Make no mistake, Sabathia to the Brewers will have an impact far beyond Milwaukee, starting right down I-94 in Chicago.
"I'd be very surprised if [Cubs GM] Jim [Hendry] doesn't make a move," an official from another National League team said Monday. "Remember, [starter Ryan] Dempster has been a reliever the last few years, so they've got to wonder if he can keep this up all year. [Carlos] Zambrano's had some health issues in the past. Those questions had them looking for pitching before. Now you've got a hot Milwaukee team adding the best available starter. I can't see the Cubs standing pat. Not after this."
A hot Milwaukee team that in the last three weeks has shaved five games off Chicago's lead in the National League Central Division.
The Brewers begin play Monday 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs and a percentage point ahead of St. Louis for the NL Wild Card lead. Without Sabathia, the Brewers have won 29 of their last 44 games, the best record in baseball during that span.
With Sabathia joining All-Star right-hander Ben Sheets and talented young lefty Manny Parra, the Brewers not only are clearly going for it all this year, they suddenly have the team to pull it off. That trio and the potent Brewers offense makes Milwaukee a formidable foe in any short series from here on out.
This puts the pressure squarely on the Cubs, who have 10 games remaining with Milwaukee beginning with four at Miller Park July 28-31.
Getting a healthy Alfonso Soriano back in the lineup will improve Chicago's offense, but the Cubs would really like to add another starter to bolster the rotation. They have scouted, among others, Oakland's Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, San Diego's Randy Wolf and Greg Maddux, Seattle's Erik Bedard and Toronto's A.J. Burnett.
Hendry keeps his cards close to the vest, but the Brewers just upped the ante and it's Chicago's move.
"I'd say the Cubs have got to be more motivated [buyers because of the Sabathia deal]," the official said.
How much more, only Hendry knows. None of the remaining rotation targets are as attractive as Sabathia, but several could be difference makers for the Cubs.
Burnett has top of the rotation talent, but has been inconsistent -- and Toronto isn't selling at the moment. Harden is a possible No. 1 when healthy, but the A's are in a playoff chase of their own right now.
Bear in mind the Cubs do not have the depth of talent in the system that Milwaukee had to secure Sabathia. Some observers feel it will be harder for Hendry to work a match for a top line starter that doesn't weaken the Cubs' 40-man roster.
Another ripple of this deal will be felt this offseason, as there are doubts that Milwaukee will be able to re-sign both Sabathia and Sheets after the season, when both are due to hit free agency. Sabathia turned down a four-year, $72 million offer from the Indians in the spring.
Those two could join a free agent market that might also include starters John Lackey (club option), Andy Pettitte, Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Brad Penny (club option), Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Wolf, Burnett (player option) and Dempster. If so, the market for starting pitching should be deeper than we've seen in a few years.
Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers couldn't match Milwaukee's offer in terms of players, but the Brewers landing Sabathia enabled those teams to hold on to their prospects and still have a shot at Sabathia this winter, assuming he hits free agency.
As for the present, Sabathia off the market will force other teams looking for starters, such as Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, to look elsewhere. The Rays will keep looking, but it might make them more likely to summon top prospect David Price from the Minor Leagues sooner than they would have preferred.
The Phillies have had scouts out for weeks looking for pitching. With Sabathia no longer available, they will look harder at some of the Padres' options. Bedard is another.
Then there's St. Louis. The overachieving Cardinals have been saying all along help would come from the disabled list. But with the Brewers passing them Sunday, the Cardinals might be more willing to make a move for another reliever. They have had eyes on Colorado's Brian Fuentes and Matt Herges recently and will have a scout watching Freddy Garcia pitch a showcase session later this month.
Sabathia moving to the NL Central also increases the chances that the Wild Card will come from that division. The three best records in the NL belong to the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals. Sabathia's arrival in Milwaukee raises the Wild Card bar for other hopefuls in the East and West -- and perhaps convinces a fence-sitter or two that it's time to sell. The demand for pitching remains strong, and with Sabathia no longer in play, the supply is that much smaller.
"It makes the picture clearer in some ways, to me ... you might see more sellers before the deadline," the official said. "I also think [Brewers manager] Ned Yost is in trouble if they don't win. [Sabathia's move to Milwaukee] may not trigger a bunch of trades, but it's got to affect the big picture."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less