Let me go ahead and preface this piece by saying that the titular topic is (probably) hypothetical in nature. It’s also based primarily on a mailbag question of how the Cubs’ view the trade value of Addison Russell and Ian Happ. Even so, I think Bruce Levine’s answer offers a little insight into what the Cubs are realistically thinking and what they’d be willing to do in the right situation.
Take a look at what Levine had to say and we’ll meet back on the other side for some additional commentary.
A trade of Russell would be more likely to happen after the 2018 campaign, not in season. All that aside, Russell and Happ would both be in play right now for a pitcher like Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who’s under contract control through 2020…The Cubs brass may value Happ long term over Kyle Schwarber because of his speed, versatility and power from both sides of the plate.
The full answer includes some more qualifiers and context, but I think the selection above leaves enough meat on the bone for us to chew on just a little. The main idea is that the Cubs place a great deal of value in both Happ and Russell as players who can help the team right now. Then there’s the bit about Happ’s future value perhaps being higher than Schwarber’s, which is really something given that the latter is Theo Epstein’s favorite large adult son.
Though Levine doesn’t come out and say it, he infers pretty clearly that Russell has the most immediate value and would hurt the most to lose. That’s not just a matter of his own overall production, which is quite significant this season, but also takes into account the Cubs’ nigh-unparalleled outfield depth. Happ is simply more expendable, all things considered.
As Levine writes, however, either of the young stars would be expendable were the Mets to ask for one of them as the centerpiece in a deGrom trade. With a proven track record of excellence and two more years of contractual control after this one, the 30-year-old righty is sure to command a hefty price that would only begin with one MLB player. I can’t imagine the Cubs being willing to bundle both players in question, but one or the other might — might — allow them to swing something in spite of their depleted prospect pantry.
It’s also important to note that Levine said “a pitcher like” deGrom, which in general is a top-of-the-rotation guy with years of club control remaining. Blake Snell, another pitcher to whom the Cubs have kinda-sorta maybe been linked recently, comes to mind. Ken Rosenthal wrote about the Cubs discussing the addition of a veteran outfielder, which would likely come as part of a double move that would have them trading away one of their younger guys for a top-flight pitcher.
Rosenthal mentioned Happ, along with Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr., so the former ends up in the overlapping sections of this little Venn diagram we’ve put together here. Again, and I feel I need to make this abundantly clear, we’re talking about educated speculation here. Levine isn’t saying that conversations have necessarily been had, only that these particular players would not be off the table in the event of such talks.
We’re all more than familiar with the fading rumors of a Russell-for-Manny Machado deal, though that would have seen the shortstop void filled. Well, sort of, since there’d still be somewhat of a defensive hole there. The idea of moving Russell-plus for a pitcher is a little more novel and would give the Cubs some other surpluses to deal with, but that’s a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of trade when you’re talking about deGrom.
Now, both Levine and Rosenthal state clearly that such a deal is unlikely to happen. So why are we even bothering to talk about it? Simple: The conversation helps us to establish what the Cubs are and aren’t willing to do. When held up to the light of what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said about the search for pitching and the potential to trade from the MLB roster, it all fits.
As for the Mets and whether they’d be willing to trade deGrom, however, that’s a whole ‘nother story. If they are, it’d be kind of strange to move him for a package centered around a similarly controllable position player and some mid-tier prospects. Then again, it’s the Mets we’re talking about here so you never know.
Assign to this whole thing however much you feel it’s worth, but the moral of the story is twofold. First, the Cubs would be willing to move a key player from the roster if they were able to land a pitcher who could anchor their rotation. Second, they are unlikely to move any major players during the season. Although I’m guessing they’d move even more than one if Mike Trout becomes available, but I don’t think that’s happening.