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Improving Cubs should start thinking of adding wins in 2014, not just value

Improving Cubs should start thinking of adding wins in 2014, not just value

I  understand the concept of flipping players. You have a short term guy and you exchange him for a long term asset. When you're rebuilding, it's part of the process. If you don't think you can win now -- that is, if the probability of winning for this year becomes so low that you decide it's better to obtain value to give you a better chance in future seasons, then you flip players who won't be around in the next year or two.

But I think the idea of flipping players sometimes gets out of hand.  It seems that as soon as a Cubs player does well, the first question asked is, "What prospects can we get for him?"  Even if this is a player who is signed for the next few years and is already a productive player.  This isn't Montreal or Tampa. Yes, you want value. And no, you don't want to max out your credit card the way the Angels and Dodgers have either.

But shouldn't there be a happy medium? Shouldn't there come a point where wins become more important than surplus financial value?

The two things go hand-in-hand, of course. You have to be reasonable about what you pay for players. You decide who is easily replaceable and who isn't.  Whenever possible, you try to extract surplus value for those players who are more easily replaced.

But what do you do with surplus value then? Well, if you're Tampa, you celebrate another year of not going under or moving to another city. You take pride in being able to compete with the big boys with less resources. But when you operate that way, you are operating at a disadvantage. You need to constantly sell off and replace resources while you're competitors can not only retain assets, but they can build on them. The small market team re-shuffles the deck while big market teams can discard what they don't need and just get more cards to play with.

So if you're a big market then surplus value should mean something different. It means you have more money to spend in other areas of need -- and yes, sometimes spending means overspending.

We used the example of Travis Wood recently. If the Cubs were Tampa, they'd have to start to think about trading him and then finding someone to replace him. While Wood is not on the same level, we've seen Tampa do this with Matt Garza (and they have yet to reap the on-the-field benefits from that deal) and most recently James Shields.

But the Cubs are not Tampa. They can afford to keep guys like Garza and Wood.  Neither are  so valuable that you'd pay him what they'd make on the open market -- there's no point there. But if you can keep either player at a deal that provides value -- even if it's not max value, you do it.  Why? Because you can.

And because you want to win. You want to continue to build at some point rather than constantly tearing down and rebuilding.  You can trade Matt Garza as a rental and probably get something similar to what the Cubs got for Ryan Dempster or Paul Maholm.  You can trade Wood and get yourself another potential Travis Wood.  And if that ends up happening, some will still claim victory because you get the same player, only younger and cheaper.  If all goes according to plan, you get surplus value.

But things don't always go according to plan and even if they do, surplus value doesn't help you win games.  Not by itself.  Surplus value should be a resource or tool you can use to keep improving your team -- even when it means that improvement cuts into that surplus.  Operating a team with surplus value is not the end goal, it is a means to an end.  You may win a lot of respect by winning 90 games and just missing the playoffs or bowing out of the first round with an uber-efficient $100M payroll. But wouldn't you rather have those extra 5-6 wins -- even if those extra wins costs you something well above market value?

Let's say you keep Garza and Wood.  You then go into next season with a complete rotation of Garza, Wood, Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, and whomever wins the 5th starting job -- maybe another pitcher to re-sign in Scott Baker if he'll sign an incentive laden deal.  Or perhaps you'll have Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray ready to step in midseason.  You then have a competitive staff for 2014 and something to build your team around for 2015

The Cubs will still have some trade bait.  There's Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva.  David DeJesus is another possibility.  The focus should be to get players who can help as soon as next year.  Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are also trade chips, though neither are expected to bring back much in return.  In the case of Soriano, it may not be worth it to deal him.

You can then turn your attention to improving the position player situation.  You have Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo as mainstays with Darwin Barney and Welington Castillo also likely to retain their starting jobs.

Some of you may ask why make these changes now?  Why not wait?  The reason is you just don't know when you'll get that opportunity to win.   There is no such thing as waiting for exactly the right moment and flipping the switch.  There is a lot of information out there -- but nothing quite that precise.  So the answer is this:  You get talent when you can.  You get it when the opportunity presents itself because it may not be as easily available to you later.

