By now, we’ve gotten word that the Cubs have traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for stud SS prospect Addison Russell, 2013 1st Round pick Billy McKinney, RHP Dan Straily and a player to be named later. What is less clear is where the Cubs will proceed from here, now that they have an absolutely stocked farm system in the way of hitting prospects.
After moving the two biggest pieces that they had to offer this summer, and doing so early, the Cubs can focus on three near term time frames: now until the trade deadline, now until the end of the season, and now until the beginning of spring training next year.
From Now Until the Deadline:
It would be a stunner if the Cubs were done this summer. There are pieces, such as Luis Valbuena, Justin Ruggiano, James Russell, Wesley Wright, Carlos Villanueva, Nate Schierholtz, Darwin Barney, and anyone else who isn’t bolted to the floor that can be traded to supplement the already strong (and arguably best) minor league system in baseball.
An unlikely scenario includes the Cubs actually trading prospects. Their wealth of position players, especially middle infielders, allows them to seek out prospect level pitching. Teams like the Mets and Orioles have a strong group of pitchers in their systems, and both could use a middle infielder who is close to major league ready. The Cubs have that. The chance that this move is made in season is not great, but with the Orioles still hanging around in the AL East, it would be a bit presumptuous to dismiss it off-hand.
From Now Until the End of the Season:
This is actually quite easy. Between now and the end of the season, the Cubs need to identify who will and who will not be retained from their own roster and minor league system. Not that this hasn’t been happening, but now that Samardzija and Hammel are out of the way, the draft is concluded and the highest priority picks are all signed, this becomes the focus. Questions about who stays, who goes, and who they would like to keep but are willing to move along if the price is right are coming into focus. Does Luis Valbuena stay and serve in some capacity on the 2015 team after a breakout season, of sorts? How do we proceed with the development of Mike Olt and has he shown enough to merit fitting into next season’s plans on either a major or minor league level scale? Again, many of these considerations have been made, but as the trade deadline approaches and the picture of who is still around and how players from other teams are moving around becomes more clear, these considerations become stronger and more focused.
From Now Until Spring Training Starts:
Internally, the Cubs are left with questions regarding just how much they are going to go for it in 2015. With those questions, they must evaluate who from the major league roster comes back and who from the minor league system could come up and contribute right away. They need to answer whether players like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez will break camp with the major league club. The internal questions must come first, though, because they necessarily dictate how the team will approach external approaches to 2015.
The external approaches are a much more fun speculative exercise to have. In free agency, players like Max Scherzer, Justin Masterson, Jon Lester, and James Shields may all be available. It’s already been somewhat well documented that the Cubs have very little committed money in 2015, so two of these players should be considered options for the 2015 season. Justin Masterson and Jon Lester could, in theory, be traded this summer with their teams out of contention. Players who will become free agents who are traded this summer will not be tied to draft pick compensation, so any starters who are traded and are scheduled to become free agents are worth paying special attention to, because they come at the cost of only money. While Max Scherzer will not be traded this summer, he will come at the cost of a 2nd round pick for a team like the Cubs, who will almost undoubtedly have a protected, top ten pick in next year’s amateur draft. Other positions of need will be determined by who is traded from the remainder of this year’s club, but it is a sure bet the Cubs look for an OF like Colby Rasmus as a bridge type player other outfield prospects become ready.
In the trade market, acquiring top shelf pitching also remains a possibility. Using some of the high level prospect surplus to add, for example, David Price remains a possibility. While that is not my preferred method because he will cost prospects and money to resign, it remains a part of hoarding prospects. They can be used as currency to acquire players like this to shorten the timeline to competitiveness. This is also an area where the Cubs can use some of their position prospect surplus to approach teams with a surplus of pitching prospects. In this scenario, though, it would be more than likely that the Cubs struck for major league ready or very nearly major league ready prospects who can help the 2015 team in some capacity.
It is without question that the timeline is shrinking between now and the time the Cubs can make a run at competing. 2015 is as good a year as any for the Cubs to have some of this young talent that is nearing the majors to be supplemented by veterans who can bring the Cubs to the thick of a playoff race. As far as sleeper teams go, the Cubs are a good pick. Trading Samardzija to the A’s helps because of the addition of superior talent and creating a surplus that allows the flexibility to add high level pieces through both trades (without mortgaging the entire farm) and by adding free agent talent. That does not even mention the amount of positional flexibility gained by acquiring a short stop, because any player who can play short can play almost anywhere on the diamond. This move, essentially, cleared the canvas a bit to make sure that the front office can paint 2015 in whatever light they choose, and not one that requires a near constant “sign him or trade him” conversation about Jeff Samardzija…and it happened to the surprise of nobody who’s been paying attention over the last three years.