It's not quite the hot stove season or the trade deadline, but the last week of spring tends to generate some interesting trade activity. Teams have had a chance to look at what they have in camp. Sometimes they realize they're going to be short at certain positions. Sometimes a young player hasn't made the progress they had hoped and they now prefer a steady veteran. Other times a last minute injury can open up a hole.
When that happens, teams like the Cubs suddenly become popular. When I mean teams "like the Cubs", I'm talking about a team who has a lot of nice, relatively inexpensive short term pieces, but are looking at the long term picture. The Cubs have several of those kinds of players with Marlon Byrd and Randy Wells standing out. Although you can't rule out a bigger trade such as Matt Garza, I find that to be less likely at this point.
Not only do the Cubs have short term pieces, they have less expensive versions ready to step in and play in those spots. What Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have quietly done is build up some depth behind the very players they might most reasonably trade. Here is what I mean...
- Marlon Byrd: The Cubs have Brett Jackson to take his place in the very near future, although they could start with Joe Mather and/or Reed Johnson in CF if they feel they want to give Jackson a few more swings in Iowa, where he hasn't played a full season.
- Randy Wells: The Cubs made building starting rotation depth a priority from day one. Assuming Chris Volstad and Jeff Samardzija have won the last two spots, Wells is starting pitching depth along with Travis Wood, Casey Coleman, and Rodrigo Lopez.
- Jeff Baker: The obvious replacement is Joe Mather. He is another RH batter who can play the 4 corners, just as Baker does. Baker has the advantage that he can also play 2B while Mather can play CF. Baker is the better hitter but Mather may have more pop and speed.
- Blake DeWitt: The Cubs have a carbon copy, though younger and cheaper version in Adrian Cardenas. Both offensively oriented LH hitters whose primary role would be as a complement to the defensively oriented, RH hitting Darwin Barney. I also find it curious that Alfredo Amazega's playing time seems to be increasing lately. He's the one Cubs utility IF'er who can play a respectable SS. I think he's a lock for Iowa and perhaps more if the Cubs make a couple of deals.
- Geovanny Soto: The Cubs have two major league ready catchers in Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. Neither is as good as Soto, but they are cheaper and capable of putting up decent numbers between the two of them. More importantly, Soto could potentially bring back the biggest haul on this list. This one is an extreme long shot, though, as I don't think the Cubs necessarily want to go with 2 rookie signal callers as they are trying to develop potential long term starting pitching assets such as Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, and down the road, Travis Wood.
The caveat here is that the Cubs aren't playing for 2012 so that means that 1) they aren't going to make deals that won't help them long term and 2) they aren't going to dump players just to make room and put in a player they like better -- even if he's younger. That may seem like a paradox, but there is no rush to get guys like Jackson and Anthony Rizzo in the lineup this season. The Cubs would rather call them up later and delay their service time clocks a bit so they can more easily hang on to them long term, when the team will hopefully be a consistent contender. The other factor in not dumping players is that the Cubs can't affor to miss an opportunity to transfer short term assets like Byrd and Baker into long term assets such as prospects or younger, cost-controlled players.
For those reason you will hear the Cubs say they will listen but they aren't looking to make a deal. It's baseball speak for, "we'll trade these guys, but we're not giving them away. We can afford to be patient with our prospects and there's no reason to trade guys unless we get value in return."
If teams are looking to get players on the cheap because they think the Cubs just want to hurry up and play prospects, then I don't see a deal getting done until the deadline.
If teams are willing to sacrifice a little bit of long term quality in exchange for a full season of Byrd, Baker, or Wells, then the Cubs will be ready. Epstein and Hoyer have made the necessary moves to add depth and are fully prepared to make a deal before opening day if the opportunity arises.