Making the Case to Trade Prospects: It’s a Long-Term Thing

As the trading deadline now looms only 10 days out, the market, which first appeared to be ripe for sellers, is now turning to the buyers’ favor. Yesterday news broke that the Detroit Tigers would probably be moving pitcher David Price and outfielder Yeonis Cespedes.

The Cubs, who are in the market for an outfielder and a pitcher, have the prospects it takes to acquire both if they wanted. It would take a minimum of five of the top players in the organization to snag both Price and Cespedes or likely three prospects for just one veteran. This got me thinking: Is there anybody in the Cubs’ system that is off-limits? Is there anyone they would not part ways with this summer?

The Cubs are not going to trade top prospects for a rental, let’s get that straight right away. They could, however, trade prospects for long-term assets. For example, they could turn 4 top prospects into 3 years of one MLB pitcher. The Cubs are looking to control whomever they get in return. That would be akin to converting 24 potential years of control (6 yrs of MLB per prospect, if they make it to the show) into 3 guaranteed years from a vet. To even that out, the Cubs actually might get more than one player in a deal.

CJ 70Most of the teams that are sellers are going to want players who are at least near ready to be major leaguers. If you start by looking at the Iowa Cubs roster, there a lot of players the Cubs could deal in a trade. They may not all be top prospects, but there’s a lot of talent there. Here’s some names: Matt Szczur, Junior Lake, Arismendy Alcantara, Christian Villanueva, Armando Rivero, Eric Jockish, Carl Edwards. Jr., and Dallas Beeler.

That’s a lot of talent, some of which is top-end but mainly organizational-depth. Some of them might make good pros down the road, some of them might not. But I don’t think any of those players listed above are off-limits, even Edwards.

If you go one level lower down to Tennessee, you find a slightly higher general talent level. Corey Black, Michael Jensen, PJ Franescon, Pierce Johnson, Ivan Pineyro, Tayler Scott, Ryan Williams, Willson Conteras, Stephen Bruno, Dan Vogelbach, Albert Almora, Jake Hanneman, Billy McKinney, and Bijan Rademacher are all prospects that are anywhere from 1-3 years away from the majors.

The Cubs could make a trade or two and still have several top prospects left over just from Tennessee. The system is so deep that they could lose five to seven players and it would leave little more than a dent, albeit a sizable one. But out of some 250-odd players the Cubs have, which ones are off-limits? Do the Cubs have certain untouchables? I think they do, but I also think the list is very, very small.

None of the players (Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, and Hendricks) that have been promoted in the past year are going to be involved in any trades. They are now major-league players for the Cubs, they won’t be major-league players for anyone else.

Baez 76When we start to look at the Cubs prospect list, there are only a few players who stand out above the rest as far as ability. They are:

  1. Javy Baez – He’s still so young and still so talented. I would hate to see him become a megastar someplace else. He has that much potential on both sides of the ball.
  2. Gleyber Torres – Nice hit tool, pretty good fielder, needs to improve on the base paths, and he’s only 18. He’s not going anywhere.
  3. Duane Underwood – Three words: Throws 95 easy.
  4. Eloy Jimenez – Also only 18, he’s just getting his feet wet and doing fine. The power will come.
  5. Dylan Cease – 95-97 mph velocity. He has been outstanding in the Arizona Rookie League throwing mostly fastballs as he develops his curve and changeup on the side.
  6. Any of this year’s draftees (until the off-season) – Ian Happ is who we thought he was and more, as he has more speed that previously thought. We have yet to see pitcher Bryan Hudson, who I think might be the best pick of all from this draft. Most of the other draftees are just getting started.

On the whole it isn’t a very big list. Many of the Cubs’ top prospects didn’t make my little list. Billy McKinney, for example, is a nice prospect who hits for average. He is streaky, but he doesn’t hit for a lot of power. Pierce Johnson is one of my favorite prospects ever but he profiles as a mid-rotation starter. If the Cubs have an opportunity to trade a guy like that for a top-of-the-rotation type, I’m going to go with the TOR guy every day the week and twice on Sunday.

Give him a few years and Eloy will be ready. He's only 18.
Give him a few years and Eloy will be ready. He’s only 18.

And I think that’s the attitude you kind of have to have. It’s easy to fall in love with a prospect. For a long time I wanted the Cubs to hoard the prospects – all of them! I wanted the Cubs to be a self-sustaining system. They could add in free agency but I didn’t want them to trade for anyone using anything except cash and international bonus pool money. That does make not good business sense.

Now I have changed my mind.

The main reason is because the system is so deep. The second is because the Cubs’ really high end talent is now in the majors. Outside of one player, almost all of the Cubs high-impact talent is all at A-ball or lower.

If the Cubs traded McKinney, Johnson, Edwards, and Vogelbach for a top pitcher and/or outfielder, the system is deep enough to absorb the hit. It really is. You would still have the five untouchables I listed above plus many other prospects. How many clubs could trade away four of their top prospects and still have one of the top five farm systems in the majors? Only the Dodgers, and maybe the Twins.

Add in this fact, too: most of the Cubs players on the 25-man roster, except for Dexter Fowler and a couple of others, are signed for a few years. Now you are adding two more long-term assets. This gives the system time to reboot and gain strength. In two to three years, the high-end players at A level mentioned above will be reaching AAA, this year’s international free agent class will all be stateside, and this year’s draft class will be reaching the top parts of the minors. The Cubs will be fine. They really will.

In the end, it’s a trade-off. The Cubs front office has to balance who a prospect is today versus who that prospect might be tomorrow. To project what a player is going to be like in 3, 4, 5, or 6 years versus knowing the MLB veteran you are trading for is usually an easy decision for people who evaluate talent for a living. We may think it is hard to do, but it’s what they do.

The Cubs are getting ready to make a run for it and it should be an exciting week-plus as we see how this all breaks down.


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