We originally reported on the possibility of a Cubs-Rays trade early in December and since then, there has been a lot of talk to back that up. The teams match up well on paper. The Rays have a surplus of young pitching and the Cubs have a surplus of young hitters. When you have potential impact bats Jorge Soler likely batting 6th and Javier Baez coming off the bench, not to mention Chris Coghlan, who put up the best wOBA after the big three (Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber) among Cubs hitters last year. He, too, could find himself fighting for playing time.
The Cubs have been busy this offseason and have built a team which many consider to be among the very best in baseball — and perhaps the odds-on favorite to win the World Series.
That does not mean the Cubs are necessarily finished improving their team. While they filled some huge needs with a mid-rotation starter (John Lackey), rotation depth (Adam Warren), and two great fits as far as OBP, contact rates, and defense in Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, they would still like to add a cost-controlled starter and, if possible, improve their overall OF defense.
The Rays have plenty of pitching to trade, most notably Jake Odorizzi, whom Jim Bowden speculates is the Cubs main target. But as we mentioned in the article linked at the top, they may have interest in other names such as Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore. Chris Archer is not in play and certainly not for players the Cubs might consider surplus.
The Rays also have the kind of defensive CFers that would improve the Cubs overall OF defense, as they could push Jason Heyward to RF, where he plays at an elite level. Kevin Keirmaier is perhaps the best defensive CFer in baseball but like Archer, it’s doubtful he is being made available. The Rays also have Desmond Jennings who will find himself further displaced if the Rays do acquire an OFer. Jennings has not lived up to expectations on offense, though he has been about an average offensive player when healthy. He has been stellar on defense, though most of his best work has been done in LF. As a CFer, he has graded slightly above average for his career with glimpses where he has been well above average.
Other than the aforenementioned MLB bats the Cubs may have to offer, they also have a very deep system which includes top bats such as Billy McKinney, Ian Happ, and Jeimer Candelario. All are offensive-minded top 10 prospects who are within a couple of years of contributing at the MLB level. Should the Cubs and Rays want to expand a deal, it is likely the Rays would show interest in all of those players.
Of course, we have been down this road before only to see interest on both sides wane. The Cubs have since added Heyward, Zobrist, and Warren. Warren alleviates some of the urgency to add young, cost-controlled pitching depth, but the Cubs remain interested in a cost-controlled impact arm who can be a mid-rotation or better starter after Lackey and possibly Jake Arrieta hit the free agent market in 2 years.
The market is beginning to change since those talks stalled. The outfield market is beginning to gain some momentum. Other than Heyward and Zobrist (whom some sought as a LFer); Alex Gordon, Denard Span, and Gerardo Parra have signed. Of the major free agent OFers only Justin Upton, Yoennis Cespedes, and Dexter Fowler remain unsigned while other potential starters such as Austin Jackson remain available.
It is important to note that the Cubs don’t need to expand the deal and acquire a CFer in a trade. Their current starting OF of Schwarber, Heyward, and Soler is far more than adequate and they can sign or trade for a top reserve OF defender. If they should trade Soler, then they have Chris Coghlan and Javier Baez still available for use as starters. They could also sign a standout defensive CFer such as Austin Jackson or trade for a player like 4th OFer Jake Marisnick (whose defense makes him an adequate stopgap starting CFer) until prospect Albert Almora is ready to take over in CF.
They may also want to strengthen their bullpen with a quality arm lke closer Brad Boxberger or LHRP Jake McGee as part of the deal. The Cubs have added a lot of depth to their bullpen along with a solid addition in Warren, but they have not added an impact arm and given the volatility of bullpen performance, it’s never a bad idea to have too many relief arms, especially those who can come in late in games, throw strikes, and miss bats.
The Cubs are in a much better position to deal than they were the last time we discussed this potential trade match-up. They’re also in a better position to not make a major deal. They can stand pat or patch holes with smaller deals. Essentially the Cubs have positioned themselves in a situation where they will only make a major deal if it improves the team overall. While that may not mean surplus value, they will at least look to get equal value at a greater position of need and strengthen the roster overall.
All that said, a deal seems unlikely despite the good match between the teams. The Rays have multiple teams interested in their pitching and are themselves in a good position to not make a deal with the Cubs and look elsewhere. Still, few teams have the kind of hitting depth the Cubs do so the situation is worth monitoring as the market begins to clarify.
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