Trade talks center on Cubs' Hill

Source: O's could acquire lefty starter by next week

Orioles

January 30, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly | Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com and dan.connolly@baltsun.com

The Orioles and Chicago Cubs are again involved in trade talks, this time about Cubs left-handed starting pitcher Rich Hill. According to industry sources, the teams have had talks about Hill, a one-time top prospect who is struggling to regain his command.

One industry source said it's a "strong possibility" that Hill will wind up with the Orioles, perhaps as early as next week. The Orioles will likely give up a player to be named, who could be contingent on Hill's success in Baltimore.

"We are talking to them," Orioles president Andy MacPhail said about the Cubs. "We are talking to a lot of teams about a lot of players."

Hill is out of options and unlikely to make the Cubs' Opening Day roster, so they are looking to deal him and give the pitcher a change of scenery.

The Cubs have spoken to several teams about Hill, including the Seattle Mariners, but a source said the Orioles are in the lead to land the lefty. The Orioles would have to shuffle their 40-man roster, which is full.

Hill, a fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Michigan in 2002, was long considered one of the Cubs' best young players. In 2006, Baseball America had him rated as the fifth-best prospect and third-best pitcher in the Cubs' system.

The next year, Hill, 28, had a breakout season for the Cubs, starting 32 games and going 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 195 innings. He was fifth in the National League in strikeouts with 183 and eighth with a 1.195 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).

He looked like he would be a mainstay in the Cubs' rotation and was considered untouchable when the Orioles asked about him in trade negotiations involving second baseman Brian Roberts.

But 2008 was a disaster for Hill, who battled back spasms and inexplicable wildness all season. The Cubs demoted Hill to the minors in May after he went 1-0 with a 4.12 ERA in five starts. He walked 18 batters in 19 2/3 innings and at times seemed incapable of throwing strikes.

He didn't fare much better in the minors, walking 44 batters in 47 2/3 innings in 13 starts at three levels. Trying to regain his command, Hill pitched in the Venezuelan League this winter but walked 23 batters and gave up 21 hits in 21 innings.

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