Yesterday we talked about some borderline trade candidates in Nate Schierholtz, Matt Garza, and Carlos Villanueva. Borderline because they are still in their prime years (each is 29), but all are on short-term deals. They present value to the team now, but it's a tougher question as to whether they can provide it after a contract extension. Each player fits the organizational profile and each is young enough to contribute for the next few years.
Yet each of the aforementioned players' trade value is questionable as well, partly because of the lack of cost control but other factors such as durability come into play with the pitchers. With Schierholtz, the question is more to whether he is anything more than a role player.
The next 3 players don't have the same issues. They are all cost-controlled, all in the onset of their prime years, and all have regular roles.
Arb Eligible: 2014
Free Agent Year: 2017
This is a tough call given Barney's age and low cost. He's also a stabilizing influence on the infield defense. Two things point to a possible motive to trade Barney. One is that he figures to get expensive into his arb years -- not terribly expensive, but enough to where you begin to wonder if he's not replaceable with a lower cost and similarly productive Logan Watkins -- or perhaps, down the line, a potentially dynamic offensive player in Arismendy Alcantara. It would also depend on how much Barney can bring back, given his defensive value. His defense makes him a league average 2B despite the lack of offense and he's definitely not a guy the Cubs will be in a hurry to trade, nor should they be. But if a team looking for a low cost defensive-oriented middle infielder comes calling, the Cubs have to listen.
Arb Eligible: 2014
Free Agent Year: 2017
Wood is roughly the same age and on the same schedule as Darwin Barney. He's a rare commodity in that he's a LH starting pitcher who is pitching well and just entering his prime years. All of that makes him valuable and the only thing that holds him back, perhaps, is his ceiling, which is that of a 4th starter. At his salary and level of production he provides huge value both in the short term and in the long term as Wood has yet to enter his prime seasons. The question with Wood, as with Barney, is whether he presents value once he starts getting raises through arbitration. I think he does. He's an athletic pitcher who should remain productive through his peak years. He's younger than Chris Rusin and just 2-3 years older than Brooks Raley and Eric Jokisch, the pitchers who would be in-house replacements. I think all of those pitchers have potential but I don't think any of them has a ceiling as high as Wood -- and , of course, Wood is already a productive MLB pitcher, so the floor is also much higher. I also like that he helps himself with the glove, bat, and even his legs. He's an ideal NL pitcher. To me, if Wood continues to be pitch well this season, the Cubs should look to extend him and buy out a year or two of free agency. I don't think pitchers like him will be easy to replace through trade or free agency without paying a significant price.
Arb Eligible 2014
Free Agent Year: 2016
There are similarities with Russell and Wood with the obvious difference that Wood is a starter and Russell is a non-closing reliever. Russell is also a free agent a year earlier. Additionally, I think the pitchers mentioned above (Rusin, Raley, Jokisch) are more likely to replace Russell than Wood. For these reasons, I consider Russell more expendable. Yet, he has value as a young, cheap, productive LH reliever. It isn't difficult to imagine teams inquiring on Russell as they assess their bullpens come playoff time. I'd consider dealing Russell but I'd first want to know if any of the Cubs in-house replacements could fill his shoes. On the other hand, we've seen how difficult it has been for the Cubs to find reliable bullpen arms -- so I'd have to swallow hard and it'd have to be a deal with the team that values him highly and is willing to pay for it.
As we've said, any player can be traded, but the Cubs have to be smart about it. They aren't equipped to constantly re-load players, even non-core players. They have to factor in long term value, organizational depth, and what each player can bring back in a trade. Trading these 3 players would be difficult because they provide great value when you look at their salary relative to their production. Remember, the Cubs are in the business to acquire productive cost-controlled players, not trade them away, so they would have to get a lot of value back in return to even consider moving them.