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Cubs Fri Aug 01 2014

Cubs Open Up Roster Spots With Deadline Trade

Cubs_200.pngIn all, 12 trades were executed on the day of the MLB trade deadline. A ton of big names are changing jerseys, including David Price (Tigers), Jon Lester (A's), Yoenis Cespedes (Red Sox), John Lackey (Cardinals), and Allen Craig (Red Sox).

The Cubs had already made their big pre-deadline move, sending Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland in exchange for a fringe starting pitcher and the A's top two prospects (Addison Russell and Billy McKinney -- who are both dominating with their new teams), and they look smart for moving early too. Though they traded their top two starters away, they easily got the best haul of prospects in return, especially compared to what the Rays got back for the Cy Young award winning Price. Hammel struggled so mightily in his first four starts in Oakland that Billy Beane got on the phone and traded his cleanup hitter for an ace starting pitcher, a move that basically pushes Hammel out of their playoff rotation, barring injury.

In a deal that wasn't reported or announced until after the deadline passed, the Cubs traded lefty reliever James Russell and speedy utilityman Emilio Bonifacio along with cash to Atlanta for a soon-to-be 21-year-old single-A catcher named Victor Caratini. Caratini was the Braves seventh best prospect according to, and now slots into the 13th spot in the Cubs system -- which speaks to just how loaded the North Siders are in the minor leagues.

Caratini has played mostly catcher, but also spent some time third and first base in his short career. His future in the Cubs system is behind the plate if he's ever going to get a shot at the majors, but Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are also stocking the system with as much talent as they can for the days when they need to trade young guys to fill holes on their own major league team. Caratini is a switch-hitter that is better from the left side, and most of his value is tied into his bat. Based on May report filed to, he brings little speed to the table along with below-average defense and arm strength. If he can improve enough defensively to being slightly above average, his bat would make him a solid major league catcher. Those are a lot of 'ifs' though.

What the trade does immediately for the Cubs is it opens up some roster spots. The team now sits with 38 guys on their 40-man roster after acquiring Felix Doubront from Boston on Wednesday (a guy they hope they can improve ala Jake Arrieta), and will most likely use one of those spots to add Kyuji Fujikawa back from the 60-day disabled list as he's almost fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.

With Bonifacio gone, the first question asked of Hoyer yesterday when he announced the trade was if it meant Javier Baez was getting called up to the majors. He's not, since they don't believe he's quite ready yet, and there are offseason implications for roster spots that have to be taken into account.

The initial guess to take Bonifacio's spot on the Major League roster was that of Logan Watkins, who's already on the 40-man roster, and has literally played every position except pitcher and catcher in Iowa this season. He's been solid at the plate in terms of contact and plate discipline, but has very little to show in the power department with a .386 slugging percentage. He spent some time in the big leagues last year, but struggled to get a handle on top-level pitching.

Instead, the latest rumors have the Cubs adding Chris Valaika to the 40-man roster and calling him up to be the new utility infielder. It's an interesting move considering Watkins is there for the taking already, but the Cubs still have the ability to shuttle him back and forth to the minors next season, and aren't beholden to giving him a look over the next two months. Valaika has slightly more experience in the bigs with 55 career games, including 22 last year with Miami, but has had about the same success. He's played all four infield positions along with a couple appearances in left field as well, and the Cubs are probably just getting a look at him now to see if they want to offer him a contract for next season. He'll probably need to tear the cover off the ball to have a chance at being around in 2015, but he can at least audition for other teams. Watkins is three years younger, and will get his chance a little later on.

With Darwin Barney and Bonifacio now gone, second base is wide open for Arismendy Alcantara to play without having to look over his shoulder. He's great there, but it's reasonable to question if he's going to play there in the future? Baez has been playing second base on a regular basis in Iowa now, and Alcantara has had reps in center field at both levels. His best chance at playing every day in the future is probably in the outfield, so it'll be interesting to see if plays full-time at second for the final two months, or if the Cubs still plan on getting him some work in center.

The Cubs got an OK prospect in return for Russell and Bonifacio, but the main goal of the trade yesterday was to give the team more flexibility on the roster when it comes to playing time for guys they want to look at and possibly feature in their future. The Cubs got what they want, and Russell and Bonifacio get to play for a contender down in Atlanta. It was the best outcome for everyone involved.

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