A Little Food for Thought as Cubs Trade Rumors Fly
I’m not here to blow any more hot air onto the coals of the trade fires, nor am I here to debunk some rumors while offering veracity to others. Rather, I simply want to look at some of what’s been talked about lately concerning the Cubs, specifically when it comes to the recent Sun-Times report about them scouting Yankee arms, and to provide some context in terms of both the philosophy and reality of the situation.
I’m not self-important enough to think that anything I’ll write here is groundbreaking, but I do find that in a world in which news is broken and consumed in increasingly smaller chunks it is sometimes refreshing to prepare an actual meal for your guests. Even if that meal is just a bologna sandwich. Or a hot dog sandwich. Or a taco bowl (reportedly) made by a few of a certain poorly-coiffed megalomaniac’s beloved Hispanic employees.
What’s in a name?
This Cubs front office is nothing if not consistent, and one thing they don’t generally do is tip their collective hand. How many times, outside of one of the parties playing Golden Tee in the team offices and refusing to be traded, do we hear about who’s being moved or who’s being targeted? Okay, Ryan Dempster wasn’t necessarily the only one. The whole world knew Shark was on the block too, but the destination and the return were mysteries until the news broke.
One need look no further than the Cubs’ most recent deal to understand how quietly they work. Heck, they’ve made two Chris Coghlan trades in the last three months and both were big surprises. I suppose it’s entirely possible that Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman are possibilities, it’s just that the overt transparency of the pursuit doesn’t fit the traditional MO. There’s also this:
Chapman rumors out there are completely false. Cubs are busy scouting arms, particularly relief, but haven't engaged in talks for Chapman
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) June 10, 2016
Of course, just because the Cubs haven’t engaged in talks for him doesn’t mean the name hasn’t come up. It only makes sense for the Yankees to try to move the controversial closer, given his pending free agency. Pick him up on the cheap as damaged goods from the Reds’ garage sale, slap a fresh coat of paint on him, and try to flip him to a contender. I get it. If nothing else, this is free advertising for them.
Chapman and Miller have been the names we’ve heard most in connection to the Cubs, but there’s another that’s popped up a couple times:
Source says one of the pitchers the #Cubs are focusing on for possible deal is #Yankees SP Nathan Eovaldi. Nothing imminent.
— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) May 29, 2016
DiCaro has since doubled-down on the idea that Eovaldi is indeed a target, though I have a really hard time believing that. Not that I have reason to doubt Julie, who I consider a friend and who I don’t think would report sourced info in the name of sensationalism, I just don’t see a right-handed starter with a career 4.13 ERA as the kind of guy the Cubs would want to acquire. Then again, we probably could have said that about Jake Arrieta.
I’m not here to talk about the merits of specific trades, though, so let’s move on.
What’s the deal with needing to scout known commodities?
This is more sidebar than anything, but it’s funny to me to read that “The Cubs have high-ranking scouts following the Yankees, according to multiple reports from New York, with eye toward acquiring bullpen help, in particular left-handers.” So, like, you don’t know what you’re getting in a closer who pitched for your division rival for six seasons? I suppose they could be looking at Miller, but dude’s been pitching in the majors for more than a decade.
I’m sure there are lots of little things a scout will look for that I’m not able to spot, but these guys are who they are at this point and I can’t imagine a trade being made or broken based on the observation of a few games. Maybe that’s why I’m on this side of the computer though.
They’re not robbing Peter to pay Paul
If the Cubs do make a move, you can be sure that it’s one they see as being a net gain for the organization. That’s why a trade for a rental player like Chapman makes so little sense on the surface. Sure, he’s been a dominant closer over the course of his career. But is the incremental improvement he provides over Pedro Strop in the 8th or Hector Rondon in the 9th worth giving up a significant return for?
