Ability to scout their own system a key to Cubs future

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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  • I agree John. As hard as it will be not everyone prospect will pan out or play with the Cubs. It maybe painful to see someone succeed in another uniform, but a redundancy could yield the needed pieces to complete the roster of a playoff team. I have hope that the front office will be able to make the best decisions for the organization and for the players.

  • In reply to Eskimo:


  • In reply to Eskimo:

    Trading from redundancy is always a great idea.

    Of course, trading Soler is hardly trading from redundancy. We have no similar right fielder.

    And we have a hole in center field that Baez could probably fill. Where is the redundancy?

    The Cubs have finally built a team that could be a powerhouse offensive force. They did it largely through high draft choices and IFAs. The chances are that high draft choices are behind us (hopefully), and even the IFA market is likely to be a draft by the time we have IFA money again.

    Pitching can be picked up through free agency without resorting of dealing away advantage we have built up through 5 years of misery. The front office identified a coming shortage in impact power hitters and made prudent investments in them. Why abandon ship now because of the faulty perception of a non-existent surplus.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    I agree with you 100%. I would hate to give up any of these young hitters now when you can buy pitching. Heck a Kazmir and Happ on short deals is a vast improvement.

    I understand the camp of wanting to acquire young TOR pitching because we do not have any today on the parent club nor in Iowa or Tenn, but spending some of the cash would be how I moved to 2016.

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    It seems like the two key pieces the Cubs have to trade are Baez and Soler. At least they are the players who've played on the Major League team, and the team is reportedly willing to listen to offers on. We all have our own opinions. But the question is: how does Cubs management view these players?

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    How the Cubs value their own players is the only thing that matters and the info that is publicly available probably doesn't tell the whole story.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    fair point, but I think the Cubs care a lot about the inefficiencies in how other clubs may value players in the Cubs system.

    think they work pretty hard determining what they look like from the outside and take advantage of gaps they find in their favor.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    I guess the question is do the Cubs build around Baez/Soler or do let another org do it as we add one of their young building block pitchers?

  • This is THE most important thing! If you cannot properly scout and/or project your own players your franchise will suffer! i.e. Archer, etc. for basket case Garza

  • In reply to Ronnie’sHairpiece:

    Certainly an argument that this is the most important thing, but all things work in concert. If you know your own system, but not other systems, you might trade the right players, but you won't get the players you need in return.

  • In reply to Ronnie’sHairpiece:

    Don't forget Josh Donaldson being included in the trade for that broken down Oakland pitcher whose name I can't remember. He couldn't stay healthy but that guy had one of the best changeups I ever saw.

  • In reply to ruby2626:

    Rich Harden.

  • In reply to ruby2626:

    That trade kept us ahead of the Brewers after they acquired Sabathia. That trade did exactly what was intended by it. Harden was lights out that first year with the Cubs.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yep. So soon they forget. :-)

  • Just don't trade gleyber torres from the prospects group.He's already the cubs #1 prospect and will be 19 in a few weeks.Anybody else I'll get over.I rather trade soler over baez though,because baez has value at different positions which makes the cubs versatile and allows rest.I really don't want to trade either but I know the situation and what needs to be done.

  • Contreras too!!! I can't believe I forgot him.Torres and Contreras are the only prospects who would be untouchable

  • My thought is that some of the young guys are just on the verge of breaking out. Baez was improved over the prior season. Soler didn't swing at bad pitches and he can be coached to be an improved fielder with that cannon for an arm. Having an arm like that is a gift and not something you can coach.

    I would go for a younger FA SP who is a 3 on the verge of becoming a 2. And get the best RP I could afford. Maybe they already have the best RPs from this year's staff.

    I would not spend a lot of money or prospects on a CF until I see what Almora does this next season.

    Time is on our side right now. The team cans till be built for the long term.

  • In reply to ZonaMan:

    I agree that the Cubs need not rush into anything right now. If the right deal isn't there, they can wait.

