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."