So how and where do the Cubs get that talent?

When it comes to trade and free agency, the Cubs can focus specifically on the the OF, 3B, and the bullpen.

The dream trade scenario is Giancarlo Stanton but that is likely out of reach. The  OF free agent crop has a couple of players who may fit in Sin-Shoo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury.

A veteran like Chase Headley would fit if the price were right.  If not,  maybe you take a chance and try to buy low on a struggling Mike Olt or Lonnie Chisenhall.  If the latter is the case, then you use that saved money and invest it somewhere else --  perhaps in a second outfielder instead of just one.

When it comes to the bullpen, you don't want to spend to much but perhaps you can get some bargains in free agency.  It's also possible you can get these kind of arms at the trade deadline.  Perhaps a prospect like Arodys Vizcaino can fill the void.  We've seen how the Rangers have used top pitching prospects in the bullpen because of their strong rotation, the Cubs could do the same.  That is yet another reason to have that starting rotation set.

Not that the Cubs should go on a wild spending spree, but the Cubs may have to overpay to get a much needed player or two, but it may be necessary to take that next step.  Patrick Mooney of CSN wrote a while back that the Cubs will soon need to "sign their Jayson Werth", referring to the Nationals big signing that helped add a veteran piece to their budding young core.

Was that value?  Maybe not in the strict economic sense.  But if it helps you get those extra wins to get the Cubs in a better position to win a title, then I think most of us would say that it's worth it.

Filed under: Rebuilding

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  • I take it that Olt's early performance has been disappointing. Perhaps he'll turn it around but if not, then I think we place this non-trade as an act of grace.

  • In reply to Good Captain:

    He's hitting .139 with a 40% strikeout rate. He makes Brett Jackson look like Pete Rose right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Olt has eye issues , looking to get the eyes fixed right now, it is a vision problem not a talent problem .

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    In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Bolt hasn't recorded any stats since April 25th, if I'm not mistaken. So, while its true he started off struggling mightily, the stat is somewhat misleading.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    He's been out with a vision problem, which could be the cause. Problem is they are unable to diagnose why he has vision problems, so the issue remains unsovled.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Those are rate stats, not totals, so they aren't misleading because he hasn't played since then.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    They're still plenty misleading. Rizzo started off awful and just a handful of good games brought his average up pretty quick.

    If they had fixed his vision quickly, maybe his average comes up, maybe not.

    But to say he "IS" batting .139 when he hasn't swung at a pitch for over three weeks is fundamentally misleading.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    He IS hitting .139, is he not? We can't say he WAS hitting .139. And you can say short sample size, I'll buy that. But we're talking about rates, not accumulating totals (i.e., he's only hit 1 HR all season)

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Strikeouts have always been a problem for Olt, though not at this rate.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And the great Wil Myers is striking out at about a 32% clip. Seems to be a trend here.

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    In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    That one is looking like one of those magical trades that hurts both teams.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I am not sure it hurts KC. Shields has been very good for them so far this year and if he can lead them to the playoffs, it will be worth it for them.

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    In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    They're fading fast. The problem with the trade was this: it forces them into a win now scenario, since there is next to no chance Sheilds re-ups. If he does, the move was a good value trade for KC. The issue isn't really how good or bad Shields is for them, it's what they could have gotten for Myers. If, for example, they passed up on making a deal for Giancarlo Stanton with Myers, it hurts them long term. Or something along the lines of the Cubs Cashner-for-Rizzo flip. They were a young team that was likely to have some rough spots -- the offense, in their case. In my opinion -- assuming the move was made because they knew Myers contact problem was going to hurt them -- they should have focused on adding another player who could have spent time on the team, and further opened the window -- instead of forcing them into a 2 year time period, with young players who are nowhere near their prime. At this point, they're kind of stuck. They're all in on this 2-year period, so they need to seriously consider moving Zimmer, Ventura, and their competitive balance pick to bolster this team.

