Over the past couple of seasons, the team the Cubs have been most associated with in acquiring starting pitching from is the New York Mets. They are, as we saw in the playoffs, loaded with young controllable starters, after all. With David Price now going to the Red Sox and Jordan Zimmerman going to the Tigers, the Cubs will almost assuredly get the best pitcher they acquire from the trade market. And while the Mets still make a lot of sense as a trade partner, the team they may match up with best is the rebuilding Atlanta Braves.
The Braves have been trying to move on from Julio Teheran since the trade deadline and the name to watch in trade speculation has been Shelby Miller. The Cubs are linked to both, for obvious reasons. Both are young, controllable, and fit the mold of middle to lower rotation depth that the Cubs so clearly lacked at the end of last season and into the playoffs. With the Braves looking for controllable bats (with strong reported interest in Jorge Soler), the Cubs and the Braves may be ideal matches for each other.
A straight Jorge Soler for Shelby Miller swap seems unlikely. A Soler for Teheran swap is a non-starter. For the Braves to acquire Soler, there would have to be other pieces to the trade. Eight of the top ten Braves MLB Pipeline prospects are pitchers. In every sense, these teams have the ability to make a deal that offers mutual benefit to both. In that sense, here are some trade proposals that may benefit each team immediately and in the long term.
This trade is a bit of a gamble for the Cubs, but would give them what they’re looking for in terms of young, controllable with upside, inexpensive starting pitching depth. The risks are, obviously, that the Cubs are giving up Soler and his high ceiling for Miller, who is coming off his best year and will have been traded twice in about one calendar year and Teheran who is coming off a down season. The potential upside is that the Cubs manage to get two controlled arms that have the potential to anchor the middle and bottom of the rotation for at least the next three years. Soler is obviously the big piece going the other way, but McKinney is a piece worth noting, as he is the Cubs’ #2 MLB Pipeline prospect, and #34 on the Top 100 list. Villanueva is on the 40 man, and after a strong AAA season, he may get some MLB time on the Braves big league club…but he is pretty firmly blocked with the Cubs. Moving him and clearing his 40 man spot has more value to the Cubs than keeping him at this point. Caratini is another piece that may sting to see going back to Atlanta (after being acquired in the Bonifacio/ Russell trade in 2014), but he helps fill some of their organizational void at catcher. In the end, the Cubs are just now entering a window to compete at the major league level. And if they want to acquire pitching, they have to part with pieces. In this scenario, they don’t give up anything that sets the organization back. McKinney is nice. Villanueva and Caratini have potential. Soler could be a superstar. But Miller and Teheran may be two of the pieces that put the Cubs over the playoff hump.
Likelihood: Low – Moderate
The Cubs kill two birds with one trade here. They add Miller to fill in the middle of their rotation and they get Bourn to be a stop gap CF to replace the likely departing Dexter Fowler. There have been some low rumblings about the Cubs making Montero available this off-season, and the Braves could use a catcher to supplement (or supplant altogether) A.J. Pierzynski. This trade makes a sense later in the off-season if the Cubs are still looking to fill CF and are convinced that Kyle Schwarber is going to be able to handle catching every day. This is also a possibility if they believe Willson Contreras is close to being MLB ready. In the end, though, this trade is a fallback option for the Cubs if they can’t find a capable replacement for Fowler. Fortunately, they can be rid of Bourn next winter if he doesn’t accumulate 550 plate appearances. Lucas Sims is a hard throwing RHP and is the Braves #8 MLB Pipeline prospect. He brings a strong fastball/ curveball combination that still needs some refinement. With all of the pitching the Braves have added over the last year, they may not like dealing away their 2012 first round pick, but to get their man in Soler, they may be amenable to parting with him.
This is a pretty straightforward move for the Cubs. Candelario is another upside prospect who is blocked at the upper levels of the minor leagues and in the major league level. He had a strong rebound year in 2015, posting .291/.371/.462 in 182 AA plate appearances. More importantly, he started to show some of his power in AA and carrying it through to the Arizona Fall League. Hannemann doesn’t project to be much more than an extra outfielder and/or pinch runner. Both have promise, but neither has the value to the Cubs that Teheran may have if they can figure out why he had a disappointing 2015.
Likelihood: Low – Moderate
Cubs Get: Shelby Miller, prospects
Braves Get: Jorge Soler, prospects
Although this is quite vague, it is the starting point for a trade discussion between these teams. The Cubs are probably willing to give up Soler in return for Miller with some added prospects and the Braves would likely want some Cubs prospects to even out the package. Depending on who the prospects are, this deal could get fairly large. But this scenario doesn’t include additional major league players like the first two proposals.
At this point, the Cubs and Braves seem like a good fit to make a deal. The off-season has a way of making all of this speculation pretty fluid, though. Miller was reportedly offered up to the DBacks for A.J. Pollock earlier. Obviously, Miller has value to a lot of teams and he could be moved to any of them if they’re willing to meet the Braves asking price (which is apparently quite high). With the Winter Meetings approaching, though, the trade talks between the Cubs and a number of teams figure to get considerably warmer as they seek to add starting pitching.