You can think what you want about Ryan Dempster and why he vetoed a done deal. Whatever his reasons, it was frustrating to see the Cubs so close to getting the Braves 3rd best pitching prospect (and 3rd best overall), Randall Delgado, only to have Dempster say he was "blindsdided" by the deal, as if he's supposed to sit in on all trade negotiations and get continuous updates on what was an intense scramble to get a deal done.
Dempster knew the Cubs were going to try and trade him. He probably believed the Cubs would get a deal done with the Dodgers, his preferred destination at the time, but the Dodgers used that leverage and offered the Cubs pennies on the dollar in return. Seeing that a deal wasn't going to get done with the Dodgers, the Cubs turned to the Braves and agreed on a deal for Delgado.
And then the soap opera really started.
The Cubs kept their cool in public after the veto but it was hard not to note their frustration. They felt they went above and beyond the protocol when it comes to keeping players informed on trade negotiations.
But looking back on it today, did the Cubs receive a blessing in disguise?
Randall Delgado hasn't been a disaster and he's still only 24, but some of the luster is off since his ascent up the Braves prospect lists and a modest, but promising debut in the majors. He's lost a tick off his fastball (averages 91-92 mph), he hasn't quite solved his command issues, and his ability to miss bats isn't quite what scouts once hoped.
He was a replacement level pitcher in 2013 and his stuff projects to a #4 or #5 starter at this point. Considering he does have 5 years of cost control, there is still some value in that, but unless he improves, it doesn't appear he's going to be an impact arm.
What the Cubs did instead was trade Paul Maholm to the Braves and were able to get Arodys Vizcaino. There were some questions about his arm and his build, which in turn led to questions about his ultimate role, but there is no doubt he has the higher ceiling and the higher floor. When asked at the time of the deal who I preferred -- Delgado or Vizcaino, I didn't hesitate. I said Vizcaino.
With his 98 mph fastball, hammer curve, solid change, and good command, Vizcaino simply has better stuff than Delgado. It's not hard to see why he has a higher ceiling. He has top of the rotation stuff even if some aren't sure he will have the durability for that role. But why the higher floor? Granted this is contingent on Vizcaino staying healthy but Vizcaino's power repertoire and solid command make many think that his floor is that of a high leverage reliever. With Delgado's average fastball and so-so command, he doesn't profile as the same type of dominant late inning bullpen arm.
We can count that as a win in terms of what the Cubs got from the Braves.
But that's not the only development. The Cubs were able to work a deal with the Rangers for Dempster, a deal he accepted after listening in on trade negotiations and learning first hand that the Dodgers were a little less than enthusiastic about acquiring him.
The Cubs weren't in a good position, it was either trade Dempster for whatever they could scrape up at the last minute or get two more months of him and lose him. It's unknown whether the Cubs would have made the qualifying offer necessary to get compensation, or whether Dempster would have accepted it (remember, he never wanted to leave Chicago), so we cannot assume the Cubs could have gotten anything for him at all.
But the Cubs did manage to get something from the Rangers and though many had not heard of Christian Villanueva or Kyle Hendricks, many scouts did. The Rangers GM Jon Daniels admitted the Cubs had done their homework and snatched a couple of their favorite sleepers.
Now if someone had asked me at the time whether I would have preferred Delgado or Villanueva/Hendricks, i probably would have said Delgado, but now I'm not so sure.
Hendricks is a couple of ticks lower on his fastball but he compensates with better command and a more cerebral approach to pitching. Despite their different styles, both project to have a similar role in the majors -- that of a 4th or 5th starter. Like Delgado, Hendricks came with a lot of cost control -- 6 years, in fact, but he wasn't as far along. Whereas Delgado had already pitched in the majors, Hendricks was still at the Class A level. It hasn't taken him long to reach AAA, however, which he did for the last 6 starts of 2013 and he is now on the brink of a major league job.
As for the other player, Villanueva, he was the more highly regarded at the time and from most people I talk to, that is still the case. With Villanueva, what the Cubs have is a plus defender at 3B with average power and average tools across the board. That projects as an everyday 3B in the big leagues and while the Cubs have since loaded up at that position with the acquisitions of Mike Olt and Kris Bryant, to go with the emergence of Jeimer Candelario, he's still a tremendous asset in the organization. Villanueva is a top 15 prospect who has made some top 10 lists -- most notably the #9 prospect on Jason Parks' list for Baseball Prospectus. Here is what Parks had to say,
Broad-shouldered with good present strength; hands are exceptional in the field; fluid actions; excellent backhand pickup; easy plus arm; can make every play in, side, or back; fast hands at the plate; shows bat speed and some power potential; very heady player with plus makeup.
Villanueva gets overlooked in a system with Baez, Bryant, and Olt, but the glove at third is the best in the entire org—and one of the best hot corner profiles in the minors—and the bat is capable of hard contact and some over-the-fence power. While he’s unlikely to hit for a high batting average, especially against quality arm-side stuff, Villanueva has fast hands and a quick bat, and he should be able to find average utility with the hit tool, which will allow his above-average raw power to play in game action. His bat isn’t going to set the world ablaze and single-handedly change the fortunes of the franchise, but he could emerge as the best overall candidate to be the Cubs third baseman of the future, with the type of makeup and work ethic to get the most of his physical gifts and the best glove in the organization. Don’t forget about Villanueva.
So maybe you're still mad at Dempster on principal alone and I'm not going to argue there. The frustration of those trade negotiations still linger -- but I'm not sure the Cubs didn't get lucky here. Though it was certainly not his motivation for turning down the Braves deal, Dempster may have done the Cubs a favor after all was said and done.
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