OAKLAND, Calif. – Pedro Strop walked over to Kevin Gregg at his locker, gave him a bro hug and playfully grabbed his biceps muscle.
That kind of scene on Wednesday inside O.co Coliseum’s visiting clubhouse – a room flooded with sewage last month – will be played out again soon. For the Cubs, this will be a month of packing and unpacking bags and “Hello, my name is…” introductions.
The Baltimore Orioles released Gregg last September, and by then Strop had emerged as a very good setup guy for a surprising 93-win team. Now Gregg is one of the top relievers on the trade market, while Strop gets a change of scenery after posting a 7.25 ERA and hearing the boos at Camden Yards.
Four weeks from the July 31 trade deadline, the Cubs continued their organizational cleanup and roster makeover, designating reliever Shawn Camp for assignment and optioning left-hander Chris Rusin back to Triple-A Iowa.
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A battered bullpen (17 blown saves) added two reinforcements in Strop and Matt Guerrier, who were acquired on Tuesday in the Scott Feldman and Carlos Marmol trades.
The Cubs passed the midpoint and headed into Game 82 knowing they’re already sellers. Gregg (1.59 ERA, 14 saves) and former ALCS MVP Matt Garza could be the next ones to go.
“I don’t brace for anything, because I don’t have control over that until all these things happen,” manager Dale Sveum said. “But, obviously, it’s part of the business and that’s where we are at this part of the season right now.”
Sveum didn’t enjoy breaking the news to Camp. Sveum felt a sense of loyalty to Camp, who had pitched for him at Double-A Altoona years ago in the Pittsburgh Pirates system.
Camp had been one of Sveum’s team MVPs last year, tying the major-league lead with 80 relief appearances. But at the age of 37, Camp’s rubber arm wasn’t the same this season and his slider flattened out. He had lost velocity and spent almost a month on the disabled list with a toe injury. He posted a 7.04 ERA and gave up seven homers in 23 innings.
“Unfortunately, we had to outright Camp, which obviously wasn’t my finest day as a manager,” Sveum said. “It was tough because Camp did so much for me as a first-year manager and God knows where we would have been last year without him.”
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The Cubs still lost 101 games in 2012, a race to the bottom that accelerated with another fire sale in July. Angry Cubs fans on Twitter would probably debate Sveum’s finest days as manager and love to second-guess the bullpen decisions.
But as team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have repeatedly said: The front office has given Sveum an imperfect roster. There’s not enough talent here.
It could look dramatically different by Aug. 1. Carlos Villanueva is being stretched out again to take Feldman’s spot in the rotation, though at this point it’s unclear who will start Sunday at Wrigley Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs can hope Guerrier morphs back into the effective reliever who helped the Minnesota Twins win division titles, and doesn’t stay the same guy who was recently designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs will take a chance on Strop, to see if he can recapture what made him successful in the American League East, the stuff that helped the Dominican Republic win the World Baseball Classic.
“I’m just going to come here with a clear mind,” Strop said. “I’m going to forget about whatever happened last year, whatever happened the beginning of this year. I’m just going to start over. I’m a Cub. I’m not an Oriole anymore.”
Pretty soon, everyone will be talking about certain Cubs in the past tense.
“There’s nothing to really say,” Sveum said. “Players are professionals. They know. They’ve been here before. They know the situation at hand and they just do their best.”