Once the baseball calendar flips to July, the major league trade deadline approaches rapidly.
And for the first time in more than half decade, the Chicago Cubs are looking to improve their major league club, rather than the annual sell-off/highway robbery (see: Jeff Samardzija for Addison Russell trade) that fans have come to expect from their Theo Epstein-led team.
The Cubs being legitimate buyers at the trade deadline speaks to the progress that Epstein’s thorough rebuild has made.
But, true to Cubs form, nothing is allowed to be easy so naturally the first season they’re ready to buy at the trade deadline, the market is virtually non-existent.
Two teams who should be anxious to start selling are the Brewers and White Sox – whose best interest is to not help the Cubs at all.
In terms of being of being a “rival,” the strife between the Cubs and Sox exists more between fans than it actually does on the field. The battle for the box office is what will limit the White Sox willingness to deal with the Cubs, as the South Siders stare down the barrel of a total teardown. They not only have to worry about rebuilding their team, but also maintaining their fan base in the process.
While Chicago’s two clubs trend in opposite directions, it makes the battle for the Chicago dollar even more difficult than it already is for Rick Hahn’s team. The White Sox find themselves in one of the more unique and unenviable positions in sports, in that they may not be able to “punt” on the two or three seasons it takes for a full-fledged rebuild because they share a marketplace with one of the most successful franchises (from a business perspective) in sports.
An inter-division move isn’t unheard of, however. The Cubs acquired a franchise stalwart in Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates in 2003, and those same Pirates capitalized on an inter-division swap with the Cubs in 2009 when they dealt away two relievers for a collection of minor leaguers including Josh Harrison.
The ‘two-way street’ nature of helping out a division rival is apparent, and with the Brewers having a record only surpassed in shame by the Phillies – it’s time for them to sell.
And Milwaukee probably has the best variety of pieces to entice contenders. They have a couple of cheap rental arms in Kyle Lohse and Jonathan Broxton, with the former a potential band-aid fix as the Cubs’ fifth starter (Tsuyoshi Wada’s injury was badly timed).
Despite the obvious need, the Cubs have made it clear they’ll pay for pitching next winter. Any possibility of a deal for Cole Hamels, Chris Sale, or Johnny Cueto this month seems remote.
Theo has made it clear he values bats over arms, so if the Cubs are inclined to make a splash – it may very well be on offense.
The two best options for that type of major splash can be found in a two-hour trip up I-94.
Carlos Gomez has been one of the most underrated players in baseball since he broke through with the Brewers in 2012. He is signed to a team-friendly contract through 2016, becomes an immediate impact leadoff hitter, and adds elite defensive ability in center field.
Dexter Fowler is on a one-year deal and has been streaky at best. Gomez remains the most practical option, but former MVP Ryan Braun could also be had.
His numbers are declining, but he remains an elite power hitter who dominates at Wrigley Field. Neither Gomez or Braun will come cheap, as acquiring either would likely mean watching AA outfielder Billy McKinney (thanks again, Oakland) rake in Miller Park for the next ten years. But pursuing a prize of such nature would be worth it.
Obtaining a long-term bat becomes a more intriguing option than a rental pitcher like Johnny Cueto – who can be had for nothing more than a big check this December.
Elsewhere around the league, almost every selling candidate has a reason to hold onto their guys.
The Indians and Red Sox had high hopes and might wait to see if they have a big run in them. The A’s and Mariners will probably wait like everyone else to see if the Astros are actually this good.
In the NL, it’s basically the Brewers and Phillies. The disappointing Marlins and Rockies both have beyond untouchable young stars (Stanton, Gordon, and Arenado) or high priced vets who may not be what they once were (Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Mat Latos).
The Padres are the wildcard. After their huge offseason spending spree, things haven’t worked out – and if they continue to flounder they become a source for both pitching (Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and Craig Kimbrel) and offensive thump (Justin Upton and Matt Kemp).
All of this, of course, is dependent on the mindset of Theo Epstein as the trade deadline approaches. It remains a very real possibility Epstein and Co. think this year has been fun, but this team is playing over its head – so aside from a few minor moves they’ll hope for a wild card bid.
Or they could be as surprised as the rest of us about this team’s success and decide not to wait for another opportunity and make a big move. Cub fans should know better than anyone that next year is no guarantee so if the opportunity is there, they’d be well-advised to take it.
Either way, it should be intriguing to watch how Cubs management approaches their first trade deadline as buyers.
Other Interesting Items
-Cub fans are justifiably enamored with their farm system but if the opportunity to flip prospects into legitimate major league talent presents itself you have to take it. Jed Hoyer spoke last week about being able to assess your prospects properly and maximize their value. The exemplification of this are guys like Javy Baez whose value has sunk over the past year, Albert Almora who is trending down and top pitching prospect Duane Underwood who was just shut down with arm trouble.
-Don’t hit the Jon Lester panic button yet. He’s been the definition of “up and down” but the true value of signing Lester should show up in the dog days of the season. In August and September, when Gerrit Cole and Michael Wacha start feeling the weight of all the innings they’ve thrown, Jon Lester has a track record of thriving when the innings pile up. If he remains inconsistent in the hot summer months, then yeah, dust off that panic button.
–Jorge Soler should return within the next week. Soler missed a month after rolling his ankle on a base. If this month off is a preview of what is to come with the injury prone Soler, he has the potential to be a very frustrating player.
-Don’t sleep on the Cubs adding the previously mentioned Aramis Ramirez for a token minor leaguer at the deadline. He’s in his last major league season, so it’d be nice for him to take a little victory lap with the Cubs where he played his best years. Realistically, he could provide some pop off the bench and spell your two young corner infielders every once in a while. And Joe Maddon’s bench remains a huge hole.
Tim has watched nearly every inning of the Cubs this year, with a lot of that time spent on his couch. Where most beat writers are in and out of press boxes feeding the 24-hour news cycle, Tim sits on the couch and gives his thoughts every few weeks instead.
Check out past Cubs from the Couch pieces here.