Over the past three years I have had a lot of fun creating an audit of the Cubs system in order to diagnose which prospects, or at least group of prospects, the Cubs would choose to make most available in deadline deals. I have been very happy with the results, even if the timing of some trades by the Cubs led to frustrations on my end, with the 2017 version ending up nothing more than an unpublished mental exercise.
Back with my first attempt at it in 2016, my article proved accurate enough where the four pieces in the Aroldis Chapman trade basically boiled down to one guy from group A, another from group B, and so on. I was also forced to kick myself for not getting it out soon enough, as I needed to alter the contents because the Cubs pulled the trigger on the Mike Montgomery trade the week before the deadline on July 20th, just as I was trying to put the finishing touches on it. But in the original version, Dan Vogelbach did indeed compose a grouping of his own, and Paul Blackburn was a member of yet another.
Eager to avoid getting beat to the punch as I did the year prior, I decided to start writing the 2017 iteration during the All-Star break. I had mapped out the framework for the article, had my Eloy Jimenez's and Dylan Cease's in a row when, of course, the Cubs decided to blow the whole project up and swung the Jose Quintana trade as the All-Star break was concluding. I never bothered to publish an altered version of the article.
I intended to begin writing even earlier in July last season, but life intervened and I didn't get around to starting until around the All-Star break once again. Thankfully, it was published before the Cubs made any major moves, but since the Cubs really didn't end up making any trades involving top prospects, it ended up being the least useful of the three articles. Both Rollie Lacy and Andruw Monasterio were included, so it wasn't a total waste of effort.
This year I decided to use the 4th of July holiday as a kickoff point for the article. Hopefully, the Cubs don't make a trade before I publish it.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of players the Cubs will make available in trades. There is no such thing as an untouchable if the right deal comes along. Also, teams do not always have the luxury of dealing from positions of strength. It is useful to examine those areas of surplus though. I also endeavor to identify situations where offseason 40-man roster crunches could prompt the front office to become proactive in deals.
Addison Russell / David Bote / Robel Garcia
We all know the ins-and-outs of the Addison Russell situation by now. If the Cubs do decide to trade him, they would need to find a replacement as a backup shortstop. I have no idea how to assess his trade value right now, or how many teams would even be willing to accept him in a trade.
I am a David Bote backer. I think he is a very good fit as a bench bat for a NL team who is capable of performing like a starter for stretches. His contract extension is a strong indication the front office expects to keep him around, and values him as both a player and clubhouse fit. Those are also reasons why Bote would be someone opposing teams would ask about in a deal. The odds are slim the Cubs would include him in a trade, but the usual caveats of no player being untouchable if the right deal comes along do apply here, so it feels necessary to at least include him in the discussion.
The wildcard is Robel Garcia. Is he a potential fix for the offensive woes the Cubs have experienced at second base? Is he someone the Cubs can actually bet on in a season where the team is scuffling? I'm a believer in Garcia being a Major League player, but it is difficult to say what type of adjustment time(s) he'll need, and whether he is actually ready to be a producer on a would-be contender.
A return by Ben Zobrist would throw yet another hat into the ring for playing time at second, and cause even more of a roster crunch. If the Cubs do decide to go outside the organization for an offensive upgrade at the position, Daniel Descalso seems like he'd be first in line to lose his roster spot, but if Zobrist returns as well, the Cubs would likely need to move one of these others to make space. So it could make sense to include one as part of a deal if that event seems likely come deadline day.
Adbert Alzolay / Miguel Amaya / Brennen Davis / Nico Hoerner / Brailyn Marquez / Cole Roederer
This is the group of players the Cubs would only tap into in the event of a major trade.
The Craig Kimbrel signing likely represents the only big bullpen addition this season. So, I don't see the Cubs including any of their top prospects in a deal to acquire another reliever unless they decide to proceed with a major shakeup. If they feel Kimbrel is not going to be enough to stabilize the late innings, which could be the case if he doesn't begin gaining arm strength prior to the deadline, the team could pursue an impact lefty to help share the load. I would expect the price of such a move to include one of the names above, plus additional smaller pieces, depending on the contract of the Cubs target.
It is no secret the Cubs are in the market for a bat (or two). The lineup features three All-Stars, and three more veterans who are producing at acceptable rates, but they've struggled to find production in centerfield and at second base. I'm in the camp that they do not require an impact player at either, but to simply find one or two reasonably priced rentals who can help lengthen the lineup and push current starters to the bench. Those type of players won't require a major prospect to acquire. But I wouldn't hesitate to make a bigger deal if a good opportunity presents itself. To do so will likely require a couple of the names above.
40 Man Roster: Taylor Davis
Rule 5 Eligible: Miguel Amaya / Jhonny Pereda (UFA) / P.J. Higgins
The Cubs currently house three solid backstops on the 40-man roster. Willson Contreras has not made the hoped for strides defensively, but his throwing ability and powerful bat have propelled him to two straight All-Star game nods. Victor Caratini has emerged this season as a reliable receiver and offensive producer at the MLB level. He may not have an impressive pedigree but Taylor Davis has worked his tail off to become a good framer, game caller, and contact hitter as a 3rd catcher with two remaining option seasons.
