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Cubs Tue Jul 22 2014
The Cubs have already pulled the trigger on their big trade this year, dealing 40 percent of their starting rotation to Oakland in exchange for Billy Beane's top two prospects. But in what Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein expect to be the last year the Cubs will be obvious sellers at the deadline, there are still players of value with a good chance of being moved on or before July 31st.
Below you'll find a list of which Cubs players are most likely to see their chances at winning a title this season drastically increase with a new address. One guy you won't see on there is Starlin Castro -- despite the rumors that teams (the Mets being the most interested) are interested in acquiring the shortstop enjoying a bounce-back season. Every player has a price in the front office's mind, but the chances of any other team meeting the cost of a 24-year-old shortstop that is fourth in the majors in weighted on base average at his position is so miniscule that it's not worth wasting column space (and your time) discussing the possibility.
And as much as you want to see him go, Edwin Jackson won't be selling his home in Chicago anytime soon. The Cubs would have to pay a significant portion of the remaining $22 million Jackson is owed in 2015 and 2016, and I don't see the team doing that for a minimal return. He's not going anywhere.
James Russell & Wesley Wright -- LHPs -- Probability of Trading One: ~80%
Russell and Wright have been the central focus of the Cubs rumor mill following the departures of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and the reason is the same across the board: lack of long-term cost control. Both Russell and Wright are arbitration eligible this winter for the final time (where they'll each likely get over $2 million), and will both be eligible for free agency in 2016.
Russell has been with the Cubs his entire career, and the consistencyhe has out of the bullpen is well known. He doesn't average 90 mph on any of his pitches (a rarity in the majors these days), and though he's fared much better against right-handed hitters than lefties this season, he has a pretty severe platoon split for his career. The worry with Russell in the future is if there's any more falloff in velocity, he'll start to get crushed. He also sports a barely 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio over the past three seasons, and strikeouts are a must for a guy you use in high leverage situations. The 2.86 ERA he currently possesses is the best of his career, but it seems to be more smoke and mirrors with a walk in every other inning he pitches.
Wright is a pretty unique player, in that after a rough few years to start in the majors with Houston, he was sold to Tampa Bay in August of last year after putting together three straight campaigns with a sub-4.00 ERA. The Rays had an opportunity to tender Wright a contract in the offseason for something that would've likely fell under $1.8 million, but they decided to let him walk. The Cubs nabbed him for just under $1.5 million, and still have one more year of control if they choose. Wright is similar to Russell in terms of velocity and platoon splits, but works much more off his fastball than his lefty counterpart. Wright also has a far richer history in the strikeout department, punching out 142 hitters in 144 innings over the past three years with a nearly 3-to-1 strikeout rate.
With both guys being at similar ages, velocities, handedness, and overall effectiveness, it'll be interesting to see which guy has more trade value. Wright will more than likely be targeted a bit more because of his experience pitching for multiple teams, a better strikeout rate, and a cheaper salary (about $100,000 less than Russell over the final two months). With Russell being with the Cubs for so long, the team might be more inclined to keep him as well -- being a respected veteran presence on a young team. The Cubs will likely trade one, but probably not both guys unless they're blown away because lefty-specialists in the bullpen is something they lack in the high minors.
Justin Ruggiano -- RH OF -- Probability of Trade: ~50%
Platoons are becoming widely used around baseball, and when a team has a position they've failed to get any production out of through the first few months of the season, they'll try to patch the hole with two players who do damage against opposite-handed pitching. If you're looking for a lefty crusher, Ruggiano is your guy.
Though the 32-year-old only has about 1200 plate appearances at the major league level in his career, he's proven he's pretty darn good at hitting lefties. If you were to extrapolate his career stats against southpaws out to a full season worth of data, he'd be nearly a 30 HR/60 double hitter. That's some serious power even if he only hits .260 and gets on base .330 with it.
The Mariners have been searching for right-handed outfielders to balance out their nearly all left-handed starting lineup
, and though they've been rumored more for guys like Dayan Viciedo and Junior Lake in Chicago, Ruggiano would be the cheapest option out of the three in terms of what the Mariners would have to give up.
Darwin Barney -- RH 2B -- Probability of Trade: ~20%
Yes, Barney has won a Gold Glove. Yes, he's beloved by Cubs fans because of his perceived scrappiness and solid defense. Yes, it would be great to trade him to clear space for Arismendy Alcantara and the other kids just a step away from the majors. The problem with trying to deal Barney is that he's simply a terrible hitter. He's had an OBP above .300 once, a career-high seven homers twice and has stolen 11 bases total in the last three years.
He's got a great glove, no doubt, and the Cubs would trade him if someone came along to inquire, but it's unlikely he'll have many suitors. The Giants have had terrible production at second base this year, and their response was signing the recently released Dan Uggla to a minor league contract to see if he can re-discover his 30 homer power. That's bad news when you're trying to dangle Barney. The Cubs would get almost nothing in return for Barney, but would simply try to make space for other guys they want to get playing time at Wrigley.
Emilio Bonifacio -- SH UTIL -- Probability of Trade: ~15%
In the first eight games of his season, Bonifacio racked up 19 hits and a .500 batting average. Since then, his triple slash line is .217/.264/.296 along with a strained oblique that's had him out over a month. Why would he have any trade value after all that? Because he can play any position besides 1B, SS, or C at a respectable level, can steal bases (though he gets caught making dumb base running errors too often), and has the ability to go on streaks like he did to start the season. He'd garner a similar return to someone like Barney, but his legs can somewhat make up for his lack of extra base power and low walk rate. The Cubs would like to trade either Barney or Bonifacio to open up a full-time spot for Alcantra, but won't trade both because the return wouldn't be worth gutting the position on their roster entirely -- similar to the lefties in the bullpen.
Nate Schierholtz -- LH RF -- Probability of Trade: ~10%
It seemed like the plan all along when the Cubs signed the platoon player to a two-year, $10 million deal a couple winters back was to flip him for prospects. Their best chance to do that was last year, when Schierholtz sat with a .281/.340/.536 with 14 homers and 23 doubles on July 27th playing almost exclusively against right-handers.
Nearly a year later, he's hitting under the Mendoza Line and getting occasional days off because of his ineffectiveness. He plays solid defense in right field and has shown as recently as last season that he can power up against righties, but he's owed $1.6 million for the rest of the season, and the Cubs would likely have to pay the rest of his salary for the rights to, at best, a lottery ticket prospect.
Carlos Villanueva -- RHP -- Probability of Trade: ~5%
He's one of the few true swingmen in baseball, who can seamlessly transition from the rotation to the bullpen, and vice versa, whenever asked. Unfortunately, trying to trade Villanueva is the same as Schierholtz -- it's a year too late.
Through July 12th last season, he had a 3.59 ERA with 10 starts and 16 relief appearances. That kind of performance has a ton of value for a contending team. Not so much if your ERA is barely south of 6.00 like it is so far this season. He's due the same amount of money the rest of the year as Schierholtz, and probably wouldn't get the same return as his teammate because he lacks the dominance in any one area of the game.