Theo Epstein likes to say the Cubs are awash in baseball currency. By that he means the Cubs have accumulated wealth in terms of prospect depth and payroll flexibility. It is something they intend to use, but also something they value greatly in their quest to keep the team competitive for years to come.
Prospects have value because they give a team cost-controlled production for 6 MLB seasons. They can do that for their current organization or be moved to another organization in exchange for players who fill present needs.
The Cubs intend to use prospects in both capacities, so we should be watching what the Red Sox and Angels have done with great interest.
That said, they are unique situations that may not lend a lot of insight on how the Cubs use their own prospect currency…
- It’s interesting to note that both teams have new GMs and perhaps there is some desire there to make an impact quickly. The Angels traded their two top prospects, one ranked 19th overall on MLB.com and the Red Sox traded 4 prospects, one of whom ranked 25th in all of baseball and another ranked 76th. The other two prospects are potential MLB starters and at 6 years of cost control, that also becomes a valuable asset.
- It’s also worth noting that both players acquired (Andrelton Simmons by the Angels; Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox) are considered the very best in the game in their respective roles. Simmons is considered the best defender, perhaps at any position, in all of baseball while many consider Kimbrel the top closer in the game.
So what we have are two GMs that are more familiar with their respective systems from an ousider’s perspective. They don’t have the attachment that comes with drafting and signing these players themselves. Also as new GMs, they may be looking at making a bold statement early on
I like the Angels trade better, though I don’t think it was the absolute steal that some do. It is a good trade for both teams — a pattern that seems to follow the Braves. You could argue that with Simmons being a unique player who is young and signed to a reasonable contract, the Braves could have held out for more and waited for some team to overpay. Maybe, but that isn’t how the Braves seem to operate. They look for an equal value exchange to reshape their team and when they get it, they pull the trigger. Furthermore, we don’t know how much they value Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. It may be higher than many prospect experts do. They may also highly value their current top SS prospect Ozhaino Albies, who should be a better hitter than Simmons though, of course, he won’t provide the same kind of defense.
All that aside, it is still a curious deal from the Angels side because Newcomb was their only prospect who projects as an above average player. — perhaps their only starter at any position. Chris Ellis may have been underrated in the sense that he has the size and stuff to stick as a starter. The pitching prospects the Angels have now — including top prospect Victor Alcantara – don’t have that same ceiling. Alcantara projects as a reliever to me.
So what you have with the Angels is a team that has basically emptied out their farm system to try to extend their window 2 or 3 more years. In some ways they are similar to where the Braves were a few years ago. It will be interesting to see if they take the same rebuilding path if they don’t succeed with this group — but with win-now manager Mike Scioscia wielding a lot of power in that organization, that seems unlikely. That a new GM just came in and immediately made a deal oriented toward the present at the expense of what was already a cloudy future is telling. The Angels are going to have to roll with what they have and worry about the future when they get there.
The Red Sox are more similar to the Cubs in terms of where their farm system stands and despite a poor 2015 season, they’re in an AL East that no longer fields a dominant team. There is no team in that division that has a stranglehold on that division for the present or future, so the Red Sox likely feel they have as good a chance at winning in 2016 and beyond as anyone.
To their credit, they dealt from depth. Manuel Margot is a CFer and the Red Sox have Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. who have already seen MLB time at the position. SS Javier Guerra is an intriguing raw talent at SS, but Xander Bogaerts currently at the position and defensively oriented Deven Marrero as their 7th ranked prospect. Carlos Asuaje is a middle infielder who is even further down the chart. LHP Logan Allen is a sleeper who is a potential MLB starter, but the Red Sox have a young staff where the oldest SP is Clay Buchholz at 30 years old. More to the point, Allen is behind Eduardo Rodriguez. Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Trey Ball ahead of him on the depth chart when it comes to young LH starters. I don’t necessarily have an issue with the players they traded, at least from a depth standpoint.
What I have an issue with is that they traded that depth for a closer. It wasn’t their most pressing need. The Red Sox staff is young, but it is essentially a staff of mid-rotation or below starters. They could have used their prospects to acquire an impact starter instead. Now they’ve narrowed their options and will have to do that through free agency or by further depleting what is still a strong farm system….for now. They’ve indicated that they will look to free agency.
That certainly affects the Cubs who are looking to free agency themselves in addition to trade. The Red Sox have deep pockets and have put themselves in a position where they will almost certainly ,need to buy that starting pitcher. And unlike last year, they’ll likely be looking to get a top of the rotation arm.
It speaks to the difficult balance of maintaining baseball currency while meeting short term needs — and that you have to be careful how you allocate those limited resources. The Angels spent their remaining prospect currency on a very good player — but he is just one player on a team that would seem to need more. I’ve never been a fan of thinking that a team — any team — is one player away from a title because there are too many variables surrounding a 162 game season. It can be a mistake to assume a roster will remain healthy and productive, and that an acquired player will be a pure net gain for the team as a whole. Meanwhile, the Red Sox had a lot more to deal and could withstand a hit to their farm system, but they shipped a good portion of their depth — and greater overall value than the Angels — for what some might consider a luxury, a part-time player who plays a very specific role.
Time will tell if the moves were worth it. Time will also give us a better understanding of the ripple effects caused by the moves, both in terms of their ability to acquire talent in the future as well as the potential cost of depleted depth. Both teams are taking a gamble and giving up a part of their future with the assumption that the players they respectively acquired will be the missing piece in the short term. If it works, then it certainly will have been worth the cost.
Closer to home, I don’t see the Cubs acting similarly. I think they’re willing to trade prospects — but unlike the Angels, they will trade from depth and, unlike the Red Sox, they will use that depth for a cost-controlled player that has a chance to make an impact everyday — or at least every 5th day — as a starter. Whether or not that is possible is up in the air. The market may not be there for that kind of move. But if it isn’t, I don’t expect the Cubs to force any particular deal and let the market dictate the cost. They’ll look for a different path to get to the same destination. That is what I mean when I say the Cubs may need to be creative to fill their needs this offseason. Because of that, this is going to be a difficult offseason to forecast, but we can be sure the Cubs will explore every avenue, from David Price and on down the line. They’ll do what makes sense with respect to their own process, not necessarily that of the Angels, Red Sox, or any other organization
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