    Again, if they can sign Shields long term, this is all wrong and it was a good trade for them.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    OR they can admit the mistake and trade Shields at the deadline -- but there is little chance they get as much value as they gave up.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Some concern with him as well.

  • Is Olt really hitting .139???? Man this board was so hot and heavy for him. He ain't no Christian Villanueva, I'll tell you that.

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    In reply to felzz:

    The irony goes even deeper. Every major third base prospect the Cubs have been realistically connected with over the last 18 months -- Castellanos, Chisenhall, Olt -- is struggling this season. Might it be that the breaks are finally going our way?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Dodged some bullets. Castellanos is okay, though. He's young for AAA -- but yeah, nothing special either.

  • John, do you see Theo looking for any veteran salary dumps like LAD and TOR did this past offseason? It hasn't worked out that well in aggregate so far but Crawford, for example, looks like a bright spot.

    The point is they profess to be open to all avenues to improve the club and , if done right, this could be a part of that process.Getting quality vets without giving up much young talent and/or money back in the deal could help speed up the process , without tying their hands long-term.

    As I mentioned before, what about someone like Cliff Lee, for example?

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I think that's a possibility but I see it more likely that they'd pick up a guy like Headley and try to negotiate a deal on their own terms.

    Maybe someone like Cliff Lee, but the Cubs don't really need pitching. I'd rather they spend that money elsewhere.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree that the Cubs do not NEED a Cliff Lee but left handed top of the rotation starters are rare. If you can acquire one with years locked in you do it. Being both buyers and sellers this season could actually speed up the rebuild process to a point of being in contention next year like Arizona did a few years ago.

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    I just don't understand the rush.

    At this point, adding veterans that don't fix long term problems will just serve to make us mediocre.

    Even Theo has stated there's no honor in winning a few more games if you can't compete.

    So what if we extend Garza and he continues to be injured? Then we have a fairly high-price between that can't contribute and can't be traded. Furthermore, we continue to lack young talent in a big, big way.

    I absolutely don't understand this sentiment that we ate even remotely close to contending.

    We have literally no talent in AAA. We have a trio of players in AA that could be really nice players but realistically are probably not starters on a WS roster.

    And while I'm certainly still extremely high in Baez and Solver, neither appears to be ready to rush through their minor league assignments in route to the majors. Almora has yet to have an at-bat, and Vogelbach isn't moving as fast as I had predicted.

    There is no talent knocking on the door of the show and this team has way more holes than the kool-aid drinkers would care to admit.

    Sorry, but I disagree.

    Stay the course.
    Add young talent, draft smart, don't blink on the temptation to sacrifice long term strength for short-term wins that will not win us a WS.

    We just resigned Rizzo and we want to sign Shark.

    We're not talking about trading a Kershaw for prospects. Garza isn't a #1. He's not even a #2 on a great roster. He's not shown any ability to be healthy or rehab fast and he is not cost controlled. There is no reason to consider him too valuable to trade. There is no evidence to suggest that trading him equates to playing small market ball. The same goes for Feldman, Baker, Villanueva, Barney, or Schierholtz.

    Wood I can agree with. Right age. Right price. Right value.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I explained why. You get talent when you can. The idea that you can just lose for a few years and just flip a switch and start building your team for the present is myth. It is just not practical You build along the way and add pieces when you can. I can assure you the front office thinks the same way. They neither want to keep losing, nor do they have a start date marked on their calendar when they'll suddenly start adding present talent.

    And it's not that Garza is too valuable to trade, it's that barring a desperate team, you're not going to get enough in return to make it worth more than extending him and keeping him at a reasonable extension will provide more value than the prospects he is likely to bring back.

    You just cannot put building your team on hold to wait for A ball prospects to come up and save your franchise. You have to build from every angle, you keep adding talent, and you don't bet on just drafts and prospects to save you -- they're part of the equation, a big part, but not big enough to justify ignoring the MLB team.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm happy to add valuable pieces. But Garza, and really the rest if his FA class, are terrible pieces.

    I don't think we can re-sign him (important!), and I'd love to get some value out of that horrible trade while we can.

