Trade Fever: What Might the Cubs Have to Give Up to Acquire Various Pieces?

In a perfect world, the Cubs would just throw money at acquiring players this summer. Unfortunately, that’s not always how it works. Sometimes the currency is green players instead of greenbacks. It’s possible to swap major-league players, but prospects, prospects, and more prospects will be what it takes to acquire what Theo Epstein deems necessary this summer.

The great thing about the Cubs’ farm system is that they have excellent depth and variety of players. You want some pitching? We have that over here. Speed players? Step right this way. Solid hitters mixed with a power guy? Oh, have I got a deal for you!

While it may come off like a used car salesman, it is not that far from the truth.

Stephen Strasburg signing a 7-year, $175 million deal changed everything for this summer’s trade market by making the price of pitching exorbitant. It doesn’t help that this winter’s free agent class is considered a hot mess. It doesn’t make much sense for the Cubs to get a 3-4 month rental, so they are going to have to pry away a starting pitcher who has multiple years left on his deal. The same could be said for a relief pitcher or another left-handed bat.

Every organization has players that they consider to be off-limits and the Cubs are no exception. In fact, the Cubs might have more such players than you think. Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber make up the core of the corps at the major-league level for the next few years. There are certain players currently in Iowa that the Cubs have plans for as well, namely Albert Almora and Willson Contreras. Both have been penciled in to begin play at some point in Chicago next year. I think there are a two other untouchables in Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson, young arms who will be in short-season Eugene this summer.

Because he’s blocked at the major-league level by Russell and Baez, I don’t think top prospect Gleyber Torres is an untouchable. Eloy Jimenez is turning into a hitting machine (.326 avg) and his power is slowly developing in game play this year (two home runs this past Thursday for South Bend), but I don’t think he’s untouchable either. If I was another team’s GM, this kid would be on my short list.

All that said, let’s take a look at what the Cubs might covet as the season wears on and what they’d have to give up in return.

Potential targets

  • Shutdown left-handed
  • Corner outfielder
  • Cost-controlled
  • Dream player

Each of these targets has a different value, both in terms of what they mean to the Cubs and to their current team. At the same time, the front office might have different opinions on what they would be willing to give up to keep the system self-sustaining given the return on investment from said player they’d be getting back. Rather than focus on specific players, I want to look at what it might take to acquire each of the various roles above.

Shutdown left-handed bullpen arm

Quite frankly, I am not too sure about the Cubs going out and getting bullpen arms. They already did that last winter and Spencer Patton and Carl Edwards Jr both have been great in AAA. Patton has yet to allow an earned run this season and Edwards has been very good this month. Trouble is, neither is a lefty. Gerardo Concepcion, on the other hand, is. He’s been throwing in the low-to-mid-90’s and has not allowed an earned run this year.

Concepcion doesn’t have a track record to prove that he can maintain this kind of performance, but you can’t argue with the results thus far. I think the Cubs are going to hold off on any trade with these three arms in development at no cost. If, however, Epstein deems them insufficient, you’re looking at dealing one or two mid-range prospects to acquire a solid lefty RP. The Cubs will not deal a top prospect for one loogy.

Corner outfielder

I am of the belief that the Cubs will not go out and get an outfielder when they have Almora just down I-80 in Des Moines. And I also believe that Almora is not going to show up in Chicago until the minor league season is almost over, since he’s not on the 40-man roster and would have to be added before August 31. His improving plate approach and power and his amazing fielding skills will be on display in AAA until then.

Cost-Controlled Starting Pitcher

This is the position that will cost the most. Currently, Ryan Williams is the starting prospect closest to the majors, but he is not the kind of arm the Cubs would desire this summer. Rather, they could be looking for a #2/3 starter who is under contract beyond this year. While the cost is not prohibitive, it will be substantial. The Cubs have more hitting prospects than pitching prospects who are available, but I don’t think Epstein is ready to deal either Schwarber, Soler, or Baez.

That means the Cubs would probably have to deal four of their top 15 prospects. Like I said above, Contreras, Cease, and Almora would be safe but that would about be it. Everyone in the system would available and ripe for the taking.

Now, I know some people might not like the fact that the Cubs would deal that many top prospects. You really need to get over that. The system the Cubs have built has several layers of redundancy. For example, they have a multiple players at several infield and outfield positions in the top 15 of the MLB prospect list. If a team picked a few name from that list, the Cubs system would be fine because of the depth. I would be very sad to see some go, but that one starter may be what it takes to win the World Series.

Dream Player

Out of all the categories in this post, this is the one I most struggled in analyzing. When trading for a franchise cornerstone “dream player,” the cost is going to be a mix of major- and minor-league talent. If the trade was completed, it would cost somewhere around two to three MLB players and four or five MiLB prospects, and that is pure speculation. As I see it, that is the type of cost the Cubs would like to avoid. I don’t think they would be adverse to making this type of trade if it involved just giving away prospects, but it could be irresponsible to swing it as structured above.

For one, it takes away from the depth at both the MLB level and the farm system. The Cubs do technically have the means by which to get such a deal done, it’s just that I think “The Plan,” especially the concept of having a self-sustaining minor league system, would be set back.

Out of all the scenarios listed above, the trade for a starting pitcher seems to me the most likely. I am not really sold on Lackey, Hammel, or Hendricks in a seven-game series and I think the Cubs are susceptible in that part of the rotation. Another arm might be needed to really seal the deal when it comes to the postseason. To get that arm, the Cubs are going to have to give up something substantial, maybe very substantial. You want that ring, you have to pay the price and give up the players to get it.

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