As if  being 20 games below .500 and 18.5 games back in the division weren’t bad enough, the Cubs astronomical payroll—exacerbated by back-loaded contracts for chronically underachieving players—has cast an even darker shadow on the team’s future.  Thanks to Jim Hendry’s short-sightedness, we’re stuck with these guys for awhile and, despite flashes of brilliance from youngsters like Starlin Castro and  Tyler Colvin, there’s little to suggest next year or even the year after will feature anything but the same misery Cubs fans have endured forever.

But maybe there’s still a sliver of hope, a tiny ray of light, a small reason for Cubs fans to get out of bed in the morning.  Rumors are surfacing today of a possible Derrek Lee trade to the Atlanta Braves.  Has Hendry figured out a way to move the elderly first baseman and his hefty salary for prospects from one of the richest farm systems in the Majors?  Could this, coupled with last month’s trade of Ted Lilly, mean greater payroll flexibility and a new beginning for a team otherwise going nowhere in 2011 and beyond?

Maybe, but there are still plenty of hurdles that Hendry will need to get over which he has set up for himself:  Can he get Lee to waive his no-trade clause—which, incidentally, Lee wasn’t willing to do a mere month ago?  Can he finagle productive prospects from the Braves?  Can he also unload the albatrosses that are Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano, each due around $18M annually for the next few years?

It seems unlikely to get an affirmative answer to all these questions, but at least Hendry finally appears to have something in the works and isn’t asleep at the wheel as he has been for quite some time.  It’s well-past time for a change but maybe these are the first steps out of the abyss that the Cubs organization finds itself in now.