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Why not Villanueva as trade bait?

7/30/2013

CHICAGO -- Although the Chicago Cubs have lost all four of his starts since his return to the rotation, why hasn’t Carlos Villanueva's name come up more in trade conversations?

Maybe it will after his 6.1 inning stint on Tuesday when he gave up four runs against the Milwaukee Brewers, though only two scored while he was in the game. Villanueva has proven once again he can be a versatile pitcher.

It hasn’t always been pretty for him moving from starter to reliever and back to starter but he’s battled enough that a team could be interested.

“I understand that part of the business real well but that’s something I don’t lose much sleep over,” Villanueva said after the Cubs lost 6-5 to the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday afternoon. “As long as I’m wearing the Cubs uniform I’m going to give my heart out there every time. As long as I’m here you’ll get my best.”

Villanueva signed a two-year deal for $10 million last winter so trading him isn’t simply as a two-month rental; the fact that his name hasn’t been making the rumor rounds doesn’t mean he won’t be moved before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. And he's probably not part of any long-term rebuilding plan so another prospect coming back for Villanueva isn't out of the realm of possibility.

“I’ve been traded before so I really don’t care about that,” Villanueva said. “If someone wants me and the Cubs want to deal me, then I’m gone.”

Villanueva is 2-7 with a 4.23 ERA but anyone that’s watched the Cubs knows he’s probably pitched better than those numbers. He’s not a top-of-the-line guy but one that can provide depth for a playoff contender.

Russell struggles: Unlike Villanueva, James Russell has been the subject of trade rumors but it’s unclear if the three-run home run he gave up to Khris Davis of Milwaukee in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Tuesday will affect his chances of being moved.

“The velocities are fine,” manager Dale Sveum said. “It’s all normal. Just can’t make that pitch and get the ball on the ground.”

Russell has had an up-and-down season. At times he’s been lights out but at other moments he hasn’t been the same pitcher as last year when he went 7-1 with a 3.25 ERA and two saves. Against righties in particular he’s been hit harder this year, though his work against lefties has mostly been good.

His batting average against on balls put into play is .354 against right-handers this year compared to .299 last season. But his ERA and WHIP (walks and hits to innings pitched) are comparable so he’s still attractive as a lefty specialist. That’s been his strength, as he's held lefties to a .179 batting average against this season.

However, his big issues come when entering a game with men on base. That won't show up in his ERA. According to ESPN Stats and Information Russell's batting average against with men on base is .294 compared to just .185 last season. Right-handers have a whopping .409 average against Russell with men in scoring position.

If he's traded it'll be for a team that needs lefty-on-lefty help.