Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs traded pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose
Ascanio, as well as minor league infielder Josh Harrison to the
Pirates for pitchers John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. And though the
rumors about Grabow had swirled for weeks, thus leaving the indelible
impression on this trade that it was all about him (i.e., another
lefty for the pen), the trade is perhaps more notable for the
inclusion of his fellow lefty.
Here’s the thing about getting Grabow.
You have to believe the ardent desire to get Grabow was at least as
much about a lack of faith in Carlos Marmol and Aaron Heilman to
reliably set up Kevin Gregg as it was about getting another lefty in
the pen. After all, lefties have hit Grabow much harder this year than
have righties: righties are hitting just .234 against Grabow, whereas
lefties are hitting a much better .275 with an eye-popping .362 OBP.
And when viewed in that light, yes, the addition of Grabow makes more
sense and takes on another level of value beyond being merely “another
lefty.” But he’s a rental, plain and simple. Like such legends as
Steve Trachsel and Matt Lawton before him, Grabow is unlikely to be
the difference between a Cubs playoff run – or better still, a deep
playoff run – and crapping out in September.
So with that in mind, how much better are the Cubs really today, with
Grabow in the pen, than they were yesterday? Kevin Hart was sporting a
2.60 ERA for the big team, and Jose Ascanio had already showed
electric stuff out of the Cubs’ pen. Josh Harrison, 22 and in A ball,
is young, but he’s quite a hitter (for average, at least – not so much
on the power thing).
That’s why Tom Gorzelanny is the key part of this deal.
Before Ted Lilly’s injury, no one seriously contemplated that the Cubs
would go after a starting pitcher, but once he went down, we all had a
moment of pause. Yes, Lilly is supposed to be back in a few weeks.
Yes, the injuries are supposed to be minor. But you’re talking about a
shoulder AND knee surgery. If you didn’t at least secretly hope the
Cubs went out and got another starting pitcher, you weren’t paying
Kevin Hart, though his previous starting efforts were laudible, was
not the answer to Lilly’s absence.
Here I admittedly use a little doublespeak – on the one hand, I posit
that Grabow is not much of an upgrade over the better of Kevin Hart
and Jose Ascanio, but on the other, I suggest that Kevin Hart was not
an acceptable substitute for Ted Lilly. Kevin Hart’s excellent four
starts this year for the Cubs were pulled off, as one friend said,
with smoke and mirrors. First, he managed just 5.5 innings per start.
Second, in those 22 innings, he gave up 20 hits and 13 walks, striking
out just 12. Luck was certainly a factor in his relative success.
And although he’d shown a flicker of hope as a Major League level
middle reliever, there was little reason to believe he could continue
as a great or even good Major League level starter without a dramatic
improvement in his approach and his stuff.
Tom Gorzelanny, on the other hand, has already demonstrated over the
course of multiple years that he can definitely be a good or even
great Major League level starter. He’s lost it a bit, there’s
not doubt about that. And that regard, if we are equating Hart and
Gorzelanny, Hart is the safer play. Lower upside, but also lower
downside. Gorzelanny is a much more attractive player overall because
of that possibility that he could get “it” back.
That is not to say, however, that I think this was a great trade. I
appreciate that, all other things equal, I would probably condone
trading Ascanio and Harrison for Grabow, and then trading Hart for
Gorzelanny. But all other things aren’t equal.
The Chicago Cubs needed another starting pitcher. And not only is the
one that they acquired a very high risk proposition, they dealt
perhaps the next most reliable option.
So this trade, like it’s unlikely centerpiece, is a high risk / high
reward proposition. If Gorzelanny fills in admirably in Ted Lilly’s
absence and John Grabow continues to do what he’s done this year, all
will be well, and no matter the season outcome, the trade was a good
one. But just as I will bestow praise for a high risk move that pays
off, I will criticize one that does not. If Gorzelanny continues to
pull his version of the Rich Hill, and if Ted Lilly doesn’t come back
asap with a magically healed shoulder and knee, leaving the Cubs
scrambling to find a rotation fill-in, the trade was a bad one. And
that’s irrespective of what John Grabow does.
Thus, this trade is all on Tom Gorzelanny. And he better be awesome.