Real baseball isn’t the same as fantasy, though you have to view moves like this in sort of a similar fashion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been offered a 2-for-1 trade, the idea from the offering party being that the return is greater than what I’m giving up. Thing is, you’ve now got to clear a roster spot, which means dropping a player to make room for the extra guy you just picked up. In many cases, the net gain is negligible, or at least not enough to justify the loss elsewhere.
Does that make sense? What I’m saying is that you can’t just look at trading a couple of prospects for Chapman and figure that it works because he improves the bullpen. I mean, he probably does that, but at what cost? Who do you have to drop from the active roster and who did you have to give up future production from? These are all things that have to factor in.
It’s not World Series or bust
The biggest factor in all this, and one that nearly every commenter on every Yankees blog out there seems to miss, is that the Cubs aren’t in win-or-else mode. Yes, they’re the best team in baseball and they’ve got a great shot at the World Series. Yes, they will absolutely do what makes sense to strengthen areas of weakness if and when they can. But while the implicit goal of any organization is to win a title, the stated goal of this front office has always been to build a team that is in contention for a number of years.
That’s not saying they’ll punt on the chance to win it all, just that the Cubs aren’t going to mortgage the future for the sake of the present. If there was a way to guarantee a World Series with a single trade, I’d be willing to bet Theo Epstein would make it without a second thought. Absent such possibility, the only way to go is to maintain a team that will consistently be in a position to challenge for a championship year after year.
I know a lot of folks look at this from the outside and think the century-plus of futility has made the Cubs desperate. Not the case. We’ve seen what it looks like when you build a team out of desperation, and the fallout ain’t pretty. So while the Cubs would like to make a move or two, they’re not going to put future years of contention at risk in the process.
Something’s gotta give
After writing all that, it’s important to note that there’s also a sense that some of the talent the Cubs have built up over the last few years is sort of burning a hole in their proverbial pocket. There comes a point, after all, where you simply can’t promote all the players in the system. When a prospect’s value to another team exceeds that which he offers his current organization, a deal really has to be made. Dan Vogelbach, who’s been included in every Cubs-related trade proposal in the last four years, is fast becoming such a player.
After losing backups Greg Bird and Dustin Ackley to shoulder surgeries, the Yankees watched Mark Teixiera go down with a knee injury that could require its own season-ending surgery. As such, they just signed Ike Davis to play first base. Yep. You think they might like a lefty who’s slashed .287/.388/.480 throughout his time in the minors and who’s currently going .313/.430/.533 with 10 homers and 42 RBI at AAA?
It makes too much sense for Vogelbach to be involved in whatever trade the Cubs make, which means it’s probably not going to happen. If we strip away humanity and view them only as commodities — which, isn’t that what sportsing is all about? — prospects exist either to produce for the Major League team or to be traded for someone who will. The Cubs have had a lot of the former and there are plenty more to come, but the latter has naturally got to come into play here soon.
It’s been reported that Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, and Willson Contreras are non-starters, and I think you can throw pretty much everyone in the starting lineup into that mix as well. I believe, however, that the Cubs would be very willing to part with Jorge Soler, though that’s not a sentiment shared by everyone. Not that they’re actively shopping the oft-injured outfielder, just that I don’t think they’d have reservations about moving him in the right deal.
There I go hopping aboard the speculation train again. I’ve gone on long enough at this point, so I’ll leave you with a quick summary that will have you wondering why in the hell you just spent all that time reading through the last 1,500 words.
The Cubs are exploring trades and will continue to do so. A trade will only be consummated if it helps the team in both the near and distant future, or at least doesn’t hurt them next year and beyond. If something happens, chances are good that one of your favorite players from the organization will be dealt; as much as we’d love it, the Cubs aren’t getting an elite arm for a collection of guys who aren’t panning out in the minors.
As the rumors continue, I’d just caution you to be wary of the source(s) and to run said rumors up against what you know of the Cubs’ organizational makeup and philosophy. This front office has done more than enough to earn your trust, so it’s reasonable to believe they won’t be swinging a deal that will undermine the last five years in one fell swoop. Got it?
Good, now bring on the tradez!