Commentary

Hendry gets his man

Cubs GM has to part ways with promising righty, but nabs talented lefty

Originally Published: July 30, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

Kevin Hart got the win Thursday and was promptly traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It's safe to assume he would have rather had the more traditional victory beer shower. But he can always drown his sorrows in Iron City Light next to the few remaining Pirates fans.

Hey, it's better than the outcome for the pitcher he faced. Houston's Russ Ortiz was released after another poor outing. Then again, what's worse, retirement or Piratement?

[+] EnlargeJohn Grabow
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesThe Cubs wanted a lefty reliever, and they got one in John Grabow.

Hart was the key for the Cubs in finalizing a five-player deal centered around snagging highly regarded left-handed reliever John Grabow, the Roy Halladay of lefty relievers in the NL Central.

The Cubs also had to take left-handed starter Tom Gorzelanny from the basement-chasing Pirates, and they had to give up Hart, reliever Jose Ascanio and Class A infielder Josh Harrison.

ESPN Chicago reported that Grabow was being dealt to the Cubs during Thursday's 12-3 win over Houston, but Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said the deal wasn't finalized until the very end of the game because of Hart's involvement.

"It's a little weird, a little different," Hart said of finding out he was going to baseball's purgatory by the Monongahela after winning his third consecutive start. "It's one of those things where you know it's part of the business."

This was a great day for the Cubs, who go on a long road trip in first place. The Cubs needed a left-handed reliever, and they got a great one, along with a possible spot starter in Gorzelanny. It was, as Hendry put it, "one of those good baseball trades." The Pirates got a starter to slide into the rotation, a fairly talented 24-year-old reliever in Ascanio and a good young hitter.

"I just spoke to [Grabow] and Tom Gorzelanny both," Hendry said. "They're very happy to be coming here. Grabow assured me he'd be there before the bus tomorrow [in Miami]."

Letting Grabow go was an obvious move for the Pirates after dumping their starting infield a day before. Why would a team on the brink of its record-setting 17th consecutive losing season need a set-up man? Unless he's buying 10,000 tickets a game to PNC Park, it's safe to say the potential free agent was expendable.

Hendry fleeced the Pirates in 2003 to land Aramis Ramirez and stretch-run rentals Kenny Lofton and Randall Simon for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez, a minor leaguer and a future job for then-GM Dave Littlefield, once he eventually was fired by Pittsburgh. This time, he expressed empathy for the always-rebuilding club.

Before Thursday's game, Hendry, whose moves leading up to this season have been widely criticized, joked with reporters, "We got Halladay, keep it a secret."

Although Halladay is still in limbo in Toronto, good left-handed relievers are just as valuable a commodity for teams in the pennant race this time of the year.

[+] EnlargeTom Gorzelanny
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesTom Gorzelanny was a hot prospect in 2007, but he's struggling now.

"A good lefty out of the pen; who doesn't want that?" Hendry said.

Evidently, Pittsburgh, home of the annual fire sale. Its only remaining left-handed option is Rule V pick Donnie Veal, who came from the Cubs system.

Grabow had been on Hendry's radar for years. The 30-year-old is 3-0 with a 3.42 ERA this season and has pitched well against the Cubs in the past, with a 3.29 ERA in 42 appearances.

"I've had talks with [Pirates GM] Neal [Huntington] before about Grabow, not just around the deadline," Hendry said. "And honestly, Neal has shown a lot of interest in our players. We had numerous talks in the offseason about other players, and when you have that many discussions, you kind of know who each guy likes from the other club. He's always had a desire for Hart."

Grabow will join swingman Sean Marshall as the only lefties in the Cubs' bullpen. Former Blue Jays lefty closer B.J. Ryan had another rehab appearance scheduled for Thursday night. The Cubs have 15 days from his first appearance, Tuesday, to decide whether to promote him to the majors or lose his services.

Grabow actually is doing a little better job against right-handed hitters this year, holding them to a .234 average (29-for-124), compared with .275 (14-for-51) for the left-handers he is expected to get out.

"He's good at both," Hendry said. "Obviously he's pitched late in games. He's throwing the ball really well right now. When he's in trouble, he has a good knack for getting out of trouble. He's pitched in eighth and ninth innings now for a number of years. We thought he was a good complement to Marshall, who's done a great job down there. This gives us some flexibility too, if Marshall had to have a spot start here or there."

Marshall might have to start Tuesday in Hart's spot, but Hendry was coy about that, saying that was Lou Piniella's and pitching coach Larry Rothschild's decision. Maybe he really is getting Halladay? Just kidding, Cubs fans.

[+] EnlargeDave Littlefield
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesDave Littlefield offered up Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs for next to nothing. Now he's with the Cubs.

Hart, 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA on the season, wasn't too upset about being traded. He should get a chance to stabilize his career in the Pirates' rotation. He was going to be the odd man out when Ted Lilly comes off the disabled list in the next couple weeks.

"It's nice to be wanted in this game, and it's nice to get another opportunity," Hart said. "I know Teddy is coming back any time here and my opportunity was limited. I get to go there and hopefully move into the rotation and hopefully never give it up."

The Cubs got Hart in a 2006 winter meetings deal with Baltimore for the immortal Freddie "Boom Boom" Bynum. Now he's leaving in a major deal. All in all, he used his time with the organization wisely.

"It got to the point where we weren't going to get John Grabow without Kevin in the deal," Hendry said.

Gorzelanny, a Marist High grad and Evergreen Park native, won 14 games with a 3.88 ERA for the Buccos in 2007 and looked as though he would be traded as a star pitcher one day. He has hit a rough patch the past two seasons, though. He went 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA in 21 starts last year and was 3-1 in nine relief appearances this season.

He has seemed to turn a corner in Triple-A, however, with a 0.96 ERA in his past six starts. He's 4-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts with the Indianapolis Indians and will report to the Iowa Cubs, while Grabow heads to Miami.

"We've been getting some real good reports on Gorzelanny getting back to what he was," Hendry said. "He pitched real well in Indianapolis the last two times out. And, of course, one of our major league scouts Dave Littlefield was the general manager over there when he was at his best, and he feels he's headed that way again."

"Gorzelanny seemed like the happiest guy on the planet," Hendry said of their conversation.

With the way the Cubs starters have battled injuries this season, there's a very good chance Gorzelanny will play a role in the Cubs' pennant race.

Fresh off a 6-1 homestand, the 54-46 Cubs are percentage points ahead of St. Louis for first in the division. They start a three-city road trip Friday, taking on the Florida Marlins, the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies. Although the Cubs are only 21-27 on the road this season, they have Grabow now, and the team is suddenly hitting behind rehabilitated Ramirez and resurgent Alfonso Soriano. Don't start canceling your October vacations just yet, Cubs fans, but things are looking up on the North Side.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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