This time of year we most often talk about getting the right player outside the organization and up until now, that was sufficient. A few years ago, the Cubs weren't going to trade for big name players. They didn't have a farm system brimming with prospects. Even if they had impact players in the system, it would have been a mistake to trade them at that stage of the rebuilding process.
Yet, while it lacked impact players, it turns out the Cubs system wasn't completely barren. And yes, the Cubs did make some mistakes early on. None of those mistakes are earth shattering, but the Cubs essentially let useful MLB players go for nothing. Players such as D.J. Lemahieu, Marwin Gonzalez, Ryan Flaherty, and Jeff Beliveau have proven to have some value to their respective new teams over the past few years. Meanwhile the Cubs clung tightly to players like Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt, and Josh Vitters -- none of whom have lived up to their prospect pedigree, though in the case of McNutt, injuries were a factor.
Coming off a 97 win season, the stakes are a little higher. The Cubs have some of the best prospects and young position players in baseball. With all due respect to the aforementioned players, this is a whole new level.
Trading young talent is never fun, but at least now the Cubs front office and scouting staff have been here for a few years now. They scouted and acquired most of the players still in the system and on the roster. They've also had a long look at the players that are holdovers from the last regime. The current front office may not have signed them, but the Cubs know Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, Dan Vogelbach, and others pretty well by now.
The Cubs are looking to improve this offseason and some of that is likely to come from trades. The question now becomes which players to trade. Others teams have shown a lot of interest in many of the Cubs young players and unlike it was when they first arrived in Chicago, the front office has a much better idea of what they have.
That is not to say that they still won't trade good players. The system is so deep right now that it is all but inevitable that the Cubs will trade a player (or players) who will go on to have a productive MLB career. Remember that Jed Hoyer once helped an engineer a deal in Boston that saw Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez go on to have very good careers with other organizations, but it also netted them Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, who were key to winning their 2nd World Series ring.
The Cubs have to know their system well enough to understand where they have depth and where they can afford to let some of that depth go. The Cubs have some repetition now -- right handed bats and, in terms of defense, players in the middle infield and corner outfield spots. The question becomes which players are best fits for their own roster, organization and team culture.
The Cubs know what they value and it may not necessarily be what another team values, so the goal is to find a team that a) is willing to trade what the Cubs value and b) value the players the Cubs consider surplus. They also have to know where they may be willing to make a concession. If a team is willing to give up a player of equal value to a player the Cubs would prefer to keep, do they have enough confidence to keep the player they consider surplus instead -- especially if it is an overall gain?
It gets complicated and it means knowing their system inside and out. It is part of being a great organization -- you not only have to know which players you want from the outside, but you also have to know your players from within --- which players you want to keep at all costs, which players you consider surplus, and which players you'd be willing to deal in the right circumstance. It is a delicate balance but it is made easier when you have a system as strong as the Cubs have right now. Unlike it was at their arrival, there is depth, flexibility, and some margin for error now, but the Cubs still need to maximize their assets to the greatest extent possible.
This is a big offseason for the Cubs and it is going to help set their course for the next few years. It will likely involve some tough decisions, but the Cubs understand their organization well enough now to make the kinds of deals that will help get them over the top.
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