So much for those “smaller stature” moves Jed Hoyer talked about the other day. The Cubs and Tigers ended up making a nice splash after all, though it didn’t involve Justin Verlander. Instead, they have agreed to send top-10 prospects Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes to Detroit in exchange for lefty reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila. There’s reportedly a player to be named later or cash coming from Chicago as well.
Originally drafted by the Pirates, Wilson came up through the minors as a starter before being flexed a little at AAA and then converted to a full-time relief role when he was called up. He spent parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh’s pen before a trade sent him to New York for Francisco Cervelli. After a year with the Yankees, Wilson was sent to Detroit for Chad Green and Luis Cessa.
Though he’d always had mid-90’s heat, Wilson didn’t really take off until he hit the Motor City and got away from the curve while utilizing his cutter more. And he’s really stepped it up this year after abandoning the sinker and curve altogether in favor of a four-seam/cutter/slider combo. That trifecta has led to 12.27 K/9 that is nearly three K’s above his career average.
Wilson is earning only $2.7 million this season and is under control for what will certainly be a very affordable 2018 season. He figures to slot into the high-leverage carousel that includes Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop, which likely means moving Koji Uehara down the ladder a bit and optioning Justin Grimm. And Wilson could take over the closer role next season should the Cubs not choose or be able to bring Wade Davis back.
Far from a LOOGY — remember the starter pedigree? — Wilson has pitched 40.1 innings in 42 appearances this season. He’s actually better against righties, holding them to a .131/.232/.303 slash. Lefties are higher across the board, but still only boast a .633 OPS. Wilson has struck out at least two batters 18 times this season and has only failed to record a K in eight appearances. If there’s a blemish, it’s that he gives up fly balls at a 48.8 percent rate, though his 11.9 percent HR/FB rate is not out of line at all.
Alex Avila has gotten plenty of run here since rumors linking him to the Cubs have persisted for much of the month. As such, we won’t spend too much time on him here. The lefty-batting catcher is having a career year at the plate (.274/.394/.475), the kind of performance that seems like overkill for a backup. But the same could have been said about Miggy Montero at times too.
Avila is a rental who gives the Cubs a veteran capable of spelling Willson Contreras against righties once in a while and who will fit well with the pitching staff and in the clubhouse. There could be some concern with the atrophy in his stat line, which sits at .175/.302/.238 over his last 96 plate appearances, but that will be largely mitigated by the part-time role. And even in that slump, he’s displaying nice on-base skills.
Giving up Candelario and Paredes is a high price to pay, particularly when you consider the potential of the former. Candelario was blocked by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but Paredes — who we profiled as the Cubs’ real top prospect — is a young man who’s putting up better numbers than Gleyber Torres at a comparable age. That’ll sting, but it gives the Cubs the pieces they need to maximize the roster.
Theo Epstein said the other day that the farm system exists to either produce major league players or to bring said players in from other teams. With the first half of that equation already working in a big way and the team playing well, the Cubs saw fit to bet bigger on the present.
We’ll have more on this deal — including the players involved and roster ramifications — in future segments, so check back with us on that.