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Dubious departure (cont.)

Posted: Thursday July 27, 2006 11:24AM; Updated: Thursday July 27, 2006 12:42PM
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The Cubs almost certainly figure to get some kind of offer for the four-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star. Maddux has won 326 games, after all. And even if his last 16 starts (3-11, 6.49 ERA) haven't been as good as the first five this season (5-0, 1.35), Maddux still is a respected presence on the mound and in the clubhouse who, with a little run support and a decent defense behind him, can at least give a team a good start.

It helps Maddux's chances of getting traded that this year's list of available starters at the deadline isn't exactly overflowing with promise. Florida's Dontrelle Willis and Oakland's Barry Zito may be available to the highest bidder (though, right now, all indications are that they aren't). Outside of those two, though, the choices drop to guys like Cleveland's Paul Byrd, Kansas City's Mark Redman, Washington's Livan Hernandez, Pittsburgh's Kip Wells, Philly's Jon Lieber and Baltimore's Rodrigo Lopez.

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Maddux's biggest dilemma, right now, might not be deciding if he wants to leave Chicago but finding a winner among his choice of teams. The Dodgers have lost eight in a row and 13 of 14 since the All-Star break and are in last place in the National League West, 7½ games behind. And the Brewers, 4-8 since the break, are now six games under .500, 11 games out of the Central division lead and 5½ games back in the wild-card race.

The Padres, 2½ games up in the West, are clearly Maddux's best bet to finish out this season with a winner. But the Padres have one of the weakest-hitting teams in the league and are more interested in getting a third baseman in the next week than help in the rotation.

However cloudy the next week or so looks, or the next couple of months, it's much harder to tell what will happen to Maddux after the season. The market for a pitcher on the wrong side of 40 and who is 36-35 with a 4.22 ERA in his nearly three years with the Cubs will be limited. Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, who with Maddux and Smoltz formed the backbone of the Braves' rotation of the '90s, told SI.com's Jon Heyman earlier this week that he'd be surprised if Maddux returned for '07.

Still, Maddux remains healthy. In his 21-year big-league career, he's been on the disabled list once, in 2002, for less than a month. When baseball's had a full schedule, he's never made fewer than 27 starts. Nobody's pitched more innings than he has since 1988. Even if Maddux isn't the ace that he once was, that kind of durability is still highly valued in the game.

And friends and teammates describe Maddux as a baseball lifer. He's said before, many times, that he'll have to be dragged out of the clubhouse into retirement.

"I have the greatest job in the world. I play golf on my off days, and I get to pitch in the major leagues on the days I work. Doesn't get any better than that," he told USA Today earlier this year. "I want to play as long as I'm good enough to play. It's like playing bad golf is better than no golf. It's the same as pitching. Why would I want to give that up?"

He might not. Nobody knows that except Greg Maddux.

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