Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein have made no secret of the fact that they are not playing to win this year. Now with the current regime in their 3rd year atop the Cubs brain-trust, Cubs fans are finally starting to see some of the fruits of the labor. We’re hearing stories about Kris Bryant dominating every level of baseball he’s been to, the organization has 4 players in the top 20 of prospects, and a disgruntled Jeff Samardzija (along with Jason Hammel) just flew across the country to Oakland in exchange for Addison Russell, another middle infielder with “all the tools”. Cubs fans will start to see some of these players get big league at-bats at the end of this year (highly unlikely but we can dream), and for certain next season. However, the spots these up-and-comers will be playing are already occupied by some semblance of “big league players”. Those are the players we’ll discuss, as we take a look at the Cubs players who are most likely to be traded before July 31st.
James Russell (RP-L): This lefty-specialist is in the midst of his best year in the majors. Russell’s given up 9 runs in over 28 innings of relief-appearances (not counting inherited runners), and we all know how coveted solid bullpen arms can be down the stretch and into the playoffs. Although any return given would be minimal, several teams will have interest.
Potential Trade Partners: Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays
Both of these teams could use a bullpen arm, and look to be in contention throughout the rest of the regular season, although the Blue Jays have been in a bit of a freefall lately.
Junior Lake (OF): Lake is going to be appealing to several teams looking for a buy-low, “lightening in a bottle” type of acquisition through FA. He’s the perfect candidate for a change-of-scenery renaissance, and with the younger guys coming up, he’ll be out of room soon anyway. He might be the odd man out regardless with Arismendy Alcantara showing plenty of promise in his big league call-up so far.
Potential Trade Partners: San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees
The Giants and the Yankees are teams that are likely to deal minimal assets hoping for a nice bounce-back/reclamation project, and while Lake won’t help either team’s batting average, he could kick-start struggling offenses and fill a spot in both teams’ outfields.
Darwin Barney (2B): The former Gold Glove winner is struggling to bat his weight (.219 BA vs. 185 Lb.), but defensive replacements are always popular around the trade deadlines. Barney would only fetch a low-level prospect, but the writing is on the wall for him. There are simply too many players coming up behind him that will be fighting for his position.
Potential Trade Partners: Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians
Washington is currently leading the NL-East and tied with the Braves, and the Indians are 4.5 games out of the wildcard. Both of these defenses rank near the bottom of the majors in terms of Fielding Percentage. Barney may not be a game changer, but would be a nice addition as a defensive replacement that won’t cost very much.
I personally do not see any other “big trades” the Cubs will make this season in terms of players that are already on the big league roster. The outfield corps might be moved but the Cubs could use some stability with red-hot guys like Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano providing a veteran presence for the up-and-comers in 2015. We won’t exclude the possibility that those guys will also be shipped out. However, with the log-jam of middle infielders close to the Bigs (Baez, Russell, Alcantara, etc.) you can’t rule out the possibility of shipping one of them out for a nice return in the form of young, cost-controlled pitchers. But I believe Valbuena, Castro, Rizzo and others will end the season dreaming of the World Series on the North Side of Chicago.