    I realize the Rays haven't struck gold with that trade but
    Archer would easily be our #1 pitching prospect and Lee still has more upside and potential than any player we have in AA or AAA.

    2015 has quite a few players that could bring very good value.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I have to agree with about 90% of what you warite Giffmo.

    Especially the 'don't blink' part of the senitment.

    The Cubs are what most of us thought so far this year - good starting pitching, decent defense (most days), and an improved - but still erratic - bullpen, with an occasionally absent offense.

    I still think that this team has several steps to go before being a legit contender. I like Valbuena - but he is not a long term answer at 3B. The OF has been adequate defensively, but none of the guys who play regularly in the OF are long-term answers,.... except maybe Schierholtz. The Bullpen is still patched together and wavier-wire constructed.

    But for pete's sake,... don't overspend this next winter. Give Baez, Almora, Soler, Watkins, and others another year to get things figured out. Maybe Jackson will prove better than he has so far,....

    Draft shrewdly,.... develop what you've got in hand in the minors,.... screen the waiver wires for neglected talent,.... and build the system up.

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    I agree, John. I do think Garza is going to be traded, though, because his demands will not match what the Cubs feel safe offering. But in the ideal world he adds more value himself than anything we get in trade.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It's probably early, considering he hasn't pitched in an ML game yet, but wouldn't BOS be a great spot for Garza? Assuming they hang in there, they have a nice cache of prospects( Owens, Barnes, Britton, et al).

    For the sake of discussion, if Garza returns to his usual form-nothing more and nothing less-what type of return does he fetch? Is the mkt going to be one that allows us to drive more favorable terms?

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    In reply to Carl9730:

    A lot of ifs, but if Garza returns to form and if Garza is on the market, the ineffectiveness of and injury to David Price make Garza the best pitcher on the market. With a lot of teams needing a pitcher, that increases the likelihood that one of them will do something desperate and overpay.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If that's the case then I trade him. What I'm saying with Garza -- or with Wood, for that matter, is you do it if it makes sense and gives you value. By no means am I saying sign him at all costs.

    And if someone is going to give you a big time prospect then maybe you do it then too, but I doubt that's going to happen because there is such little cost control and still too much uncertainty.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    You make a good point Mike, but I wonder how that equation changes if the Cubs think it worthwhile to make a qualifying offer. Losing a draft pick plus lingering health concerns (even if he finishes well and healthy IMO) may reduce buyer interest and reshape his current salary demands.

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    In reply to Good Captain:

    He's the best pitcher on the market -- by a pretty substantial amount -- so he just needs one team to be willing to all Josh Hamilton on him and he wins. The Dodgers seem a likely partner. If that happens -- and the Cubs turn down more than they can get with a late first round pick for him -- we lose. The best case scenario is he accepts the deal -- and clearly that could happen. But you have to turn down a sure thing trade to play chicken with him.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Another good point, thanks!

  • I don't think it is about Garza being too valuable to trade. It's relative. The return for a pitcher like Garza may bring in less value to this team then extending him for the right price. For me it is one of the most exciting puzzles for this organization moving forward. Unfortunately for us, we may never have all the piece to the puzzle when all is said and done. It will be up to Theo and Jed to determine which senario better suits this team going forward.

  • In reply to lglqbar:

    Exactly what I'm trying to say.

  • My feeling on whether to trade Garza is that it depends on what Garza considers a reasonable multi-year extension. The club could approach his agent to determine this.

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    On the subject of prospects: Soler is currently 6 for 6 with a home run in a double-header. I think he needs to start looking at apartments in the Knoxville area.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Soler probably has to be considered the Cubs top prospect at this point.

    My brother in law lives in Knoxville, a promotion there for him would suit me just fine. We're due for a visit, anyway! Plus you can see on Soler on MiLB.TV.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I've been saving the trip out for the inevitable promotion. Agree on Soler as top prospect. Baez is in every real danger of falling behind Almora if he returns strong.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Also should mention that Maples easily got the best of Byron Buxton twice. Struck him out 2nd time and came very close the first time, think Buxton had to foul off a couple of pitches before grounding out.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Christian Villaneuva having another good game: 3-for-3 with 2 doubles. Nice to see him make the adjustment to AA pitching.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Yes, hope he keeps it going. Cubs may need him in a couple of years.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    He is heating up....this is a good thing. He was kind of unlucky to start the season.

