We're in the midst of the most exciting portion of the Cubs' season, the time that stretches from the MLB Draft to the trade deadline. I know it's part of the narrative about rebuilding that is difficult to hear. Other teams look forward to October, or, at the very worst, the free agent frenzy. Cubs fans are stuck with the draft and the annual sell-off. How fun.
For what it's worth, the Cubs have played well during this stretch too. From the draft to the deadline in 2012 and 2013, the Cubs were 25-23. But that's completely unimportant.
Here is the important stuff you need to know. On the day before the draft in 2012, the top prospects in the Cubs system were Javier Baez, Jorge Soler (who had yet to play a single game), Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Josh Vitters. After a few drafts and trade deadlines, the Cubs farm system is stacked.
In 2012, the Cubs traded off Ryan Dempster, Geo Soto, Paul Maholm, and Reed Johnson. In 2013, it was Alfonso Soriano, Scott Feldman, Scott Hairston, and Matt Garza. This year? It's murky. The previous two years were marked by several trades bringing a ton of depth. This year may be a bit different.
Jeff Samardzija is being shopped around and is almost certain to be dealt. Other than Shark, the only sure trade candidate is Jason Hammel, who was signed to a 1 year, $6 million deal in the off-season (the same deal Feldman signed the year before, by the way) with the intention of eventually trading him.
Many fans have lauded Hammel for his performance, and have even gone as far as to call for him to be kept and signed to an extension. The problem is that you cannot guarantee he wants to return to a team that loses 90-plus games, but Hammel did express recently that if the Cubs were to trade him, he thinks the front office will have interest in bringing him back. He also mentioned, as he has several times, that he loves it here. So if the Cubs truly like him enough to keep and he truly has interest in returning, that can be worked out in the free agent market. There's no rush to try to extend him now.
So what do we know about the trade market for Hammel? Well, for one thing, supply and demand. Entering play on Sunday, 22 Major League teams were within 5 games of a playoff spot. Not all of those teams will be looking to trade prospects for 2 months of a starter, but without many starting pitchers predicted to be on the trade market, mixed with the early rash of pitching injuries, there could be an extremely high demand for Hammel's services.
Another thing that we know is similar deals from the past that we can point to. Paul Maholm (together with Reed Johnson) netted the Cubs Arodys Vizcaino, once a top pitching prospect with arm troubles; at the time, the jury was split on whether or not he would remain a starting pitcher or be forced into a relief role. He's healthy again now and is lighting up the minor leagues for the Cubs this year as a reliever, and looks to be a potential "lights out" closer.
Scott Feldman (together with Steve Clevenger) brought back Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta. After being a very good reliever in 2011 and 2012, Strop was having a poor season with the Orioles and had become expendable. Arrieta, a former top pitching prospect with a filthy curveball and good heat on his fastball, had also pitched himself out of a job. Once the opening day starter for the Orioles, Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, and a 1.74 K/BB ratio in 358 innings in his career at the time of the deal. In 18 starts with the Cubs since the deal, he has a 2.83 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 2.36 K/BB ratio in 101 innings. All hail Chris Bosio, am I right?
But back to the rumors regarding Hammel. As many as six teams are reportedly interested and the Braves, Blue Jays, and Mariners were seriously tied to Hammel. I reached out to an industry insider to get his take, and he confirmed that the Blue Jays or Mariners are where he expects Hammel to end up. I also asked him what kind of return he expects, and he said that the Cubs would want a package headlined by right-handed pitcher Edwin Diaz of the Mariners.
Is this really the guy that the Cubs front office would target? I had to do some reading to decide for myself. The first few details I noticed: 6'2”, 178 pounds, and a fastball that has touched 99 MPH and hits 96 MPH frequently. Knowing what we do about the trades of Maholm and Feldman, it certainly sounds like their type of guy, doesn't it?
The Mariners 3rd round pick in 2012 pops up on most lists at the their 5th-ranked prospect, and carries a potential plus slider with a solid curveball and developing changeup. Diaz strikes out over one batter per inning but has had a bit of a problem with walks in his short career. He's currently 20 years old in A ball in the Midwest League (the Cubs Midwest League team is Kane County) and has a ceiling of a number 2 or 3 but is a safe bet for a 4 or 5.
So while the Cubs may not bring in the depth of previous years at the trade deadline, they should do well with bringing in a few top talents to add to their inventory. Most have suggested that Samardzija could bring two prospects in the 50-75 range of the top 100 list.
If the Cubs deal Hammel to the Mariners for Diaz and, just thinking out loud here, maybe 21-year-old catching prospect Tyler Marlette, I think it's a job well done yet again by Theo and the gang. Hopefully, this sets the Cubs up to go into 2015 with another top draft pick but no Major League players to deal in July.
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