In case you've been busy all weekend, the Cubs made a trade late Thursday night:
Jackson to the Diamondbacks!
No, not that Jackson – the other one. Brett Jackson, 26 year old outfielder and 31st overall pick of the 2009 draft, has been traded to Arizona for reliever Blake Cooper (also 26). The Cubs sent Jackson through trade waivers, and after the Colorado Rockies passed on him, Kevin Towers and the Dbacks made a claim and a deal was consummated.
I'm not here to talk about the trade or Blake Cooper – he put up a 18 K% and 15.3 BB% in 24 AAA innings this year, for what it's worth. Rather, I'd like to talk about future roster moves that might relate to this one.
Jed Hoyer has talked about the Cubs' upcoming roster crunch. This winter should be an interesting one for the organization; depending on whose speculation you read, the Cubs could have upwards of $50 million to spend on players in free agency. And those players will need to be added to the Cubs 40 man roster. Same with guys like Eric Jokish who need protection from the Rule 5 draft.
Brett Jackson was dealt in part to make way for those players. So, who's next? Who could potentially be traded in a minor deal (like Jackson) or DFA'd and dumped (like Nate Schierholtz) primarily for roster space?
Carlos Villanueva's season numbers are inflated by a few terrible starts in April. He's a free agent after the season, and probably not coming back. The Cubs have a ton of starting pitching options for 2015, and theoretically one of those could fill Carlos's swingman role if they don't make the rotation.
Lefty Chris Rusin is one of those swingman candidates, making four relief appearances for Chicago this season. With about one year of service time under his belt, he's cost controlled, but further down the totem pole for me than projects like Felix Doubront, Justin Turner, and Dan Straily, to name a few. Rusin, 27, is the kind of guy I'd expose to waivers prior to Rule 5. If he passes and sticks around in your organization, depth is great. But I wouldn't lose sleep over him getting an opportunity with another club.
Kyuji Fujikawa's situation is a little more complex. He holds a $5.5 million team option for next season. The price is a bit steep, considering Fujikawa's barely pitched due to his Tommy John surgery last year. If the option is declined, Fuji gets a $500k buyout, but I'm not sure what happens beyond that. Fellow CI'er Gunther Dabynsky has tried researching the situation before with little success. Either way, the Fujikawa situation is one to follow in early November.
What about some arbitration-eligible players? Both John Baker and James McDonald fit that category. The latter was a pitching reclamation project that never worked out. Injuries got the best of him and he hasn't pitched all year...I doubt he's tendered a contract.
The former is, from my limited perspective, a great clubhouse guy and a solid receiver. He's also terrible at throwing out base stealers and limited in the offense department. Does that mean he's going to be non-tendered? The Cubs will have to use a 40 man spot for a catcher eventually (Welington Castillo is the only other one of the roster), so I think they'll hold onto Baker until something better comes along.
Speaking of catchers, I love this article about Chris Valaika "adding catching to his defensive repertoire." He's a utility guy and knows it, and is reportedly working with Mike Borzello to diversify his skill set. The Cubs obviously thought he was worth a look when they called him up instead of say, Logan Watkins. Still, unless he can seriously catch in the big leagues, Valaika's probably a AAAA player and can be snuck through waivers. Watkins was drafted young and is good infield depth, but that's an area where the Cubs are already stacked.
The final guys on my list, like Jackson, are outfielders.
You know the story about Junior Lake – great tools, but a 33.4 K% this season. I don't think they're going to dump Lake. Hopefully his time in Iowa does him some good and the Cubs can try him out next year. Ryan Sweeney has struggled offensively (for example, as I type this, Sweeney's OBP is sub-.300), but he's signed to a guaranteed $1.5 million in 2015. That's not a ton of money and he hasn't been cruddy enough that a release is necessarily in order.
Matt Szczur, 25, is finally being called up to the big leagues tomorrow. He's spent most of his time in center but can play all over the outfield, with the potential to be a solid reserve outfielder one day. As Twitter bud Stan points out, it's crap or get off the pot time for Szczur, and his cup of coffee these next few weeks will help determine his fate. Personally, I think he stays another year.
Finally, there's Josh Vitters. I remember fondly my first Cub game after Jackson and Vitters were called up...I was really excited that Jackson, Vitters, Rizzo, AND Castro were in the lineup that day. It's amazing how far the organization has come when talking about the top tier of young players. Vitters' counterpart is gone, but the converted hot-corner-to-corner-outfielder is still around for now. His results don't scream he deserves it, but I want to see Vitters at Wrigley Field for one more stretch...just in case.
To review: I think we'll see Villanueva, Rusin, Fujikawa, McDonald, and Valaika purged from the 40 man in the coming months. Baker, Watkins, Sweeney, Szczur, and Vitters have the chance to stay.
What do you think? Who stays and who goes?
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