There has been little activity since the Cubs big trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, but that is to be expected. The two pitchers were the Cubs most valuable pieces the team had and the only two trade chips expected to bring back impact talent, which as we all know, they did.
So what's left?
Not a whole lot, and frankly, not much that separates them from what other teams have to offer. As such, I would expect any future deals to happen closer to the deadline. Samardzija and Hammel were unique commodities with significant value, so we shouldn't be surprised that a creative team like the A's pounced on them early.
But what is going to make a team jump on Justin Ruggiano over Marlon Byrd, or James Russell over Oliver Perez? Or Luis Valbuena over Ben Zobrist? I suspect that teams will wait to see where they can get the best offer.
Who will the Cubs trade? I think the better question is who should they shop and who should they merely listen on until they get an offer worth pursuing.
I'm not a big fan of trading Valbuena because I think he has more value to the team as a role player than he does as a trade chip. He is cost controlled, he's versatile, and he provides some veteran leadership and continuity on a team that has really lacked both of those things. He is an on the field example of the kind of approach the team espouses at the plate while being an asset when it comes to run prevention.
Given that the Cubs have gotten tepid interest in the past for similar players like David DeJesus and Jeff Baker, for whom the Cubs got a total of Marcelo Carreno and salary relief, I am not optimistic about the return. Yes, Valbuena has more cost control than either, but cost control didn't help the Cubs get anything for players like Nate Schierholtz and Bryan LaHair, both of whom had big first halves.
Maybe you get yourself an A ball pitcher who has a shot at being a bottom end starter or a bullpen arm, but I would like to think the Cubs have built enough depth where they don't need to trade value off the major league roster.
Is he a long term piece? No. Is he a starter on a good team? No. Does that mean the Cubs should just trade him? Of course not. Valbuena can start the season until Bryant or Baez is ready and then either move positions or move to the bench, where he can provide much needed insurance, a left-handed bat, and defensive value at 2B and 3B.
The A's could use an offensive upgrade at 2B and Valbuena fits their OBP philosophy, perhaps the teams can tweak the deal and upgrade the return on the PTBNL the Cubs are to receive from Oakland.
The Angles are looking for a left-handed bat off the bench.
Darwin Barney is a bit of a different story. His value is all in his defense and he plays on a team that badly needs offense --- and is about to get some at 2B whether it is Javier Baez or Arismendy Alcantara, both of whom should also provide good defense anyway.
Barney could hold value to a team like the Giants, who are concerned with the health of Marco Scutaro. The Orioles, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Dodgers could be in the market for a 2B.
As for what the Cubs could get back? Probably nothing much more valuable than organizational depth. roster space and small salary relief.
I think Ruggiano is a guy you prefer to keep on a team that lacks outfield depth, He has a solid approach, some pop, and can play all 3 OF positions. He is on board with the rebuild and like Valbuena, is cost controlled through the year 2016.
Another guy I think has more value to this team than what he could possibly get back in a deal.
Possibly nterested teams: Mariners, Royals, and the Reds
Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney
These two players no longer seem part of the plan. Schierholtz is in his last year of control and likely won't be retained while Ryan Sweeney is signed to a minor deal.
The Los Angeles Angels are looking for LH bats off the bench and they could be a fit here, but considering Schierholtz wasn't going to bring much back in a career year and Ryan Sweeney is one year removed from being a waiver wire pickup, it seems that both players won't fetch much as they are having offseason. Like Barney, this would be more about small salary relief and the roster spot while adding organizational depth.
I thought the Wright signing was a mistake early in the year but I was wrong. He has been the Cubs most reliable reliever and he has done two things very well: generate groundballs and hold the walks down. That in itself makes him valuable and a good fit for the team, but with 3 teams looking for LH relief and the Cubs having 2 of the top 4 trade candidates, they may get an offer that is worthwhile here.
The Cubs have some depth with Chris Rusin, Zach Rosscup, and possibly Eric Jokisch, but they would likely prefer to keep a veteran here.
Teams looking for a LH reliever are the Braves, Nationals, and Dodgers.
Russell has had a solid year in terms of his ERA at 2.54 but he has struggled with control and allowing inherited runners to score. I think he is miscast as a LOOGY, which has been his primary role. I think Russell relies quite a bit on feel more than he does stuff and needs an opportunity where he can pitch to more than one batter to get into a rhythm.
A change of scenery is in order here and the same 3 teams listed above would be interested. Both pitchers are arb eligible next year and will become free agents after the season.
The Cubs have so much bullpen depth, especially in terms of RH power arms, that they can afford to listen on Strop, who was their best RP down the stretch last year. Strop doesn't have ideal control, but he will miss bats and generate weak groundball contact, which gives him value in multiple situations.
Strop is arb eligible next year but doesn't become a free agent until after the 2017 season, so there is some value there as well. Considering his excellent stuff, relative youth (29), and cost control, the Cubs will listen but it will take a good offer to pry him loose.
Villanueva has dual value as a relief pitcher and starting pitching depth. He can be had as a cheap rental (pro-rated amount of $5M salary) that also won't cost much in terms of prospects. He probably works for a team that is hedging their bets and looking to add depth and perhaps catch lightning in a bottle if he performs the way he did early last season.
The Giants, Royals, Pirates, and Mariners are looking for starting pitching depth and probably aren't looking to make a huge investment given their iffy situations for 2014.
Again, we shouldn't expect much in terms of a tangible return.
The IFA slots
Shop...but who's buying?
Honestly, I think these hold little value in the current environment. With teams blowing past the limits, it's not like teams are looking to scrape money together to avoid penalties. What's more, teams like the Yankees are scooping up everyone worth scraping money together for in the first place.
And everyone knows the Cubs can't spend $4M dollars worth of $250K slots, so they just don't have much leverage here. At best this pool money might be a small pot sweetener in the right situation, but don't hold your breath for even those modest expectations.
In the end, don't expect the Cubs to do much except clear the decks for the 2015 offseason and set themselves up to make bigger moves before the season starts. I expect the Cubs to hold on to Starlin Castro and all of their top prospects until they get a better idea of how the pieces will fit together. There is no need to rush those kinds of deals unless somebody absolutely blows you away.
The Cubs made their last major move for 2014 on July 4th. Whatever they do from here on out is prelude for next season. It's about clearing roster space, payroll, and adding inventory for future deals.
Filed under: Rumors/Speculation