish and the latest injury to closer Brandon Morrow.

The Cubs insist Darvish will return eventually, and Morrow’s biceps inflammation isn’t cause for alarm, but Epstein continues to search for a rental. Whether it’s J.A. Happ or another veteran, it’s doubtful that player will bring the same sense of anticipation to Wrigley Field as recent deadline pickups Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana.

Darvish is to throw off a mound in St. Louis on Friday and Maddon said the pitcher is “optimistic,” but Darvish lost the benefit of the doubt weeks ago. As for Morrow, he went from being in “a lot of pain,” according to pitching coach Jim Hickey, to having “a little bit of soreness left,” according to Morrow himself. But with Britton gone, Epstein’s options are less appetizing than the salad bar at a $10 steakhouse.

The Cubs can’t stand pat because they’re the Cubs, a team with unlimited resources and a go-for-broke mantra.

But if there’s no one worth acquiring who is significantly better than what they already have, maybe looking inward is still the Cubs’ best move.

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Miami Marlins relief pitcher Brad Ziegler (29) closes the game for the Marlins against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. (Sam Navarro/Miami Herald/TNS)

Miami Marlins relief pitcher Brad Ziegler (29) closes the game for the Marlins against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. (Sam Navarro/Miami Herald/TNS)

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