Which Cubs players would be considered untouchable for trade? Mind you, not untouchable because of huge salary. I would think Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza, Starlin Castro are untouchable. Everyone else is fair game. Any interest in Carlos Zambrano? He would be a nice fit for the Pirates or Brewers.
-- Randall S., Columbus, Ga.
Your list of "untouchables" is correct, although general managers always say they're willing to listen to any deal. Cubs GM Jim Hendry has said he's holding onto the players you mentioned plus Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney and Andrew Cashner. Hendry has had inquiries this year but said no. Baker would definitely help a team's bench and Marshall would be a nice pickup for someone's 'pen. As for your question about Zambrano, I'm sure the Brewers and Pirates would love to have a starter like him but the Cubs don't want to help their division rivals.
Why in heaven's name do they insist on keeping Carlos Marmol? I can't recall him ever having a 1-2-3 inning. He has blown more good games.
-- David F., Putney, Vt.
He has retired the side in order five times this season, including a nine-pitch save on April 29, and last season, Marmol set a Major League record for strikeouts per nine innings, averaging nearly 16 K's. Unfortunately, he can be streaky like a hitter and get into funks. He went through a similar tough stretch just before the All-Star break in 2008 when he posted a 7.36 ERA in June. The problem is both physical and mental. Marmol's hand has been more on the side of the ball lately than on top, and that needs to change. Said pitching coach Mark Riggins: "It's nothing major, just an adjustment." Sure, Marmol can be aggravating when he walks a batter. But when his slider is on, he's unhittable. It's up to him to get it fixed. Here are some interesting numbers: In 14 games when Marmol pitches on zero days rest (so he's pitching back-to-back outings), he has a 4.15 ERA. In seven games with one day of rest, he has a 9.00 ERA. In 13 games when he has two days of rest, he has not given up a run over 14 2/3 innings. When he gets three to five days rest (nine games), he has a 5.63 ERA.
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I know many Cubs fans are frustrated as well as the players, too. I'm wondering when is the time to start rebuilding? I don't think this team has a 10 or 15-game winning streak in them to turn things around. Why not study the blueprint of the Rays and Royals? I know it will take time and patience (something many Cubs fans lack). Perhaps a new philosophy should be examined moving forward. It's clear this isn't working. Maybe it's time to let the kids play. Just a thought.
-- James T., Los Angeles, Calif.
They'd settle for a three-game win streak these days, something the Cubs still haven't done. As for the kids, I think Starlin Castro and rookie Darwin Barney definitely qualify. Here's my take: The emphasis in the past has been to invest more in the players on the field for the big league team, resulting in big contracts (ex., Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome), rather than player development. There seems to be a shift with the new ownership to invest more in development. This year's First-Year Player Draft is a good example. The Cubs, who previously took a pass on potential big-contract prospects, this time were encouraged to draft the best available players, regardless of cost. Hang in there. You'll see DJ LeMahieu and Brett Jackson and others soon.
Pitch selection, even more than pitch count, has long been an issue with Geovany Soto catching and calling pitches. It really makes a difference. Do you realize that the Cubs have won three in a row with Koyie Hill catching? In his last three games behind the plate, the Cubs have given up a total of six runs. While it is not reasonable to expect he could do this for the entire season, with Hill as the starting catcher, the Cubs are 15-10. With Soto catching this season, the Cubs are 24-46. I am not suggesting the Hill is a great catcher and should start every day. I am saying that if you look at the data, Soto may be a big part of the problem. The Cubs need to get a catcher, one who studies the hitters, knows how to call pitches in situations and also understands the strengths and weaknesses of our pitchers, at least better than Soto has shown. The Cubs need to address their catching. It is a much higher priority than many of the other options everyone is discussing.
-- Howard R., Madison, Wis
Soto does do his homework and gets help from the pitching coach and veterans on the team before games. It's tough to blame him for the 46 losses when he catches because there are so many other factors involved. Marmol threw a wild pitch on July 4 against the Nationals and the winning run scored. Is that Soto's fault? Rather than look at the team's records, a better gauge would be the pitchers' ERA. Cubs pitchers have a 4.58 ERA when Hill is catching and 4.66 when Soto is. There's not much difference.
I noticed in Tuesday's game against the Phillies that Mike Quade pinch-hit Blake DeWitt for Jeff Baker (who started at second base) and then put Darwin Barney in at second the next inning. I didn't necessarily like this move because it completely tied down the infield for the rest of the game. If, for whatever reason, Barney, Castro, Aramis Ramirez or Carlos Pena would have had to come come out of the game after that, then what outfielder, pitcher, or catcher would Quade be willing to move to the infield? Soriano to second? Hill to first? Maybe Big Z to shortstop?
-- K.C. F., Tucson, Ariz.
Hill has played third, and would most likely be the emergency sub in the infield. I'm sure Zambrano would volunteer to play short.
When I was growing up in the Pittsburgh area, the Pirates had a relief pitcher named Elroy Face who threw a forkball. At the time, he was one of a few, if not the only pitcher to throw that pitch. Is that the same pitch as today's splitter?
-- Don W., Simpsonville, S.C.
They're different. With a forkball, the ball is wedged between the index and middle finger, and with a splitter, the fingers are more on top of the ball. Former Giants manager Roger Craig used to teach the forkball, but Riggins said teams stopped because it put too much stress on a pitcher's shoulder.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.