  • I couldn't agree more John. I think this is one of the biggest keys to a successful organization. To me it's analogous to something that I used say all the time when I managed people "It's OK to break the rules as long as you know the rules and the consequences for breaking them". In this case it's OK to trade off talent, even if it's quality talent, but you had better know exactly what you're trading and what for. So in other words it might be OK to trade Baez because you his skill set and know you have that duplicated in sufficient amounts elsewhere and what you get back to him has greater value in whatever term length you set. Knowledge is always the key and you have to know your business better than an outsider would.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Exactly and I like how you tied in what you are trading for as well. The two go hand in hand, of course.

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    Unless you are being true value (All star player like returns), I would be hesitant to trade Soler or Baez this off season. I think with schwarber doing some catching, there are plenty of games to get everyone regular at bats. I think you sign a starter or two, sign a CF and make your trades next year when you have a better idea on what they are. I also would look to trade Jake next year as the free agent market will be slim compared to this year. Strasburg is the only pitcher of note next year, and I think the cubs should try to sign him (3 years younger than Jake).

  • Developing our farm system is our future. Also having the best
    teachers for this great young talent. If they do trade a top prospect
    I hope they can include some non-top prospects to get more in
    return. We have more very young prospects 2-3 years away
    so we can trade some now

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    They may have to trade good players. The key is to get better overall.

  • The young guys are just beginning to break out. Baez was improved over the prior season. Soler doesn't swing at bad pitches and can be coached as a fielder. He has a cannon for an arm and that is a gift and not something you can coach.

    I would go after a younger SP who is a 3 on the verge of being a 2. And the best RP I could afford. They may already have him from this year's staff.

    I wouldn't spend a lot of money on a CF until I see what Almora's progress is at the plate.

    We have time on our side. These guys are young. Let's see what the fruit of our labors can be.

  • In reply to ZonaMan:

    T totally agree. Can they carry Almora's glove in 2016

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    My only thought on almora is that he will not be plopped into our current lineup. The RH bat with average to below average speed does not play with our current lineup construction. We don't NEED LH leadoff but do need a table setter who can get on base and run a little. Speed is an important distraction that would leave far more meatballs on the table for KB and Rizzo to crush

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    In reply to NextYearIsHere:

    The main thing that Almora brings to the line-up that it is lacking right now is the ability to make contact. He has only had one place where he had a higher than 11.9% K-rate and that was his ill-fated 144 PAs in AA in 2014. He came back in 2014 and, in 451 PAs posted a career best 10.4% K-rate. That is pretty darn good.

  • In reply to ZonaMan:

    So what you're describing as a FA starter is Jordan Zimmermann or Jeff Samardzija. Both are MOR starters who can occasionally sniff TOR territory. I agree by the way, that's the pressing need you have. That to me is the least you can do though and getting a second starter who could actually become a TOR in time, young guys we've talked about like Miller & Teheran among others, would be if not a must have then certainlyn awfully nice to have. Zimmermann or Shark solve the problem of being terrified of your third starter in a 7 game playoff series but don't account for injury or attrition.

    As far as a CF not spending too much or position blocking guys like Almora or Eddy Julio Martinez, well that's the trick isn't it? You don't have a guy on your roster that feasibly start there. Bryant is a fantasy and not good for the player, Szczur is AAAA player or a 5th OF at best, Alcantara took a huge step backwards and Baez hasn't played there since HS. When it looked like Span would sign a pillow deal the answer looked easy. He's not likely to that now that his market looks to be 3/$40 million. Fowler worked but he's looking at least 4/$65-$70 and maybe more. So no answers there either. It's likely they'll have to trade but the pickins are slim. This goes back to John's point of knowing you have. You might have to overpay but it can't be by much or a significant prospect piece.

    Then there is the issue of lineup balance. The Cubs have a ton of high K rate power hitters. That doesn't work when you go up against a buzzsaw of young arms like we saw last month. There's work to be done there.

