Friday, August 1, 2014

Evaluating the Cubs' Trade Deadline

It has already come and gone: July 31st, the annual highlight of my Summer, the MLB Trade Deadline. Since the start of the Theo regime, the Trade Deadline has been an annual fire sale, used to trade away the few redeeming parts of the Cubs' annual on-field mediocrity for the promise of a brighter future; however, this will be the last year where the Cubs are obvious sellers at the deadline. The slew of prospects acquired by Theo and Jed over the past 3 years are finally about to break through the surface and thrust the Cubs into contention. But before we get carried away, let's recap the deadline deals the Cubs made this year.

RHP Jeff Samardzija and RHP Jason Hammel to Oakland Athletics for SS Addison Russell, RHP Dan Straily, and OF Billy McKinney

Alright, fine. So maybe this wasn't at the deadline. Maybe it wasn't even CLOSE to the deadline, but the fact of the matter is, this trade was the biggest block buster of the year, sending the Cubs' best two starters (until Jake Arrieta went beast-mode that is) to Oakland for young starting pitcher, Dan Straily, as well as Oakland's top 2 prospects, including Baseball America's #5 overall prospect in all of baseball, Addison Russell (above).

"But, Neal!" you protest, "David Price and Jon Lester were traded! They're both better pitchers than Samardzija and Hammel! How can you claim this was the biggest block buster of the year?" Aye, my dear reader, there's the rub. While I would agree with you that Price and Lester are both more proven pitchers and slightly more talented pitchers than Samardzija, neither team got nearly the return off of their two pitchers that the Cubs got.

The Rays received the Mariners' equivalent of Josh Vitters in SS/2B Nick Franklin, as well as solid pitcher Drew Smyly, and 18 year old shortstop Willy Adames. All of this, for David Price. Franklin was supposed to be a great everyday shortstop, but he has struggled to the tune of .214/.291/.358 in 119 career games. Drew Smyly is solid 25 year-old LHP with a 3.53 career ERA. Smyly can be used as a starter or a reliever. Willy Adames has a long way to go, but he's a very interesting, high-upside prospect to look at. Needless to say, the Rays received about what the Cubs got last year for Matt Garza.

The A's received Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes from the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes. There's some money exchanging hands as well, but all-in-all, the trade still pales in comparison to the haul the Cubs got back on July 4th from Samardzija and Hammel. Cespedes will be a free agent in 2015, and will likely be overpaid by the Yankees to join the ranks of ludicrously overpaid players in the Bronx. Boston, did you trade away your ace for a year and a half of a career .262/.318/.470 player during a time period where you won't be in contention? Well, to each their own.

Either way, the fact that the Cubs were able to receive one of the best prospects in all of baseball, a solid and durable young arm, as well as a very promising 19 year old outfielder for Samardzija and Hammel is incredibly impressive. Of all of the trades made this Summer, this one takes the cake for biggest block buster. And while we'll miss Samardzija and Hammel, it's nice that Samardzija finally gets a chance to win some baseball games.

And to think, I had finally learned how to spell his name.

Grade: A+

2B Darwin Barney to LA Dodgers for RHP Jonathan Martinez

One of the things that I've learned recently is that the same player can have drastically different values to two different teams. When looking at Jeff Samardzija, he has immense value on a contending team because of how good he his. On the Cubs, it doesn't matter how good he is. The Cubs will not compete, so it's not worth it to the Cubs to pay Samardzija the amount of money he wanted on an extension. This is why the Oakland trade worked out so well for both sides involved. The players involved were significantly more valuable to the teams they were trade to than the teams they were traded from. The same can be said for Darwin Barney.

With the Cubs, Barney was in a position where he was needed to be an every day regular. Well, when you slash .230/.265/.328, that's not good enough for a team who needs an every day second baseman. However, for the Dodgers, Barney fills a role as a late-game defensive replacement, and he fills that role better than anyone in the majors. Needless to say, Barney has significantly more value to the Dodgers than to the Cubs. This trade works out for both parties, as it clears a roster spot for the Cubs, but it also works out well for Barney himself. For the first time in his career, he can be on a team contending for a World Series.

