It's as if the White Sox and Cubs stared into the same abyss, at the same time, and reached the same conclusion, from both ends of Chicago.
A year from now, Carlos Zambrano will be gone from the Cubs, one way or another, Ryan Dempster's current contract will have expired and Randy Wells will have shown whether he's worth an investment or, perhaps, a non-tender. Andrew Cashner will be brought along, but the Cubs aren't sure whether his future will be in the rotation or in the bullpen, and behind him, there isn't a lot of starting pitching in the minor league pipeline.
Mark Buehrle is gone from the White Sox, and a year from now, Jake Peavy's contract will have expired. And -- stop me if you've heard this before -- there isn't a lot of starting pitching in Chicago's minor league pipeline, which is why they swapped Sergio Santos for Nestor Molina, a prospect who could be a No. 2-type starter or a No. 4-type starter, depending on which scout is speaking.
The Cubs need starting pitching for 2013 -- as do the White Sox -- and this is why both teams made investments in their rotations within the same 24-hour news cycle this week.
The White Sox had talked about a three-year deal with John Danks in the past, a deal along the lines of the three-year, $35 million deal that Chad Billingsley signed with the Dodgers. When that effort failed, they then put Danks on the trade market, looking for a huge package for the left-hander -- a deal along the same lines that the Colorado Rockies got for Ubaldo Jimenez, in the eyes of one evaluator. But the White Sox developed very little traction in these talks, primarily because Danks was a year away from free agency. As teams have learned, the trade value of anyone less than two years from free agency -- whether it's Prince Fielder or Johan Santana -- plummets dramatically. If you're a Mat Latos or a Gio Gonzalez and you're four years away from free agency, yes, you'll generate significant offers. But Danks wasn't seen the same way. The White Sox were taken aback by how lukewarm the interest in Danks was, says one executive.
And at the winter meetings, Buehrle got a four-year, $58 million deal with the Marlins, and C.J. Wilson agreed to a five-year, $77.5 million contract with the Angels. If Danks -- who is just 27 years old -- had a good year in 2012, he would have been in line to get a contract right in that C.J. Wilson neighborhood, and maybe even more.
There is a great suspicion among some executives that in the years ahead, money will be poured into the free agent market. "Because of the new rules, your draft budget is locked in stone," said one GM this week. "Your international spending is capped. So where can the big-market teams spend their money? In free agency."
So the White Sox were left with three options:
1. Should they trade Danks now, for 60 cents on the dollar in value?
2. Should they keep him through the 2012 season, before letting him walk onto the market, where his price tag would only go up?
3. Should they re-sign him now?
This is why the dormant contract talks with Danks picked up immediately after the winter meetings, resulting in a five-year, $65 million deal this week. The White Sox had a better feel for the market, they had a rotation need and they really didn't care whether the Danks signing fit with the "rebuilding" messages sent by GM Ken Williams in Dallas. If they hadn't re-signed Danks, they would have been looking for someone just like him a year from now, so they gave him the biggest pitcher contract doled out in club history.
A year from now, the Cubs will be looking for serviceable starting pitching. They have talked with other teams about Matt Garza, who has more trade value than Danks because he's two years away from free agency. If they can't find the exact right deal -- in which they'd want young starting pitching back -- then they will try to reach an extension agreement with the right-hander.
But there will be rotation holes beyond Garza, a reality that nudged the Cubs into swapping Sean Marshall to a division rival, the Reds, in return for 24-year-old lefty Travis Wood -- a left-hander who is a good athlete and has had far better numbers in his young career outside of Cincinnati:
Wood in Cincinnati: 5.30 ERA, 10 homers in 73 innings.
Wood on the road: 3.58 ERA, nine homers in 135.2 innings.
Wood had a 1.08 WHIP and a 3.51 ERA in 2010, and a year ago, one evaluator noted, you couldn't have pried the left-hander away from the Reds. Now, you are buying when he's available, and maybe he'll rebound for the Cubs, after he turns 25 in February. He can't be a free agent until he's close to his 30th birthday, and until then the Cubs could control him, as part of a rotation Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are trying to reconstruct, for the long term.
• Take it for what it's worth, Part 1: There is a broad assumption among a lot of baseball executives that eventually, Prince Fielder's most attractive offer will come from the Nationals -- especially now that Washington has created a rotation core that will be relatively inexpensive over the next couple of years, with Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg.
Take it for what it's worth, Part 2: The Nationals are saying they aren't in the Fielder talks. For the record, Washington GM Mike Rizzo said flatly on Friday that Adam LaRoche will be his first baseman in 2012.
Dave Sheinin has some more thoughts on Fielder.
The Nats are set up to win for a while, Mike Rizzo believes.
The Gio deal shows the Nats aren't going to wait to win, writes Thomas Boswell.
• With the trade for Sean Marshall, the Reds show, again, that they are going all-in for next season, writes Hal McCoy.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Billy Beane says out loud that Oakland's goal is to load up on prospects for a possible new stadium. A rival general manager on Thursday: "I don't blame them for doing that; I don't think they really have a choice. They can't compete with the Angels and the Rangers until they get a new park."
3. The Twins are counting on rotation improvement from within, writes La Velle Neal.
• Joe Block is going to join Bob Uecker on the Milwaukee broadcasts next season.
• The Cardinals will try to win with some transplanted All-Stars, writes Derrick Goold. It's possible they will be a better regular-season team next year, writes Bernie Miklasz. I totally agree with that.
• The Jays have some trade options, writes Richard Griffin.
• Some updates on how various Angels have played in winter ball, from the Orange County Register.
• A seventh person came forward with abuse allegations against Bill Conlin.
• Vanderbilt's defensive ends need to stay in their lanes.
And today will be better than yesterday.