I really wish the Cubs didn't have to do this again. Trades are fun but there is a point where you want to start moving forward. I think the Cubs feel the same way but the 13-27 start to the season has left them with little choice.
That said, I don't think we should see a repeat of two seasons ago when the Cubs acquired talent that has yet to show up in the big leagues, though we will likely see Kyle Hendricks at some point this season. We should also see Arodys Vizcaino and possibly Christian Villanueva when rosters expand.
So what should we expect?
If they can't move forward, then they can at least avoid taking another huge step back.
Think Scott Feldman deal.
The Cubs traded a rental in Scott Feldman for a pitcher who began to help them last year. And this season, Jake Arrieta become a mainstay in the rotation this year and probably for years to come. They also got some solid immediate bullpen help in Pedro Strop.
This year I expect the Cubs to try and extract MLB ready talent in deals for both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. With Arrieta, Travis Wood, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and the young bullpen establish themselves as long term talent to build on.
Teams which fit this mold as possible trade partners are the Royals and the Mariners. As Mike mentioned the other day, LHP Danny Duffy could be a target though it would be tough to pry him lose when he is already contributing to the Royals run.
The Mariners may provide a more interesting partner in this respect because they have two quality young arms in Taijuan Walker and LHP James Paxton who cannot help the Mariners this year. Both would have been untouchable had they been healthy but injuries have make it possible for the Cubs to call and inquire on without getting an immediate hang-up. What makes it even more plausible is that Jack Zdurenciek is in Jim Hendry mode. He's on the hot seat and he needs to make a strong showing or he may not be there to reap the rewards of Walker and Paxton anyway.
Another player I'd be interested in acquiring is draft "bust" Dustin Ackley, who has had all kinds of struggles with the Mariners and has gotten progressively worse each season. Like Arrieta and Pedro Strop with the Orioles last year, the Mariners can't really count on him this year while the Cubs could provide a talented player with a fresh start, a different set of eyes to evaluate and coach him, and a new opportunity.
Think Matt Garza deal...and then some. The go big or go home scenario.
This isn't as immediate a reward as the Feldman deal but the Cubs have reaped quick contributions from Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm while getting a good long look at Mike Olt, who has struggled. The Cubs also got a future piece in CJ Edwards, who could end up in the middle of the rotation. The Cubs should get more simply because Samardzija is younger, better, has an extra year of control, and the team acquiring him will almost certainly get compensated with a first round pick.
The best candidate for this kind of deal is the Blue Jays and despite Jon Heyman's article yesterday, don't believe that talk between the two teams are dead. There is a lot of posturing going on this time of year and the Jays likely balked at the idea of giving up both Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. The Jays have tried to frame Matt Garza as a 4th starter in the past and may be trying to downplay Samardzija's value here. In effect, they could be daring the Cubs to try to get something close to that kind of value elsewhere before considering trading two of their best pitching prospects. They also don't want to escalate the bidding war. After the Sanchez/Norris rumor, the Jays did exactly what they should have done -- and that is leak to the media that they will not make such a deal. Anything less implies that the Jays are willing to consider that deal and potentially ups the price for Samardzija as other teams scramble to match or beat that offer.
Yet, the Cubs don't have much to lose by waiting even in the unlikely event that no other team antes up because the Matt Garza deal last year showed the Cubs can wait until the last year of a deal and still get the kind of quality the Jays are likely offering right now. The Jays will likely not gain much by trying to call the Cubs bluff so don't expect the Cubs to deal with them unless Theo Epstein and company get what they are asking for -- or at least something very close to it.
As far as other options go, even if the Royals choose not to deal Duffy, there are still options with a still very strong Royals system. We know the Cubs have liked Zimmer since they scouted him heavily before the 2012 draft and with an injury that doesn't directly affect his arm, the Cubs would like to get a potential TOR arm like that in their system with an acceptable amount of risk. The Royals have quickly rebuilt a solid crop of prospects, so I expect the Cubs to net a pretty nice package of prospects if they deal with the Royals.
The same goes for the Mariners, who have some some pitching prospect depth behind the injured arms we mentioned.
In the end, I expect the Cubs to get good MLB ready talent back for Samardzija and Hammel, but if they don't MLB ready talent, the Cubs will get high ceiling talent with acceptable risk. I do not expect them to have to settle for high risk, low level prospects -- that would be a big step backward.
And the Cubs will not take a big step backward this July.
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