When was the last time the St. Louis Cardinals were sellers?
Three St. Louis insiders came back with a consensus answer: 1990. That’s when the Cardinals shipped All-Star outfielder Willie McGee to the Oakland A’s.
That’s the same year Starlin Castro was born. That’s the same year the Cubs still lost 85 games, even with future Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson combining for 67 homers and 200 RBIs and a young Greg Maddux winning 15 games.
That’s crazy, but that’s what the Cubs are up against, baseball’s model franchise.
The Cubs won this rivalry game 3-0 on Thursday night in front of 35,379 fans at Wrigley Field, with $52 million investment Edwin Jackson going seven strong innings against the team that once gave him a World Series ring.
Trying to reach those heights, the Cubs are taking an anything-is-possible approach to the trade deadline, whether it’s shopping closer Kevin Gregg (16th save), perhaps packaging frontline starter Matt Garza with personal catcher Dioner Navarro or subsidizing the roughly $26 million left on Alfonso Soriano’s megadeal.
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The New York Yankees haven’t decided exactly what direction they’re going to take at the deadline, and they’re one of several contenders still weighing their options.
At least one playoff team from last season has privately expressed concerns about Garza’s medical history, while another one wasn’t sure about payroll flexibility, given the roughly $4.5 million he’s still owed and the acquisition cost of a possible two-month rental.
Outside of the shortstop Castro (three hits), franchise first baseman Anthony Rizzo (three RBIs), Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija and All-Star Travis Wood, it really wouldn’t be surprising if any other player in the clubhouse is gone by July 31.
“We’re a good group of guys together,” Rizzo said. “We can’t worry about all the outside noise and the trade deadline and all that.”
The Cubs (41-49) have won 10 of their last 15 games and gone 6-2-1 in their last nine series. Imagine if they had converted some of those 18 blown saves, or won a few of those 26 games they lost after leading. Or if the biggest free agent signed so far by the Theo Epstein administration had lived up to expectations.
Jackson shut down the Cardinals (55-35), limiting them to three hits and zero walks while striking out five. He’s 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his last three starts, digging out of what has been a bad first half overall: 6-10 with a 5.11 ERA.
“This is probably the craziest start I’ve ever had in baseball,” Jackson said. “(But) as long as you believe (and) have the confidence (you) can turn things around, that’s all that matters.
“No one expected me to start like I did – myself, the front office, the team, the manager. No one. (But) you just have to keep grinding. You can either sink or you can swim and I’m definitely one of those guys that won’t give up.”
[MORE: Jackson shines as Cubs shut out Cards]
But even if the Cubs were around .500, general manager Jed Hoyer said the front office would still be selling off pieces just as fast, because the National League Central is so top-heavy right now.
The Cardinals are built to last. The Cubs are measuring themselves against a franchise that’s had one losing season since 2000, making the playoffs nine times and winning their 10th and 11th World Series titles during that stretch.
“They’ve always been able to build from their organization,” manager Dale Sveum said. “They’ve always seemed to have the key free-agent pieces, the (Carlos) Beltrans or the (Lance) Berkmans, whoever you want to say. But the bottom line is it comes from the organization.
“They’ve always had such a strong minor-league system. They send one guy down that’s throwing 97 (mph), they bring up another guy that’s throwing 97. They lose a starter (and) they got guys waiting in the wings. (And) that’s what you’re always building for.”
Building block Kris Bryant has traveled to Chicago and the No. 2 overall pick should be holding up a Cubs jersey in front of the cameras on Friday at Wrigley Field. The Cubs are dealing with a restrictive collective bargaining agreement by flipping free agents for prospects and won’t care about 90-loss optics because it will lead to another high draft pick.
Garza is supposed to face the Cardinals on Saturday, in front of the scouts, a big weekend crowd dressed in red and a FOX television audience. Watching their biggest trade chip, Cubs fans can dream about when being a seller is a distant memory and not an annual thing.