Jonathan Martinez was acquired from the Dodgers for Darwin Barney
In return, the Cubs received a PTBNL. This player was later named as Jonathan Martinez. Martinez is a 20 year-old at Class A who was pitching well with a very respectable 3.47 ERA on the year. Even more impressive is his 7.7 K/9 and his 1.6 BB/9. With an above average fastball and average off-speed offerings, Martinez projects to be a very serviceable bullpen arm 3-4 years from now.

Clearing permanent space on the major league for Alcantara while deepening our minor league pitching was the sole purpose for this trade, and Theo & Co. accomplished just that.

Grade: B+

Cubs acquire LHP Felix Doubront from Boston Red Sox for PTBNL

I like this trade.

Let me clarify: I really like this trade. Dependent upon who the Cubs send away as their PTBNL, this trade has the potential to be a total steal for the Cubs.

Rewind 13 months to last year when the Cubs traded away Scott Feldman and Steven Clevenger for Pedro Strop and the formerly-promising-but-then-struggling Jake Arrieta. The Cubs traded just a little bit away to receive a formerly highly-touted pitcher in Jake Arrieta. 13 months later, Jake Arrieta is the Cubs' ace and has the look of one of the best pitchers in the National League.
Doubront looks to have a bounce-back career with the Cubs
Felix Doubront is the 2014 left-handed manifestation of Jake Arrieta. Look for the Cubs' coaching staff to 'fix' Felix Doubront and turn him into a solid 3 or 4 in the Cubs' pitching rotation.

Grade: Tough to say because the PTBNL won't be declared until after the Rule 5 Draft, but this trade could be anywhere from a C to an A. As of now, I'll say B-

2B/OF Emilio Bonifacio and LHP James Russell to Atlanta Braves for C Victor Caratini

When this trade was first announced and Gordon Wittenmyer tweeted that the Cubs acquired a minor league catcher from Atlanta, I was desperately hoping for the Braves' #3 overall prospect, AAA catcher Christian Bethancourt. However, life isn't always fair and we don't always get what we want. So instead, the Cubs will have to settle with 20 year-old swtich-hitting catcher, Victor Caratini.

Caratini looks to continue his growth at Kane County
Now, I use the word 'settle' here wryly, because there are very few exciting/intriguing catching prospects in baseball right now, and I think the Cubs grabbed one of them with Caratini. Caratini also has the skills to play 3B, but expect the Cubs to leave him behind the dish because there are very few catchers in the Cubs' system.

Through the first year and a half of his career, the switch-hitting catcher has shown good plate discipline, flashes of power, a solid hit tool, and above average defense as a 20 year-old at Class A. If he can hit 15-20 HRs and hit above .270 while playing above average defense (which he projects to do), Caratini will be a borderline all-star, simply due to the fact that there are so few good offensive catchers. Don't expect jaw-dropping stardom, but look forward to a solid career from Caratini.

Giving up Bonifacio and Russell hurts, but like I mentioned earlier with Barney and Samardzija, how much value do these guys really have to the Cubs right now? I think I speak for all Cubs' fans when I say that I wish the best of luck to both Bonifacio and Russell as well as the Braves for the rest of 2014.

Here's to the hope that the Braves continue to trade us their best under-the-radar prospects at the trade deadline for the 4th year in arrow in 2015! Hip-hip, Go Braves!

Grade: A-

While the non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone in 2014, Cubs' fans can expect at least one more trade between now and the August 31st waiver deadline (please be Edwin Jackson, please be Edwin Jackson). Until then, the Cubs' front office has continued to grow the talent on the farm and has given the Cubs' fan base something to become even more excited about. While we were sellers at the deadline this year, don't expect that to be the case next year.

The Cubs will compete, and the Cubs will compete soonSo while this year may be lost, you know what they say:

There's always next year.

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