One of the underrated aspects of being a GM is understanding the talent on your own team. That goes for the big league team and the minor league system. After the 2010 season, a season in which the Cubs finished 73-89 and were now 2 years removed from their last playoff appearance, Jim Hendry was in a position where he had to answer two questions: Is my team talented enough to contend in 2011? And, if the answer is yes, 2) Wh0 can I afford to give up?
The correct answer for question number 1 was no. So normally the 2nd question becomes academic. But Hendry either misjudged and felt his team was good enough to contend or was starting to feel the pressures of job security. So he decided to make a high risk deal in an attempt to make the playoffs and perhaps save his job. It accomplished neither.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Cubs new front office is in a position where they need to try and salvage value from Matt Garza, the principle piece coming to the Cubs in that deal. This Matt Garza is better in terms of results than the Matt Garza the Cubs acquired. He had starting fulfilling some of the expectations scouts had of him as a prospect. He also allayed some concerns about his fiery nature. Garza managed to keep it together as a Cub and became known as a relentlessly energetic presence but also a good guy and good teammate. That was the good news. The bad news is that the clock was ticking and Garza had lost nearly all of the cost control that gave him so much value as Tampa Bay's main train commodity. Exacerbating the situation was that the Cubs were unable to deal him earlier because of an unfortunately timed injury. Thankfully, Garza was able to return for 2013, his final year before free agency. It also helped that he pitched very well and showed some of the good stuff that made him so coveted three years ago.
The Cubs were able to trade him to Texas for a haul of prospects that most considered a great deal by the Cubs under the circumstances. There is no question that based on where the Cubs are right now, they won this deal. They received 4 prospects in return for 2 months of Matt Garza. There is also little question that, while Garza outperformed every player the Cubs traded back in 2010, the deal was ill-advised given the timing. In hindsight, the Cubs would have been better off in the long term had they not made that deal with Tampa.
But the question to ask now is this:
Were the Cubs able to salvage value for Matt Garza?
Here's a recap of what the Cubs lost and what they gained by dealing Garza:
What they lost:
- Chris Archer, RHP
- Hak-Ju Lee, SS
- Sam Fuld, OF
- Robinson Chirinos, C
- Brandon Guyer, OF
What they gained:
- C.J. Edwards, RHP
- Mike Olt, 3B
- Justin Grimm, RHP
- Neil Ramirez, RHP
- Zac Rosscup, LHP (from original deal)
It's an even 5 for 5 in terms of numbers but an interesting exchange of talent. The original Garza deal was almost 3 years ago, so we have the benefit of some hindsight with some of the prospects in that package.
The major piece at the time of the deal was then #1 prospect Chris Archer. He remains the focus of the deal and as of today is easily the best player in the group. Archer is 9-7 with a 3.03 ERA. If you look deeper into stats, he hasn't been quite as good as those numbers. He's been pretty lucky with BABIP (.242) and strand rate (80%). He also hasn't missed as many bats as you would think from a pitcher with his stuff (6.5 Ks/9IP, 17.9% K rate). His FIP is more than a full point higher at 4.14. Still, given his age (turns 25 in about a week) and raw stuff, you'd have to be pleased and optimistic about his future if you're a Rays fan.
Lee is another top 100 prospect in large part to his excellent defensive skills and ability on the bases. He's an average hitter with a solid approach and not much pop on offense, but given his glove at SS, it would easily make him around a league average SS overall. Lee hit .261/.336/.360 in AA as a 21 year old. He then got off to a nice start in AAA before a gruesome collison left Lee writhing on the ground and out for the season with a knee injury. It's fair to question how much that injury will affect his speed on the bases and range on the field, and if it does, it would take away from two of his best assets as a ballplayer. The Rays are hopeful he can return to full strength next season. From the Cubs point of view, they have 3 talented players, all 23 and under, capable of playing SS at the big league level in Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and Arismendy Alcantara. It doesn't affect the loss in value, but it's a loss the Cubs should be able to absorb even if Lee returns to his previous level of play and potential.
Fuld got off to a nice start with the Rays, making some very visible, ESPN worthy catches that made him a constant early reminder of what the Cubs gave up. Since then he has played more to the level of his original expectations, which is a 5th OF"er/replacement level type player. With all due respect to Fuld, the Cubs should be able to replace his value from within their system or off the waiver wire.
