As you no doubt know by now, this weekend the Chicago Cubs finalized a trade that sent prospects Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos and (non-prospect) Sam Fuld to the Tampa Bay Rays for Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zach Rossman. The latter two pieces from the Rays are largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of the trade (as is Fuld), so it’s fair to evaluate the trade as the initial four for Garza.
But I’m not going to evaluate the trade.
First of all, it’s been discussed ad nauseam in the comments and all over the Cublogoverse. Other folks across the web have thrown in their two cents (Keith Law says the Rays won the deal, Fangraphs thinks the Cubs overpaid but did well to add Garza, and Big League Stew says bringing in Garza is not going to turn the Cubs into contenders in 2011). Second, in the spirit of a forward-looking attitude that behooves all Cubs fans, I think it is more interesting to evaluate what the trade means for the Chicago Cubs.
And, unsurprisingly, it means a whole lot.
(1.) The Chicago Cubs Are Going for it in 2011, and May Even Be Competitive.
This is probably the most self-evident truth from the Matt Garza trade. Jim Hendry can talk ’til he’s blue in the face about how Garza is under control for three more years, and how he’ll be a Cub for a “long time,” but the simple fact is, you don’t move four of your top twelve prospects unless there’s a sense of urgency there – particularly when the mantra of the new ownership regime has been “build from within, long-term plan, dynasty.” Clearly – perhaps for fear that waning prospects in the NL Central would lead to waning fan interest – the Chicago Cubs are going for it in 2011.
And, you know, they just might be competitive. Most projections had the Cubs at around 80 to 84 wins before the Garza deal. No, that isn’t enough to win the Central, but it is enough to be in the conversation deep into the season. Throw Garza into the mix, and that projected total probably increases to 83 to 87 or so. Yes, the Brewers are vastly improved. Yes, the Reds are growing into their own. And yes, the Cardinals are still good. But with Garza on board (not to mention Carlos Pena and Kerry Wood), the Cubs are no longer automatically assumed to dominate that fourth spot.
(2.) The Cubs Understand that Not All of Their Top Prospects Are Going to Have a Place on the Big Club…
Prospects are great. They’re fun to follow and watch develop. They’re fun to debate and project. But at the end of the day, they’re not all going to make their respective parent clubs – not only because some players do not develop ML talent, but also because also because there isn’t a spot for everyone. This trade indicates that, despite the Cubs’ desire to build from within, the Cubs recognize there isn’t going to be a spot on the big club for all of their talented youngsters. Thus, a team is better off trading them before they face the roster crunch.
(3.) …But the Cubs Don’t Fully Appreciate the Value of Their Prospects As Commodities.
Prospects are not valuable only because they may develop into productive players on your big club. They’re valuable also because they can be traded for ML players. And in that respect, the Garza trade – based on the vast majority of third party observers – suggests that the Cubs do not appropriately value their prospects as commodities. Simply put: the Cubs overpaid for Garza.
Here, the Cubs clearly lost the posturing battle – saying all along that they wouldn’t part with Lee, but faced with a Rays GM saying all along he planned to keep all six of his talented starting pitchers. The Cubs blinked first, and met the Rays’ lofty demands. Being disappointed in this regard says nothing about how excited you may or may not be to have Matt Garza on the Cubs (I am, in fact, quite excited). Instead, it expresses only disappointment that the Cubs may have been better served in the long run holding onto those prospects, or at least, holding firm to a slightly reduced offer.
Allow me to demonstrate: imagine that the Cubs traded every single player in their minor league system for Garza, and imagine that you believe none will ever make it to the Major Leagues. Are you still happy – in isolation – to have Garza? Sure. But are you still happy with the trade? Of course not. But, but, but, they’re just prospects! They might all flame out! But that’s not the point, is it? The point is the Cubs have traded away all of their prospect commodities, and whether or not the kids ever make it to the show, the Cubs now have no pieces left to make other moves. Obviously the Cubs didn’t trade away every prospect for Garza, but the principle remains the same: it’s nice to get good ML players, but a wise team trades no more than they have to, regardless of whether they believe the youngsters they’re trading will *actually* ever make it to the show. The youngsters have value as trading pieces; they’re like paper money in a Dollar General. Spend wisely.
(4.) The Cubs Are Willing to Continue to Spend in the Next Few Years.
Matt Garza, assuming he remains with the Cubs after this year, is under control through 2013, but he’s going to get expensive. Adding him – at the expense of young, cost-controlled prospects – suggests that the Cubs plan to continue being a top spender in the National League. You don’t ship off a number of potentially cheap pieces for a potentially expensive, but established, piece unless you plan on continuing to spend in the upper echelon.
I think it’s very fair to be excited about the Garza trade, if for no other reason than this.
(5.) The Cubs Are Going to Field Offers for Tom Gorzelanny and Probably Randy Wells.
Carlos Silva would be included here if there was any chance that even a single offer would come in to be fielded. The front four of the Cubs’ rotation is set, in whatever order you please: Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and one of Gorzelanny and Wells. The fifth spot will likely go to Andrew Cashner, though the Garza addition made his efforts to crack the rotation a little more difficult. Carlos Silva is probably out of the picture, but he’ll compete for that fifth spot, along with Jeff Samardzija and Casey Coleman.
So, why is only one of Gorzelanny or Wells likely to make the rotation? Why can’t they just be the four and five starters? Setting aside the Cubs’ (correct) desire to move Cashner into the rotation, the simple fact is that Gorzelanny and Wells are theoretically expendable, and they have a great deal of value. Gorzelanny is under control for two more years, and will make no more than $2.5 million this year. Wells hasn’t even reached arbitration yet. The Cubs could get a serious (no, not a Garza-like, but a very good) haul if they move one of these two in this particular market.
It’s no certainty that either will be moved, but adding Garza suggests that the Cubs will go in that direction. The team was already shopping Gorzelanny as a way to save a little cash, and there’s no reason to believe that will change now that they’ve added another starter (and more salary obligation). As for Wells, I truly hope the Cubs do not deal him. As stated, he’s super cheap, and he’s underrated.
(6.) The Chicago Cubs May Be Very High on Guys Like DJ LeMahieu, Junior Lake, and/or Josh Vitters – or They Just Really Like Blake DeWitt.
By all accounts, Hak-Ju Lee was the shortstop of the future here in Chicago. For now, that position is the province of Starlin Castro, but most thought he would yield to Lee’s superior glove (and weaker bat) at some point in the next couple of years, and would take over at second or third base. Now, with Lee gone, shortstop belongs to Castro for the foreseeable future. Dealing Lee suggests the Cubs have other plans for the future of the infield. It could be that they see a guy like DJ LeMahieu or Junior Lake taking over at second base in a couple years, and they still believe that Josh Vitters is the third baseman of the future. Or, it could be that they are higher on Blake DeWitt than most, and figure that he can stay at second base for the long haul, or can take over for Aramis Ramirez when the Cubs allow him to walk in the near future (DeWitt is a nature third baseman (with the bat of a shortstop)).