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Cubs could find help behind plate, in bullpen

Rotation shouldn't be world champions' only focus
July 23, 2017

CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitching alongside Jonathan Lester, Jacob Arrieta, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks?Well, yeah. Of course.Outside of the other 29 Major League teams, who wouldn't like that arrangement? It would be an absolute home run if Theo Epstein could pull that off. But the cost to get Darvish

CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitching alongside Jonathan Lester, Jacob Arrieta, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks?
Well, yeah. Of course.
Outside of the other 29 Major League teams, who wouldn't like that arrangement? It would be an absolute home run if Theo Epstein could pull that off. But the cost to get Darvish is another story.
He's going to be an expensive proposition in terms of the talent going back to Texas if the Rangers decide to trade him, even if the Japanese icon is a rental. That was true on Saturday and even more so after a Sunday in which both Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg exited their starts with injuries.
Assuming Hendricks is healthy -- and we'll know more about that after he pitches against the White Sox on Monday -- the Cubs already have a rotation that can roll a long way in October, assuming they can get there. Not only is it deeper with Quintana in the mix, but Arrieta appears to be returning to his locked-and-loaded mode.
Don't judge the Cubs by their troubling starter ERA in the first half of the season (4.66, which ranked eighth). They're gonna cut that by a run a game in the second half, maybe more.
So as much as another top starter would be great to have, it's the bullpen and catching depth that the Cubs need to shore up before the July 31 Trade Deadline. Players from those two areas lead this late list of targets:
1. LHP Brad Hand, Padres -- Claimed on waivers from the Marlins early in 2016, the former starting pitching prospect has turned into a beast as a setup man. He led the National League with 82 appearances last year and has been even better this season, earning a trip to the All-Star Game. He has two years of control after 2017 so he won't come cheap, especially not as a target of almost every contender.

2. LHP Justin Wilson, Tigers -- Rumors linked the Cubs to Justin Verlander previously, but Wilson might be just as impactful without the long-term risk. He's doing good work as the Tigers' closer, but they may be facing a rebuild so his one-year of remaining control could make him more valuable elsewhere. Like Hand, he would give Joe Maddon a strong arm to work alongside lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

3. LHP Zach Britton, Orioles --Thought he would be higher on this list, didn't you? Britton is a fabulous pitcher when he's full speed -- this year's Trade Deadline version of Andrew Miller -- but his extended absence to recover from a forearm strain raises a caution flag about his durability. Some question if the O's would deal him to the Cubs without getting back a Major League player.
4. RHP Pat Neshek, Phillies -- He's been around the block with his one-of-a-kind pitching motion but has never been as locked in with it as he is in his 11th Major League season. The Phillies acquired him in the offseason from the Astros, who wouldn't have dealt him if they knew he'd have a 1.12 ERA after 43 appearances. One thing about Neshek: He throws strikes, so he could be even better working in front of the Cubs' group of fielders.
5. RHP A.J. Ramos, Marlins -- A 40-save closer a year ago, he'd give Maddon another right-handed option besides C.J. Edwards and Koji Uehara in the seventh or eighth innings and, as a bonus, could replace Wade Davis as the closer if the Cubs can't re-sign their All-Star closer. Ramos isn't having a great season, in part because of lingering control problems but would surely be energized by a move to Wrigley Field.
6. Addison Reed, Mets -- Like Neshek, Reed would be strictly a rental for the rest of this season. But he's pitched in the last two postseasons -- including for the Mets in their 2015 NL Championship Series sweep of the Cubs -- and was a primary closer when he was 23. Been there, done that. Good get for somebody soon.
7. Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers -- It's been such a tough year for Lucroy (.243/.293/.343 with four home runs) that he wouldn't be atop this list if the Cubs needed offense from the position. But their lineup gives them the luxury of prioritizing the complete player. The Cubs' issue post-Miguel Montero is that they have no established catchers behind Willson Contreras. Nothing against Victor Caratini, but it will be vital to have another experienced receiver in August and beyond. Lucroy is a great fit, and the Cubs might be able to buy low given his .244 average.

8. Alex Avila, Tigers -- You can argue for the left-handed hitting Avila behind the right-handed-hitting Contreras. Avila is having a renaissance season with his bat (11 home runs, .902 OPS) and could become an important bat off the bench if his dad (Tigers GM Al Avila) traded him to the Cubs.
9. Welington Castillo, Orioles -- Here's a catcher who can hit. But the Cubs traded him to Seattle in 2015 because of his sub-par pitch framing, and he hasn't made big improvements since then. A team should only pick him up if it wants him next season, too, as his 2017 contract with Baltimore includes a player option for '18 ($7 million).
10. Nick Hundley, Giants -- Signed to a one-year contract to play behind Buster Posey, he's done a solid job. Not the sexiest name, but it would look fine on a Contreras-less lineup card in October.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for