Hope springs eternal, and I have as much excitement about the possibility of a competitive Chicago Cubs baseball team in 2015 as the next person. But perhaps it speaks to how I deal with disappointment that I always try to lower my expectations heading into a season. I might be in the minority here as playoff talk seems to be creeping ever more into the conversation around this team, but the odds of them being sellers at the deadline have to be at least equal to, if not more than, those of being buyers.
With only six games against teams outside of the NL Central, April is such an important month for the Cubs. Those six games are in Colorado, which is always tough to play, and against the much-improved San Diego Padres. Even Kris Brant might not be able to save the season if they are 6 or 7 games under while playing against so many division foes.
Tom Ricketts might want the term “flip guy” erased from the Cubs lexicon, but nothing has changed about Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s philosophy about finishing the season out of the playoffs. This team will sell if June rolls around with the Cubs in a familiar position, but who do they sell if this isn’t the year?
Okay, this one isn’t fair. The Cubs would trade Edwin Jackson right now if they could get any salary relief or a lottery-ticket prospect in return. Tuesday’s events might be the final straw that results in him being designated for assignment before the season even begins, but this front office and manager are not likely to do what we expect. If Jackson heads north, the Cubs will be looking for the first opportunity to move on from a mistake contract.
Odds of being dealt- 100%
Fowler is a really interesting case. He is still fairly young, but he only has one year left on his deal. He has the OBP that the front office covets, but questions surround his defensive ability. He seems to be a great clubhouse presence, but the roster has been filled with those types of players. At the end of the day, Fowler might be the most valuable trade chip the Cubs hold in 2015.
Odds of being dealt- 90%
Another one that might not be fair since the Cubs have presumably being trying to trade Castillo since David Ross was signed. Joe Maddon has been arguing for carrying three catchers, and perhaps that is truly what he wants as a mad scientist with his lineup. That said, it is very hard to carry three backstops in the NL with 12-man (or more) pitching staffs becoming the norm. However, I can now envision a scenario where Castillo survives on the Cubs roster beyond 2015, but more on that later.
Odds of being dealt- 80%
Flip guy might not be in the vocabulary, but the Denorfia signing is exactly what the Cubs have been doing for three years. The only thing that might prevent him from being traded is an inability to get value for a short-side-of-a-platoon bat, though the Cubs were able to find a taker for a struggling Scott Hairston a couple years ago. Denorfia might be the first player moved during the actual trade season.
Odds of being dealt- 80%
Motte is another signing that looks vaguely familiar. The motives behind it might be different than in years past, but the end result could be the same. The Cubs have not had good luck in the free agent reliever market, but an effective Jason Motte should be able to command something significant. Add in experience as a closer and there might be a lot of value to be had here, relatively speaking.
Odds of being dealt- 70%
Coghlan was one of the few pleasant surprises of last season, at the major league level at least. The Cubs have another season of arbitration with Coghlan after this year, but the fit seems poor given his horrendous outfield defense. There are a variety of options to take over left field moving forward, so if there is any value to be gained from Coghlan the front office should/would move on that quickly. The odds are lowered because you wonder if teams would be wary of giving up value for Coghlan given his history and limited track record of production, e.g. Nate Schierholtz.
Odds of being dealt- 65%
The rise and fall and rise of Travis Wood has been a fascinating story to watch in his time as a Cub and he does seem to fit the mold of what the front office likes in pitchers. The Cubs do have Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel locked in for next year, and a bumper crop of top-of-the-rotation arms will be available in the offseason. Given the choice between Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks, it seems very likely that Travis Wood would be the one to go.
Odds of being dealt- 60%
The Cubs have control of Strop for two more seasons after this one, but they also have an influx of power right-handed arms that could replace Strop. His slider/command profile also is one that does not tend to age well, e.g. Carlos Marmol. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part that the Cubs could sell high on half of their jackpot win from Baltimore, but given cost and effectiveness the past season Strop should net something interesting in return.
Odds of being dealt- 50%
The odds should tell you that I do not think this scenario is likely, but the Cubs could hang on to three catchers into June. Welington Castillo, with the help of framing experts Montero and David Ross, might improve enough to not be terrible at that facet of catching. Montero could bounce back offensively and the Cubs might be in a position to sell high on him while keeping the younger, cheaper, and (hopefully) improved Castillo. Far-fetched perhaps, but something that is remotely plausible now as compared to a few weeks ago.
Odds of being dealt- 10%
The Cubs really cannot trade Jason Hammel this year. He signed a cheaper deal just to come back to Chicago, and to immediately trade him again would damage the front office’s reputation with players too much to make up for whatever value they received in a trade. Then again, Hammel is on the wrong side of 30 and signed to a very reasonable deal so there would be interest if the Cubs were to make him available.
Odds of being dealt- 5%
Ideally this is all moot. The Cubs could get off to a hot start and never look back for the next six years and beyond. If it isn’t though, there will be some players moved. The trade deadline time will probably mirror 2012 more so than the previous two in terms of the types of returns the Cubs receive. If I had to say right now, I would guess that the Cubs trade Fowler, Motte, Denorfia, and Wood, but obviously performance of players and other factors will determine the ultimate outcome of this hypothetical scenario.
This also would not be the worst outcome in the world either. Sure, it would be a disappointment to be sellers again, but the Cubs’ peak run is probably still a season or two away at this point. Adding some more chips could be the difference between just making it to the playoffs down the road and the ultimate goal of winning the whole thing.