    To me this is a pivotal year. pressure will be high. This team is expected to contend for the Division title and to do that the bare moves aren't going to work. All the luck of 2015 is not likely to break the same. That said 100 wins isn't the benchmark for the Division this year as I expect both St. Louis and Pittsburgh to take a slight step back. If the Cubs do the bare minimum they'll take a step back too. The Division will be hard fought in the low 90's win range. Maybe one of the teams slips into the 80's. If that happens and the Cubs miss the playoffs or are the WC it will be somewhat of a failure. This year is a year that should set up the next three. There are more options this year than there often are with the bevy of FA pitchers and even young arms on the trade market. They have to get this done and to do that they had be sure of their assets.

  • As long as Javy stays I'm good. As great as Soler may end up being, his track record of getting hurt is unsettling as well as his obvious struggles of playing in cold weather. When the temperature dropped he was the first to suit up in the samari cold gear and his play in those games dropped tremendously. Just imagine our middle infield in 2-3 years from now when Javy and Russell hit their potential. They will be an amazing tandem that we will enjoy for many years. Don't trade the Unicorn!!

  • With the FO's intimate knowledge of their minor league system, at this point, should also allow them to avoid the mistake of keeping guys like Vitters/Jackson/McNutt for too long of a time.

    Hopefully, they can be really lucky by keeping the guys like Contreras and others who might be genuine late-bloomers, and weed out the ones who really don't have sustainability for the Majors.

    This could be where the FO does their best work.

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    My two prospects on the do not trade list have always been Torres and Contreras.
    I agree John that knowing their own players is key, but even more important is scouting and knowing which players to draft! Look at Schwarbs--no one but the Cubs (that I know) had him that high (I wanted Trea Turner) and within a year he's having an outstanding ML season. The Cubs have had many drafts with high picks and they never have panned out, and you mentioned a number of them. To me scouting is key, then development and then either use or trade to better the ML club.
    Nice breakdown again John.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thank you. All of scouting is important .but I think the one that gets forgotten most is scouting your own players. The Cardinals do that very well.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Another underappreciated area is advanced scouting. Seems like that was one of the advantages royals had over Mets in the WS.

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    What I have to keep reminding myself is it is time to "shift gears" in looking at the roster. For 3-4 years now I think the goal/MO was to hoard prospects. Since it was unlikely that we would get someone for them that would match what they would give us in the future. It has bred in me a hesitance to trade these guys.

    But not things have changed. Our "stage" in the rebuild has changed. I have said for a couple of years that 2016 would be the start. 2015 kind of caught me by surprise. Maybe it is time to start cashing in chips.

    As an illustration of this I look to the Heyward-Miller trade last year. The Braves would not have been a lot better in the W-L column if they had kept Heyward. The Cardinals probably wouldn't have won the division if they didn't have Heyward. They had to be willing to give up a solid pitcher with years of control to get a top-flight OF. The trade made sense for both teams given where they were likely to finish.

    We definitely have holes. And with each prospect doing decently the chances of them failing to "pan out" goes down. Obviously it is still possible, but less likely now that several of them have had some modicum of success at the MLB level. Maybe it is time that we trade some high quality guys like McKinney, Almora, Johnson, Zagunis et al. I am not advocating making any of these trades, but I might need to be more open to them on concept.

    Also, while these guys are intriguing prospects I don't think any of them have the level of talent that Bryant, Russell, Baez, Soler did with the possible exception of Torres or maybe Contreras. And Torres still has a lot to learn and a lot of maturing to do.

    One of the beauties of the Cubs organization is that, with the possible exception of Contreras we have multiple options to fill each spot. We have multiple guys under age 27 capable of playing SS, 2B, 3B, 1B, LF, RF, CF, most at at least a AA level. If we trade one of these guys it won't be like we are "short-suiting" ourselves and then have to scramble to fill their spot.

