The Cubs seasons under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are essentially split seasons. The first 3 months are about evaluation and the search for long term parts among their prospects and bargain signings. The next one is about cashing in short term parts for potential long term pieces, and the last 2 are playing with a gutted roster that accomplishes two things: 1) the chance to evaluate new young players for the future and 2) the likely poor short term results that have a silver lining – a protected pick in the draft.
That has been the pattern and hopefully this will be the last year Cubs fans will have to endure those excruciating last 2 months. Despite being one of the largest markets in sports they quietly disappear in August and September. They will become largely irrelevant to most of the baseball world as the focus turns to the playoffs. The trade deadline that precedes these 2 months is pretty much the last time the Cubs get any national media attention. It’s their last chance to cash in on the Cubs.
Because of that, we can expect rumors to fly around this time. The Cubs made their big splash on July 4th, however, and there simply isn’t much left to trade other than spare parts that won’t move the needle much. What you often get instead is trade deadline hype. This hype, whether willful or not, ignores the Cubs patterns of the past 3 years, which is to trade off short-term parts for long term gain. They do not pay premium long term value for short term gain. They also do not trade talented cost-controlled young veterans for prospects.
The one exception to the latter would be the Anthony Rizzo-Andrew Cashner deal, but the Cubs made that exception because they felt they were getting significant surplus value. They had doubts as to whether Cashner could hold up long term as a starter. So far that judgment look prescient as, by the end of the season. Rizzo projects to have double the wins above replacement over Cashner since the deal was made — not to mention that Cashner is injured once again. It was a calculated gamble that seems to have paid off for now.
So when you hear rumors that don’t fit the plan, you should doubt it. When you hear a rumor that the Cubs may trade Jake Arrieta to the Yankees, ask yourself if it fits the Cubs pattern. Ask yourself if the Yankees even have the parts to acquire a Jake Arrieta. Even if the Yankees did have the parts, would they sell off a huge part of their cost-controlled talent for a still to be established pitcher? Or, as a team that looks to win now with a shallow farm system, would it make more sense for them to get an established pitcher cheaper on a rental?
David Kaplan squashed this rumor earlier today,
This from a great source who is an NL scout. “We called Theo and asked about Jake Arietta and we were told they will NOT move him. Period.”
This is not to say that teams wouldn’t want Jake Arrieta. Of course they would. But what it really comes down to is appropriate value and the individual goals of the teams involved. As a cost-controlled pitcher in his prime with his best years ahead of him, Arrieta has a ton of value to the Cubs. If you are going to acquire him, you are going to have to pay them dearly for those future years. If you’re a win-now team, why pay that premium when you are mostly concerned about the next 2 months?
I’ve made this argument for Luis Valbuena, it goes tenfold for someone like Arrieta. In a nutshell, unless a team is willing to pay significant surplus, their value to the Cubs is simply more than they will get in return. Historically, that is a premium that contending teams will pay only for established impact talent.
When it comes to following previous patterns, the same works true in reverse. Why would the Cubs trade long term assets at this point to acquire a short term piece at this point in the rebuild? Why would the Cubs give up so much of their long term value to acquire a pitcher who is signed for another year and two months like David Price?
The answer is they wouldn’t.
Bob Nightengale put that rumor to rest today,
This should have been obvious to any Cubs fan that has been paying attention and following the pattern of this front office. Put in it’s simplest form, the team will not sacrifice the long term for the short term until it feels it is ready to compete. Could that change? Yes, of course it can change. It will change. But it hasn’t changed yet. Until then, the Cubs will err on the side of long term thinking, as any responsible rebuilding team should.
A time will come when the Cubs will be willing to sacrifice some long term value for short term gain, but that long term value will come from an area of depth. And as much as the Cubs system has received raves from all around baseball, they do not yet have depth. They will not have true depth until some of those prospects become MLB players. It is premature to make deals based on minor-league depth charts because you do not yet know what you really have.
The Cubs have time to sort that out and if over the course of the next year, the picture begins to clear and it appears the Cubs have a chance to compete, they can reconsider breaking the pattern they have established the past 3 years.
If you really want to get excited about adding veteran talent, wait for this offseason. And if you want to look for a major deal that will affect the Cubs, then consider this pattern: The Cubs have been willing to bid for top free agent pitchers who are traded mid-season. Why? Because it doesn’t cost them a draft pick.
We saw this 2 offseasons ago when the Cubs heavily pursued Anibal Sanchez, even outbidding the Tigers for his services but losing out for non-financial reasons. They continued the pattern with their plan B and signed Edwin Jackson, who was not given the qualifying offer and thus did not require draft pick compensation. That didn’t work out for the Cubs but the reasoning was sound. They only lost money on that deal. The deal, as frustrating as it has been for Cubs fans. doesn’t hurt the organization long term.
So don’t look for the Cubs to trade for David Price or to trade away Jake Arrieta. If you really want something to watch this trade deadline, look for something like a Jon Lester or Justin Masterson deal — to someone else. Then watch them if they become unrestricted free agents this offseason. Additionally, it fits another pattern in that this front office is very familiar with both players (as they were with Sanchez), so there is a comfort level there we know they have preferred in the past. The Cubs front office team have continued to track their former farmhands and have reportedly scouted both pitchers. There are some reports they’ve also had internal discussions, but I think it’s due diligence and with an eye for this coming winter. Let someone else mortgage their future prospects and then swoop in with what is currently the Cubs less hyped, but perhaps equally valuable asset, which is short term payroll flexibility.
If you really want to know that the Cubs will do, don’t follow the deadline hype. Follow their patterns.
Filed under: Rumors/Speculation