    He's probably our top 3B prospect now

  • Very much agree with the post here. We have to avail ourselves of our advantages as a big market team, and one of those is signing free agents who over 28 years old. Listen, if Garza's right arm falls off the day after he re-ups with the Cubs, then that's a problem for the Ricketts family, not for the franchise. Clearly, rebuilding this franchise isn't mainly about signing free agents, but neither is mainly about developing a farm system, because we know how few hot prospects become good major leaguers. You have to try everything -- homegrown prospects, trades and free agents. Mix and match until you've got a winning formula.

    The most encouraging thing to me is that since Epstein and Hoyer took over, it seems like our big league club is better at scouting opponents, and it seems like the kids on the farm are adapting with a better approach at the plate. If the scouting dept is in good shape, then it's just a matter of time before this team turns the corner.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Agreed Taft. You need to balance all needs of the organization -- and you have to use all the resources at your disposal.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Your acting like a long term deal for Garza won't impact the franchise, just the Ricketts'. It absolutely will impact the franchise, the future spending, the future quality of the team, etc. It's not like Tom Ricketts' is going to say,"Damn, my fault, since that's my problem, here's another $16M a year in salary to play with."

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    You're, not your.*

  • In reply to Taft:

    I just do not see the advantage of signing Garza. This is obviously looking far down the line, but Matt is not the guy you want pitching game 1 of a playoff series. I put Jackson and Garza on the same level and that is why I felt signing of Edwin made Garza expendable.

    I want to ask you what do you think is the best and worst case scenario for prospects. I know it is hard enough to predict the Cub's moves but what is the most that we can reasonably expect for Soriano, DeJesus, Garza, Feldman, Schierholtz, Gregg and Marmol if they were to be traded at the deadline this year. Could we get top 50 prospects for these guys?

    Thanks a lot you are the best.

  • There is fine balance as what is best for the future and the now.
    Trade them if the right offer comes along.

  • I'm fine with pushing the envelope a little bit and signing some guys to build up some semblance of winning, but I personally don't want to have "our Jayson Werth". We already have him -- his name is Alfonso Soriano. The money isn't what bothers me there; it's more the length of the contract. If we can stay away from overly long contracts, I'm good. I think an overpay in terms of dollars but not years is much more palatable than a contract that runs too long.

    I think in a sense that Theo could have written the article that John did here, and I think he did exactly what John mentioned by going after Sanchez and then Jackson. He paid a bunch of money (maybe a slight overpay offer, at least with Sanchez) for a guy who's sort of not a fit right now, but for a still relatively young player who provides a tangible value now and in the future to the team and fits the profile of what they're looking for in a player (in this case, consistency and innings). I'm more than fine with adding smart pieces to the puzzle for a little bit above market price.

    My concern is that it seems as if the pieces are getting worse and worse over the years. Is there really anyone you're entirely comfortable with overpaying this offseason? Maybe Cano, but someone else will overpay more than the Cubs. Ellsbury? Too scary. The only guy off the top of my head who I'm comfortable with going after is Choo. Maybe 3 years at between $35 - $45 million.

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    Agree with everything you said.

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    Jackson and Vitters both had nice games tonight. I am not ready to write either of them off as "no one in AAA". Jackson's K totals seem to be moving in the right direction after a pretty lousy start. Vitters is more of a question, but seems to be finding it after coming back from the injury.

  • In reply to Crash Davis:

    K rate is down to 26%. Not too bad and like you said, it's trending in the right direction. Hope he keeps this up and starts bringing back some of that power.

  • I believe Choo is the perfect fit. And at 5x15, he is worth every penny. He'll cost at least that much.

    The Stanton thing is debatable. I don't think we should give up Soler, but I would throw everything else we have at the Marlins.

