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Baseball Fri Jul 17 2015

If Loans Were Legal, Who Would Cubs/Sox Target?

By Mike Chamernik & Chad Ruter

cubs-sox (1).jpg

The only way to advance a sport is to tinker. Baseball isn't perfect. Neither is football, basketball, or soccer. To improve, new ideas need to be tested. In 1879, it took nine balls for a hitter to get walked. By 1887, the leaders of the sport had regulated it down to just five.

Strike zones have changed over time too. If an idea flops, you can always revert back to the old ways. The NBA moved in the three-point line for three seasons in the mid-90s before moving it back to its original 23 feet, nine inches. Trial and error leads to progress. The rules of these sports are not sacred. The DH will come to the National League in the next 25 years, and so will an automated system for the calling of balls and strikes. Don't fight it; resistance is futile.

So when Bill Barnwell of Grantland came up with the idea of implementing a soccer-style loan system in MLB, it's hard to understand why the league wouldn't consider it. It has the potential of putting the game's greatest players who are stuck on terrible teams right in the thick of races. And the best part is their original team doesn't lose them for good.

That got Mike Chamernik and me thinking -- that's an awesome idea, but what should the Cubs and Sox do? Barnwell mentions both teams in his piece, but has the Sox being outright sellers, and the Cubs going after a reliever. Though Barnwell's a genius, we have better ideas when it comes to what the Chicago baseball teams should do.

White Sox (Mike Chamernik):

Sitting at 41-45, the Sox aren't necessarily hopeless sellers as the 2015 season starts to heat up. They have the same team they did in the spring, when many baseball fans and analysts chose them to make the playoffs and even make a World Series run. Some positive regression could be coming their way. And, the entire American League is within eight games of a Wild Card spot.

Maybe this team, which is 9-3 over its last 12 games, is turning it around.

(Okay, yeah, it's almost certainly just noise within a small sample size, but whatever, we're playing with a several hypotheticals here.)

Imagine if Barnwell's loan system existed right now, exactly as he laid it out. While loaning out Chris Sale or José Abreu, as Barnwell argues, could be a good idea, the Sox shouldn't mess around with their two most valuable assets. What if they get hurt? Or what about the possibility that Sale/Abreu takes the loan personally, and start to feel resentment? The half-decent prospects the Sox would get for a two or three-month loaner wouldn't be worth it.

The Sox should just double-down on the playoff push mentality they had just before the season. What one player would improve the team the most at the best cost?

Of all the problems the White Sox have this year, on-base percentage seems like it's the root of the most issues. The Sox are last in the league in OBP, which is a major reason why they're last in runs. Conor Gillaspie, Tyler Flowers, Carlos Sanchez, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham all have an OBP under .300; Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia are just barely above that mark.

Cabrera, Eaton, Garcia and Ramirez are all better players than what their stats have shown. Or, even if that's not the case, there's definitely a more problematic part of the team that needs to be addressed. The Sox have gotten nothing from second and third base this year.

The Sox are still a ways back in the standings, so giving up top prospects for even a star player is an incredible risk. Even some of the most realistic options just don't work. Though Robinson Cano has been ineffective this year, the Mariners wouldn't loan a player they've invested in so much. Trevor Plouffe would be a great fit in Chicago, but the Twins are fine with newcomer third baseman Miguel Sano at DH, and they wouldn't help a divisional competitor. Aramis Ramirez is a good option too, but at 37 and on an expiring deal, it would essentially be trading him outright.

How about D.J. LeMahieu, then? The 27-year-old Rockies second baseman has been excellent this year, a plus player on offense and defense. He even made the All-Star team.

He would be perfect for a loan situation. At 39-49, and with the Dodgers and Giants in their division, the Rockies are pretty much out of the playoff race. LeMahieu is still under team control for three more seasons, so he has future value for Colorado. But at 27, and well exceeding all the previous high marks of his career, LeMahieu could just be at a positive blip on the career radar. Hence, a loan gives the Rockies a best-of-both worlds situation: if he pans out for the Sox, he'll be back with the Rockies next year, they got a prospect or two for him, and they weren't equipped to compete down the stretch this year, anyway. If not, they cashed out while they could.

For the Sox, LeMahieu would greatly help both their infield defense and their on-base percentage. Even if he can't keep up this pace, his career OBP is .325; he'd still reach base more often than most of the Sox lineup. If all went to plan, LeMahieu would turn the Sox' weakest position into their second-strongest. And, presumably, he wouldn't cost a ton.

LeMahieu could keep the Sox' hot streak going, jump start the scoring production, save some runs on defense and spur the Sox towards a postseason run. But of course, all of this is just a thought experiment.

Cubs (Chad Ruter):

Intra-division trades are difficult to make. For obvious reasons, teams always worry the players they give up in deals will come back to make them regret it. If you flip one of those guys to a rival that's only a few hundred miles away, it's a constant facepalm.

In a perfect world, the Cubs would love to rent a center fielder. With Miguel Montero going down and Kyle Schwarber coming up to take his place, the Cubs defense goes from below average to pretty brutal if the young man is behind the dish. He can rake all day, but if balls are hitting the backstop on a consistent basis, there will be a price to pay in the win/loss columns.

Unfortunately, the perfect CF to rent (re: a fantastic defender and capable hitter on a non-contender) is just up I-94. Carlos Gomez possesses great speed, takes fantastic routes to balls, and has been a monster in the batters box the past few seasons. He's been roughed up a bit by injuries this season, but he was worth nearly eight wins above a replacement level in 2013. He'd fit perfectly from a talent standpoint, and based on his weirdness, he'd probably get along swimmingly with Joe Maddon too.

Alas, the Brewers probably don't want to do the Cubs any favors, unless of course, they have no intention of keeping Gomez past 2016 and want to "double dip" on him as Barnwell suggest the Reds might be interested in doing with Aroldis Chapman.

If the Cole Hamels discussions didn't go anywhere, a worthwhile phone call might be out to the Seattle Mariners. Felix Hernandez is signed through 2019 and the Mariners have relentlessly tried to compete for a division title almost every season, only to see their offseason moves consistently blow up in their face. Though Mike doesn't think the Mariners would do this with a player they are heavily invested in, I think it makes perfect sense for them. The wins now aren't helping them next year. Sending their star away for eight weeks of regular season games will secure them a higher draft pick, and then he's back starting on opening night at Safeco Field.

If the prospect(s) were close enough to the majors to help make a run at the postseason in 2016, Seattle might do it. Arismendy Alcantara is a guy that fits that bill, but he plays mostly infield positions that are filled with great players like Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, and Kyle Seager. Matt Szczur or Junior Lake would fit from a need standpoint, but both guys have struggled in their short yet frequent MLB stints.

Carlos Pimentel might get the job done. You're not going to get a top-tiered talent (like Javier Baez) for only 13 starts worth of work, but a guy that's ready for a shot at the big leagues plus an additional flyer like Dan Vogelbach, might make it worth Seattle's time. If it came down to it, Billy McKinney would suck to lose, but you can't win if you don't gamble. And gambling on an ace is as good as it gets.

Would Hernandez agree to such a deal? It's not a guarantee. He passed up free agency and signed a massive contract with Seattle, even though he could've probably squeezed more out of New York or Los Angeles on the free market (he didn't take a discount though, as the deal was the largest ever for a pitcher). His family is there, and he's bonded with the community. On the other hand, it would only be three months at most, and he's never pitched a single inning in the playoffs. The most valuable pitcher over the last decade wearing a Cubs uniform down the stretch and possibly into the playoffs would be pretty awesome, and would be far more likely if loans were allowed.

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