Things are about to get interesting this offseason, however. Not only does the organization's top prospect at the position (Miguel Amaya) need to be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but Jhonny Pereda has made himself into a candidate who bears serious consideration for a roster spot as well. He possesses a strong arm, along with good contact and plate discipline skills on offense, but his receiving and game calling are still a work in progress. He'll be ready to share the load with Davis in Iowa next season, but I would consider the odds of Pereda becoming MLB-ready at any point next season slim.
Will the Cubs be willing to carry 5 catchers on the 40-man roster, especially if two are unlikely to be ready contribute in the Majors? They have carried that number for short stretches over the past few years, but never over the course of an entire season. Something will need to give at this position, and a deal either at the deadline or during the offseason, makes sense.
40 Man Roster: Ian Happ
Rule 5 Eligible: Trent Giambrone / Zack Short / Dixon Machado (UFA) / Phillip Evans (UFA) / Vimael Machin
Depth: Nico Hoerner / Aramis Ademan / Delvin Zinn / Andy Weber / Luis Vazquez / Chase Strumpf / Reivaj Garcia / Luis Verdugo / Pedro Martinez / Fabian Pertuz / Mack Chambers / Josue Huma / Rafael Morel
Ian Happ is obviously not a full-time 2B, but he does have experience there, and at least contributes to the depth the organization has at the position. I doubt the Cubs want to deal him while his value is at its lowest point ever, but it is a scenario they will have to consider depending on the options available on the trade market.
It was a rough first half for both Trent Giambrone and Zack Short at Iowa. Giambrone has shown plenty of power throughout the year, but struggled to make contact or draw walks most of the season, yet has come on strong over the past month to put himself back into consideration as utility man. His turnaround was too late to stay in front of Robel Garcia in the pecking order however, which could put him in an awkward roster position as both are bat-first guys. Short was hit by a pitch the first week of the season and only just returned to Iowa yesterday. The better defender, Short offers a decent amount of pop himself, but due to the injury has yet to prove himself at the AAA level.
With both Giambrone and Short becoming eligible for the Rule 5 draft, Garcia vaulting over them to grab a 40-man spot, and Nico Hoerner charging hard up the organizational ladder behind them, it is possible the Cubs could choose to move one of the two in a deal rather than being forced to squeeze both on to the 40-man in the offseason. Much will depend on what the Cubs decide regarding Addison Russell and Daniel Descalso. If the organization moves on from one or both, the the quintet of Garcia, Giambrone, Short, Happ and David Bote could keep the seat warm at 2B and provide bench/AAA depth while Nico Hoerner completes his development.
The lack of experience does not bother me, especially if they could get one of Dixon Machado or Phillip Evans (or find a similar player) to agree to another Minor League deal in the offseason. I actually like the potential of a 2020 bench anchored by Bote and Garcia backing up Javy and Nico in the middle infield, with Happ (assuming he looks better next spring) as an option in both the infield and outfield, and then Short and Giambrone providing additional depth at Iowa.
Upper Level Starter
40 Man Roster: Adbert Alzolay / Justin Steele / Alec Mills (Out of Options)
Rule 5 Eligible: Tyson Miller / Colin Rea (UFA) / Trevor Clifton (UFA) / Matt Swarmer / Thomas Hatch
Depth: Cory Abbott / Keegan Thompson / Alex Lange
Adbert Alzolay and Tyson Miller have positioned themselves as the cream of this crop during the course of the year. Both should be ready to compete for any rotation openings at the MLB level next spring. With the struggles of the organization to develop Major League arms there has to be a strong sentiment within to hold on to these two guys, but their 2019 success also make them the most appealing to other teams. Unless the Cubs decide to swing for the fences on a deadline deal, I doubt either get included, leaving the rest of the arms here as the most likely targets should a team be pursuing upper level starting pitchers.
Cory Abbott has emerged as the top hurler (or at least most MLB-ready) from the Cubs college pitching heavy 2017 draft class. Keegan Thompson, Alex Lange and Erich Uelmen are right behind him though, and Brendon Little still possesses as much upside as any of them. With all five remaining on the prospect map, the time is fast approaching when each becomes Rule 5 eligible in the 2020 offseason. The team simply won't be able to absorb that large of group on to the 40-man roster at the same time, so I can see the Cubs making all or most of them readily available this deadline.
Upper Level Reliever
40 Man Roster: Kyle Ryan (Out of Options) / Dillon Maples / Rowan Wick / James Norwood / Randy Rosario (Out of Options) / Duane Underwood, Jr. (Out of Options) / Oscar De La Cruz
Rule 5 Eligible: Danny Hultzen (UFA) / Dakota Mekkes / Craig Brooks / Michael Rucker / Bailey Clark / Wyatt Short
The five right-handers currently on the 40-man roster all possess plenty of raw talent, but none have ever mustered enough consistent control and command to take full advantage. With the majority of the Chicago bullpen set for free agency in the offseason, there should be an opportunity for at least one of these guys to grab a job next spring. I could see all remaining on the roster and being given that shot come next year, but I would not be surprised to see the organization move on from any number of them.
Most teams have talented but enigmatic arms like this, and it is really difficult to get a read on when or if the light will come on. They often run out of options with their original organization before they do, and thus begin spinning through the league on the waiver wire roulette. The goal is to collect as many as your roster space allows at any one time and cross your fingers that one makes a breakthrough while in your system.
The team will need to make room for Dakota Mekkes, and assuming he stays healthy, Danny Hultzen. Both are talented enough to protect on the roster.