Yesterday I speculated that Jed Hoyer was talking about Justin Upton when he spoke of acquiring a position player “with a contract similar to (Edwin Jackson)”. I didn’t have the exact words or context, so I went with the information available. Later that night, I came to understand that Hoyer was speaking more hypothetically, and not really even about this year.
There are some who consider Upton a budding superstar while others don’t seem to want to touch him with a 10 foot pole. As for me, I consider him a very talented player, but the Diamondbacks strong desire to trade him the last two years raises a red flag for me. If the Cubs were going to deal for him, I would try to buy low. None of their core MLB’ers (Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija) and none of their top 3 prospects (Baez, Almora, Soler) should be on the table. If that’s not enough, then so be it. To be honest, it wouldn’t disappoint me if the Cubs went in a different direction.
That different direction should be Mike Olt.
The Rangers just added Lance Berkman to help replace Josh Hamilton’s bat while prospect Leonys Martin is ready to take his spot defensively in CF. The Rangers now have a solid to great player at each position. Their biggest question mark, the unproven Martin in CF, is ably backed up by Craig Gentry, an excellent 4th outfielder who could start for many teams in CF, including the Cubs. And we still haven’t gotten to uber prospect Jurickson Profar, who’s MLB ready as well. Olt, meanwhile, is trapped by perhaps the best 3B in the game in Adrian Beltre.
Olt fits the Cubs from a timetable standpoint as well as a skill set standpoint. He’s a cost-controlled prospect who should be in his peak years as the Cubs finishing building their foundation and become the kind of organization that competes year in and year out.
As far as skills go, he’s athletic. He’s a grinder at the plate who works the count. He plays good defense. And he hits for power. He’s the prototype of what the Cubs are looking for in their core players.
Now Olt isn’t perfect and probably won’t be a superstar. He does struggle to make contact at times. He’ll strike out and he probably isn’t going to hit .300. But a .270-.280 hitter with an OBP of .350 or better and 25 HRs is within the realm of possibility. Couple those numbers with good defense and you have yourself a pretty good player at a position that is getting increasingly difficult to fill.
The next question then becomes what the Cubs should trade. Well, I don't like bringing him into the equation because he's been a good pitcher and a good teammate in his time in Chicago, we know Texas has shown repeated interest in Cubs top starter Matt Garza. Until he signs an extension, he's the Cubs best trade bait that doesn't hurt the team beyond 2013. Texas has 3 good starters in Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison. After that they plan to re-convert Alex Ogando to a starter and try the unproven Martin Perez in the 5th slot. Ogando wore down late in the season as a starter. Does Texas need to fortify that rotation? Considering the competition is the defending champion A’s and an 89 win Angels team that added Josh Hamilton, my opinion is that they should.
Adding to the intrigue is that the Angels have some questions in their rotation after losing Zach Greinke and Dan Haren. They’re also a candidate to pursue Garza at some point. Perhaps the Rangers will be persuaded to part with Olt, not just to improve their own rotation, but to prevent the Angels from improving theirs.
I don’t think it’d be a straight up Garza for Olt deal. There is an imbalance on both sides. Garza only has one year of cost control and Olt has 6, though that cost-control is a little less important to the win-now Rangers. What’s also important, assuming Garza is healthy, is that Texas will get a proven starter with a track record of success in the AL. What they lose in cost control, they gain back to some degree in certainty of performance, something that has higher value for a team in the Rangers’ situation.
Remember that the Cubs were on the brink of obtaining Olt and LHP Martin Perez for Garza before his injury. The injury to Garza plus 2 months less of cost control (since time of reported near-deal) has lessened his value somewhat since then. However, if he proves healthy to the Rangers' satisfaction this spring, it may be advantageous to pick him up before the season starts, thus giving the team a potential comp pick if he leaves.
As usual, I’m not going to create a specific package, though I’ll say that I wouldn’t go as far as including any of the core Cubs players or top 4 prospects in a potential deal. I’ll leave the rest to you.