Sorry Cubs Fans, But One of Your Shiny Toys May Be Enjoyed by Another Child
Sometimes the more fortunate children have so many wonderful toys that those in greater need would appreciate them more. These exchanges often happen around the holidays, with charity drives and gifts collected to benefit those who are under-resourced. Many of you reading this blog post were likely on the more affluent side of the equation, taking inventory of everything that you have and deciding what you could part with for the joy of someone else.
Fortunately for the Cubs, there is no charity involved when trying to construct a baseball team. If you give up something that you love, you’re getting something pretty good in return. But that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally think about your old toy.
With a few exceptions, it’s been the young core of cost-controlled hitting assets that has propelled the franchise forward. Sure, Javy Baez looked overmatched during his brief major league stint in 2014. Yes, it’s taken Jorge Soler a long time to translate his raw power into the in-game power that many of us expected to see displayed last season. Yet both players showed tangible growth in September and October, and when such a young team wins 97 regular season games and finds itself in the NLCS, a lot of things have fallen the right way.
But with David Price headed to Boston and Zack Greinke the likely subject of a Dodgers/Giants bidding war, the acquisition of a high quality arm to join Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta at the top of the Cubs rotation is most likely going to come via trade. The intoxication of so many wins with “this team” will make it a little uncomfortable for fans to face the possibility that some of these young hitters may not be launching baseballs over ivy-covered brick walls next season.
It would sting to see Soler in a Cleveland Indians uniform, patrolling their right field and crushing mistakes into the sparsely populated Progressive Field bleachers. It’s possible though, and many have speculated the Cubs and Indians appear to be a fit, what with Cleveland possessing some quality, cost-controlled, under-30 arms. While Soler has tantalized with his plate discipline, a weaponized throwing arm, and the aforementioned raw power, his right-handedness and weak glovework could make him less appealing when compared to other toys that offer more value. That doesn’t mean it would be easy to let go of such potential.
The thought of Starlin Castro playing the middle infield in San Diego may delight some of his critics, but the newly versatile middle infielder is actually a decent bet to make the Hall of Fame with his counting stats. Seriously. Because he debuted at age 20, check his Baseball Reference age comparisons with Robin Yount, Bill Mazeroski, and others. He’ll turn 26 in late March, and could reach 1,000 career hits in the first week of the season. If he can stick at 3B later in his career, he has a real shot at 3,000. Evan broke this down in greater detail last April.
With Castro bouncing back so strongly after his demotion in August, he’s still a solid defender who can give you full seasons of 110 wRC+/.335 wOBA when he’s swinging the bat well. Players like that don’t grow on trees, and the Cubs would seek a Tyson Ross-type pitcher in return, perhaps even the actual Tyson Ross. The Castro doll is really fun when it works, but occasionally breaks and makes other options look a lot more appealing.
Saying goodbye to Baez might hurt the most, considering his ceiling is higher than those of Castro or Soler and he seemed to make significant (though not literal, thankfully) strides at the plate after his September call-up. Aside from a couple shaky moments in the NLDS, he proved to be a valuable defensive player who could provide an easy plus (maybe even plus-plus) glove at three infield positions. Considering the visibly improved approach in addition to Joe Maddon’s affection for Baez, he could be the least likely toy to be surrendered. However, he played only 28 regular season games in 2015 and posted an underwhelming 98 wRC+, so there’s still a lot of room to grow. Do the Cubs believe they have something special in Baez, or are they inclined to think he won’t live up to the hype?
You love your toys, as well you should. After all, they’re awesome. They’ve provided some fun moments and even some unforgettable memories. But you have more than all the other kids, and it might be time to share with those who aren’t so lucky. The good news is you’re (probably) going to be better off in the long run.