The part of the deal that proves the Rays team of scouts and statisticians are not infallible. The Cubs had Chirinos and Welington Castillo rated fairly equally at the time, but the Rays insisted on the more disciplined Chirinos. He has since been released and is now with the Texas Rangers. Phew. This could have been a lot worse.
Guyer is another 4th/5th OF'er type but he appears to be more of a AAAA player, often succeeding in AAA but struggling at the MLB level. Guyer spent his age 27 season in AAA this year. The Cubs have plenty of extra outfielder types in their system. Again, with all due respect, the Cubs can easily replace this type of player from within their system.
As the most physically gifted player in the deal, the tempting comparison is with Chris Archer. Like Archer as a prospect, there are some doubts as to whether Edwards can remain a starter. Archer's issues centered around command and a 3rd pitch. Edwards questions center around his build and how it affects his durability. Still, Edwards has been more dominant than Archer was at any point in his minor league career, going 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA (1.78 FIP) in Class A and then posting a 1.96 ERA (1.81 FIP) in advanced A ball with the Cubs. His strikeout rates have been outstanding. He struck out 32.4% of batters at A ball (11.76/9 IP) and then increased that to 36.3% in Daytona (12.91/9 IP). But while Edwards has been dominant, the jury is still out on him as a starter at the MLB level. There are no such questions with Archer at this point.
The tempting comparison here is with Lee as the top rated position player prospect in the deal and again, there are similarities in that there are questions -- though the source of those questions differ. Both had injuries and while we don't know the effects of Lee's injury, we have seen the early effects of Mike Olt's vision issues. Both are talented players with the ability to provide plus defense and be at least league average at their respective positions. Olt has the chance to be the more productive offensive player, but Lee plays a more premium position.
Grimm is an underrated part of this deal. He was the Rangers 5th rated prospect per Baseball America heading into the season but was rushed to the majors when injuries hampered the Rangers ability to put together a full rotation. He predictably struggled, finding that MLB hitters weren't as eager to swing at his big breaking curve as minor league hitters were. Grimm gets a second chance in Chicago and he's pitched out of the bullpen late in the season and has impressed, able to hit the mid 90s with his fastball which gives him a second out pitch to go with his curve. The Cubs like him in that role and he'll get a crack at a bullpen spot next spring.
Ramirez was once the 5th rated Rangers prospect himself on the strength of a mid 90s fastball and what was considered the best curveball in the system. His star fell in 2012 as questions arose about his delivery and ability to command consistently. The encouraging thing about Ramirez here is that he adapted. He refined his change-up and it now gives him a viable alternative to his curveball. The future role is as of yet undetermined. Some like Ramirez out of the bullpen, as he can reportedly peak at 98 mph in short bursts and it'd make him less reliant on that inconsistent curve. He obviously has the pitches to start if he can harness that curve, but even if he doesn't, he can be a late inning power reliever.
The throw-in in the original Garza deal, Rosscup is the last man standing for the Cubs in that trade. Once considered a long shot, Rosscup has shot through the system since returning from a shoulder injury and what's more, he has returned with more velocity, able to sit at 92-94 mph with good deception and some late run. He also throws a good slider, but the FB alone is a weapon that generates swings and misses and an occasional broken bat. Rosscup's long term viability will depend on his ability to command his pitches. The stuff is more than good enough.
Remarkably, the Cubs were able to recoup assets in this deal and from that standpoint, you have to ecstatic at what the front office was able to accomplish. The key difference in the deal right now is Chris Archer's early MLB success and there is no guarantee that any player in the Cubs group will make a similar impact in a starting role. It's very possible, however, that the Cubs may get more long term MLB players out of these deals. At least two players are MLB players now (Grimm, Rosscup) with Olt perhaps getting an inside track for the 3B job next year. The key to evening out the deal from an impact standpoint, however, may depend on what CJ Edwards does. But the Cubs may end up with 5 MLB players out of this because of the proximity of their acquired prospects to the big leagues. Only Edwards has yet to have success at the AA level and he'll get that shot next year.
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Filed under: Analysis