  • It's so refreshing as a Cubs fan to finally enjoy the fruits of having a competent front office. Haven't felt this way since those unforgettable salad days from May 1981 - November 1981 of the Herman Franks era...

  • Nice little article. Got to know what you have first. The interesting part is trying to figure out which Cubs are valued in each category.
    1. Who is Core
    2. Who is almost untouchable
    3. Who is expendable but you would rather keep
    4. Who is expendable and you have no thoughts of making the MLB roster.

    You can use other descriptions of course, but where do the guys we are seeing in trade rumors falling? Obviously Baez and Soler are being left out of category 1 by the rumor-mongers. Do Theo and Jed have the same thinking? Perhaps. Personally I put them in category 2. Too many though I think put them in category 3, and are willing to give them up for less than is equitable.

  • I have some trade targets I'd appreciate some opinions on, if you all don't mind. Currently, I'm targeting the Cleveland Indians as a potential good match.

    What would be your opinions on the following 3 players?

    1. Trevor Bauer. He is a hard throwing 24 year old right hander who is cost controlled. He really hasn't put it all together yet, but he has the type of build I like, quality stuff, and throws from a nice downhill plane it seems to me. I think he perhaps has had some maturity issues in the past, yet he seems very very attainable to me based on the Indians current roster. We've all discussed their harder to attain arms, but I wonder if a smaller deal for Bauer makes sense.

    2. Tyler Naquin, CF. He is a 24 year old, LH hitting center fielder who has had injury concerns the last 2 years, but who is sitting at AAA for them. They have 2 higher rated prospects who are also CF, so in some ways he may be expendable for them. I liked him a few years ago when he was an Indians high draft pick, and I wonder if he might make a good solution in CF, at least if we want to look for an inexpensive one. Could he at least be the strong side of a platoon in 2016?

    3. Cody Allen, RH closer. Could he be had in a deal with Cleveland? He would be a set up guy for us, but I wonder if the lower budget Indians would be willing to move him and re-shuffle their bullpen with cheaper options.

    Are there any smaller deals to be made with the Indians that don't involve their top 3 starters, but involve these players instead?

  • In reply to thunderbird1245:

    If I deal with the Indians, I try for Salazar. Bauer is a headcase and inconsistent as it gets, especially struggles early in games. Naquin was there #2 position prospect last year, but has slipped due to injury and hes always been more of a good glove/questionable bat sort. Id doubt the wahoos would trade Allen, since hes cost-controlled and they really have no one else to fill the closer role.

  • I haven't been chiming in much these days because I know that I have only a tiny fraction of the information our FO has on our prospects. So I rarely get into discussions about possible trade scenarios.

    What I have said a number of times is that I am glad we have Theo and Jed and Co. making the decisions because I am sure there are none better in the business. I know they are dicing and slicing their analysis every which way. I have faith in their PROCESS. So I have complete confidence and trust in what they decide -- even if that means a Soler or Castro or Baez or anyone else gets moved. And on top of all that I will not be surprised if we are all surprised by what they do.

    In the meantime, I really enjoyed those hockey and football games in St.L on Saturday. I always love it when Chicago sticks it to St. Louis.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I know the Cubs prospects pretty well and even I don't like to chime in. Not only because the way I value the prospects is probably different than the Cubs, but I actually know very little about the trade targets on other teams. I watch the Cubs and I watch the Cubs minor leagues. It doesn't really leave time to watch the Indians. I have no opinion on who to target between Carrasco or Salazar for instance.

  • Great article John. I think that the FO has a very good handle on each of our top prospects potential, development and timeline to get to the majors. Much different than year 1. I am sure they will kick the tires on many potential trades for Soler and Baez, but I bet it will be for AAA and AA Starting Pitchers. We have such a huge void at the AAA level for SPs, Beeler and Jokish are just not better than No. 5 Starters. I expect us to sign a Zimmerman and Shark or Fister kind of deals. If we trade Soler, we would need a RF, but we have a budget constraint. So we may just keep Soler and Baez, and sign 2 SPs.

