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Cubs acquire Heilman from Mariners

Cubs acquire Heilman from Mariners

After a brief pit-stop in Seattle, right-hander Aaron Heilman is headed home to Chicago.

The Cubs on Wednesday sent infielder Ronny Cedeno and recently acquired left-hander Garrett Olson to the Mariners for Heilman, who was traded for the second time in six weeks. Now that Heilman appears to have found a home, all that's left to settle is whether he'll be a starter or a reliever.

For the record, Heilman, 30, an Indiana native who grew up a Cubs fan and now lives in Chicago, would prefer to start. But either role will do, especially since he'll be playing in his own backyard.

"It's a dream come true," said Heilman, who was born in Logansport, Ind., about 140 miles from Wrigley Field. "I always rooted for the Cubs growing up, and now to be a part of that organization, it's going to be pretty special for me."

At one point early in a conference call with reporters, Cubs assistant general manager Randy Bush -- filling in for GM Jim Hendry, who was traveling -- said the club's scouts believe the 30-year-old Heilman "will get back to being a real, real effective right-hander out of the 'pen for us."

But then Bush also spoke of Heilman moving out of a bullpen role and getting an opportunity to start. The Cubs already own one of the National League Central's best rotations, with Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden all assured of spots, barring spring injuries.

Heilman will report to camp stretched out to start and will get an opportunity to compete for the final spot. With Jason Marquis traded to Colorado this winter, left-hander Sean Marshall is probably the chief competitor, but right-handers Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija will also get a chance. Gaudin and Samardzija pitched exclusively as Cubs relievers last season.

"Our scouts think he's a guy that can start or pitch effectively out of the bullpen," Bush said of Heilman. "We'll let our coaching staff determine what his best role will be."

Heilman, a former Mets first-round Draft pick (2001, 18th overall), broke into the big leagues as a starter in 2003 but moved to the Mets' bullpen during the 2005 season and has made 280 of his 305 career appearances in relief. He's a power pitcher, and Cubs scouts believe that Heilman's quality changeup would be the key to a possible switch back to starting.

If he ends up in the bullpen, he could help replace reliever Bob Howry, who departed via free agency. Heilman has worked exclusively out of the bullpen since 2006, and he had his best season in 2007, posting a 3.03 ERA in 81 games -- fifth most in the National League that year. His ERA ballooned to 5.21 in 2008, when he surrendered 10 home runs and issued 46 walks in 76 innings. For contrast, Heilman allowed only eight homers and 20 walks in 86 innings the previous season.

"All of our reports say that his stuff had no drop-off," Bush said. "It was a case of poor location in a lot of cases. I think it was a case of environment; it had gotten negative for him in New York. This certainly seems like a case where a change of scenery could be beneficial."

Hot Stove
Heilman got two changes of scenery this winter. First he was part of a 12-player trade between Seattle and New York on Dec. 10, and he was set to report to Mariners camp to compete for one of that team's two openings in the starting rotation. Instead, he'll battle for one spot with the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz.

Heilman will leave the decision to Cubs manager Lou Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Given his druthers, he would prefer to start.

"I would certainly love the opportunity to start again," said Heilman, who is 5-13 with a 5.95 ERA in 25 career big league starts. "It was something I always enjoyed doing and it's something I still feel I could be very successful at. ... It would be great for me to go into Spring Training and try to win a job."

Olson and Cedeno will do likewise with Seattle.

The versatile Cedeno, who turns 26 next week, was a .252 hitter in parts of the last four seasons with the Cubs. He is proficient at second base, shortstop and third base and will get an opportunity to unseat Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt or second baseman Jose Lopez.

Olson, like Heilman, has been traded twice this offseason. The 25-year-old went 9-10 with a 6.65 ERA in 26 starts for the Orioles last season and was traded to Chicago last week along with Class A pitcher Henry Williamson for outfielder Felix Pie. At the time, it was thought that Olson could help the Cubs rekindle talks with the Padres about acquiring right-hander Jake Peavy, but instead he joins Seattle's outstanding stable of young starting pitchers.

The Cubs are similarly deep, though there remains the chance that they will rekindle talks with the Padres about Peavy. Bush said Wednesday that the two teams had not spoken about Peavy since December.

Bush also hinted that the Cubs might be finished adding pitchers this offseason.

"We're ready to go to camp," Bush said. "We feel really, really good with our rotation right now. ... We feel really good about our depth."

With Wednesday's trade, the Cubs opened one spot on their 40-man roster. They have 61 players slated to report to big league camp.

Adam McCalvy and Jim Street are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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