There've been a few moves, but for the most part it's still not quite clear what next year's Cubs will look like.
The picture almost certainly won't be any clearer until we figure out the fate of a certain Cub starting pitcher, and that is Matt Garza.
Every Cub outlet in the universe has already told you this: the Cubs don't need to trade Garza, but they might do it anyway if they can get a good enough return from someone. I've seen six teams mentioned in trade talks; it certainly looks like Thoyer is doing their homework on gauging Garza's true market value.
Personally, I'm also of the opinion that the team's discussions around Garza are preventing any forward progress in talks with Scott Boras and Prince Fielder. If I had to guess, I'd say, if Garza stays then the team signs Fielder, and if Garza is moved, we look elsewhere for a 1B. This dichotomy doesn't give enough credit to the front office; Garza and Fielder certainly aren't tied to one another legally. But I think a Garza trade might push the Cubs' competitiveness target back another year, depending on the return.
While the conversation about Matt may be impacting Prince talks, there are still some other players that I think it's safe to say will be traded before the 2012 deadline regardless of what happens with Mr. Garza.
Carlos Marmol - If Sean Marshall would have been a superfluous piece for the 2012 Cubs, then I don't know what to call Marmolade; extraneous? completely out of place? He makes more money than most relievers, but when he's right, that slider is unhittable. Once a few more chips fall in the closer market, I think a Marmol trade will happen.
Ryan Dempster - Demp has no-trade protection, but I don't think he'd mind being part of a winning team for a year. This could end up mirroring the Kerry Wood situation; get paid for a little while somewhere else, then come back to Chicago when your contract is up.
Jeff Baker - He's in his last year of arbitration, can play all over the infield, and had an .812 OPS against lefties last year. Put another way: he's a nice piece for a competitor, which the Cubs are not. Not sure he'll bring much back, but one lottery ticket (a 19-year-old pitcher with control problems, for example?) is better than no lottery ticket.
Marlon Byrd - Like Baker, Byrd is under contract for 2012 at a reasonable rate, and then becomes a free agent. His bat is truly so-so, but it's his center field defense that should make him appealing to some borderline competitors. The Nationals sound like a fit, for example.
Alfonso Soriano - They won't get anything back other than salary relief, but with DeJesus, Sappelt, Reed Johnson, Campana and Brett Jackson available for outfield playing time, he's looking more and more available by the minute.
And an outsite-shot trade candidate, at least in my eyes:
Geovany Soto - I would be sad to see Soto go. It would be really awesome if the Cubs could keep a system player at such a premium position, but if the front office doesn't view Geo as a long-term fixture then it'd probably be wise to trade him sooner than later. It would behoove management to offer Soto an extension, I think, just because of the upside in his bat. Perhaps the timing of this discussion is also being affected by the decision-making process around what to do with Garza, however.
So here's your guidebook for the Cubs' 2012 offseason. A few months from now, I hope we can look back and say, "Wow, that AJ Walsh cat sure knows what he's talking about!"
A final note: I don't think Carlos Zambrano will be traded. Then again, I don't know what I'm talking about.