    We see what this team can do. It comes down to offense now. I think we have the pitching to compete, amazingly. 2014 can easily be the year when success begins to reign at Wrigley.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    Agree with him being the perfect fit. But I wouldn't touch him at 5x15. That takes him up until he's 35. If he was the missing piece this year, then maybe. But he'll start breaking down before the Cubs' prime contending years.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    Agreed - I like Choo,.... my only question mark is his injury history. But when he is healthy he is a fine and not overpriced corner OF or maybe CF as a less idea fit.

    Power, average, some speed, won't hurt you defensively and can take a pitch.

  • Hoooooray! Thank you John for backing me up on what I've been preaching brother.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Ha! There has to be some balance. I think we're all for rebuilding and in my heart I'm always about getting good value -- but, like you, I think the Cubs need to start adding the pieces they need to compete and sometimes it's costly. I think they'll compete next year if they add a couple of good pieces.

  • The Cubs are improving lately right? I'm not just imagining it? It's not just wishful thinking? I don't watch every game, maybe one full game a week and then pop in on games on radio or TV throughout and of course follow the adventures on Twitter. They aren't beating themselves any more it seems. If they lose it's because the other team had to find a way to get a hit, not get a hit and then the run scores because of a throwing error.

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    I don't think you are imagining it. Although - if the bullpen had been even league average in April the Cubs could quite easily be about a 0.500 team right now.

    BTW - Feldman looked good again today. But still - the Cubs can't buy a shutout.

    But hey - a win is a win.

  • john i 100% agree with you. just because your getting what is to be perceived as surplus value in a trade, doesnt mean that its going to end up becoming surplus value.

    with that being said, i still strongly believe that the cubs should trade matt garza at the deadline if he is pitching like the guy that we all know he can be. the cubs are in a unique position, in that they can trade a guy like garza, recoup value for him and still have an excellent chance at resigning him this offseason.

    if im theo/jed i trade him for prospects, sign travis wood and jeff samardzija to extensions this offseason and decide wether i want to resign garza, or go after a different arm in phil hughes or masahiro tanaka. while garza has the more proven track record, the other 2 pitchers are younger (26 and 24 respectively) and will be in their prime years during the cubs projected window (2015-19).

  • I think the overall point of this article is strong. The Cubs are not the Rays and I'm happy you reminded me of this. But I think are saying you're still saying the players are assets and the Cubs need to maximize the value of the assets they have (just like the Rays). The difference is the Cubs have a bigger budget and therefore more flexibility to sign there good players to "value" contracts (a discounted rate to the open market, or a rate where it makes sense to keep them). So they're not locked in, like the Rays, to get value by flipping good players.

    I agree with what you're saying, but mostly because it's not all that controversial. The whole thing is sort of begging the question. You would sign any of our good players if we can get them at a discounted (value) rate. This would be your preference, but you would also trade them if someone wants to massively overpay. But can we sign these guys at discounted rates? What would be a discounted rate? Or even, what would be a marginal overpay? Where's the cut off? When does it make sense to wait and see on Travis Wood. When does it make sense to let him go year to year for the next 3 years. What kind of value, discounted rate do we need to offset the risk of injury or reduced velocity/effectiveness.

    Another way to look at value, or the benefits of of being a big market team is mitigating risk. Since the Cubs have a bigger budget than most teams they can afford to pay their players more. For pitchers they might be better off letting them go through arbitration collecting more money, but proving they can stay healthy and effective. It might cost more, but lower risk.

    Garza is a little more interesting, since the decision point is closer and his value has changed recently. But, again, effectively you're taking the position that if we can't get a worthwhile package of prospects and if Garza will sign for under market value, then we should sign him. Well, sure. But are we certain they can't get a good package? Are we certain he'll sign below market? What would that contract look like? I.e., how many years would you go on Garza? What kind of money?

  • Not sure where Feldman came from but I woudn't be to quick to trade him for prospects. Isn't young pitching, quality pitching and an innings eater what ALL teams want? Pitching is the name of the game and if you know what you have with Feldman, why give him away for more prospects?

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