  • Sign Parra sign Price front load prices contract. 6 years 175mil. first 3 years $39 mil then $19mil the last 3 years. The extra cash early might motivate him to take 6 years. Hammel would start in 2016 then edwards johmson williams or underwood will be our 5th starter in 2017.

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    All I know is I'll be completely heartbroken if they trade Baez or Soler...

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Will we have to send rescue units to your house if they trade both?

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Yea I hear that. But, a real good return for either would lessen the blow. I would hate it most if I thought the return was skimpy. I've seen some suggestions that they would only be the headliner in a multiplayer deal for a guy like Teheran(Sp) from Atlanta. I think its Teheran who needs to come back with a few extra useful guys.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    I would be too. I think the days of the everyday lineup are over. With so much defensive versatility in the roster, there are plenty of at bats for everyone. Injuries happen and surplus can become shortage quite quickly. Plus, a few extra home runs off the bench never hurt.

  • What I think is interesting is I fully expect they will trade for at least one SP and I'm guessing it'll be someone who isn't even on the radar of us message board types. There is so much posturing by teams through the media to try and affect market value. It really underscores how little any of us know about what will happen. We generally have no idea til Rosenthal, Passan, Heyman, Morosi, Cotillo, et al tweet out that it's done. Even then, they've proven to be inaccurate from time to time....

  • i think everyone has to remember that those teams love their guys too- especially their young pitchers. so if we're gonna be heartbroken we need to get back enough that the other team hurts.
    too often people propose one sided deals our junk- for someone's young pitching-- think of trading kerry wood or mark prior before we made the playoffs-- what would've that taken in those days-- an overwhelming offer-- you think clevland wants to just give us their young pitching? why would they? maybe if we give them great value.
    and i'm sure theo will come up with something we haven't even proposed here

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    Rangers trade Leonys Martin to Mariners for RP Tom Wilehmson And some prospects.

    Surprised they traded him in division. Perhaps the Cubs didn't like him to much.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Doesn't sound like a trade of 2 DFA candidates with some past history that someone hopes they will replicate.

  • In reply to stix:

    oops, sounds like a DFA trade with hope of past glories.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I thought he was the next best option behind Span, in terms of filling the Cubs needs. And the price certainly seemed right for him.

  • BoSox lose a potential trade partner for Bradley Jr.

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    It's official -Bryant is UNANIMOUS rookie of the year.

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    I think we should keep him, don't you?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    He can't play catcher, trade him.

  • There is a report saying the dodgers probably won't resign Zach Grienke

  • John, rule 5 draft is coming soon. Which of our guys who are eligible to leave fo you see as being most likely to be traded soon?

  • If the Cubs do trade Soler, I think ONE component will be their opinions related to his ability to remain healthy in Chicago over a long - sometimes freezing - season here. He's a guy I could actually see having a better career in Atlanta than he might have in Chicago.

  • Soler I just scratching the surface because he rose so fast due to his hitting. He has to continue his development at the MLB level. I would hate if they sell low on him.

  • This is the exciting part: to see how well their internal scouting and their information systems work in order to fill in where we are lacking

  • I don't know about everyone else but I would trade kris Bryant if I gave us 2 rings!!!

    Also what does everyone think about the trade bleacher report posted soler for Teheran

  • There's a report that the marlins will trade jose fernandez.Cubs should be ON IT if true.Throw in christian yelich and you get your ace and center fielder both young players the cubs can offer a blockbuster package for both.I hope it's true it was reported by a Miami reporter

  • Just saw that rumor as well.. that is the type of guy you give up about 7 prospects for, baez, soler, hendricks, etc.. would be the best possible option, and the cubs seem to have a decent rapport with boras to avoid the issues there having in florida

  • In reply to Maddon4Mayor2015:

    I love Fernandez but I don't give up 7 prospects for 3 years even cost controlled and they are going to ask a bundle.

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