As teased on Facebook, Twitter, and the comments last night (which was not intended to actually be a tease – I just knew I needed more time for a full write-up), the Chicago Cubs continue to blaze a new path under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The path? Listening to offers on all players, without passion or prejudice. Otherwise known as “the right path.”
To that end, a source – one who’s been on the money this offseason – tells me the Cubs have spoken with the Los Angeles Angels about catcher Geovany Soto and closer Carlos Marmol, in whom the Angels are interested.
The Angels have been attached to a number of generic rumors lately, with Jon Heyman noting their desire for a closer, and Ken Rosenthal and Buster Olney reporting their interest in upgrading at catcher. With the Cubs in full-on listening mode, it’s no surprise the Angels turned to the Cubs to at least discuss the possibilities.
The prospect of trading Carlos Marmol was discussed at length yesterday. In short, there are two primary factors to weigh when considering trading a player: how valuable is he to other teams, and how replaceable is he by the Cubs in 2012 without suffering a huge drop-off in team performance? In Marmol’s case, he is quite valuable and quite replaceable.
The same could be argued of Geovany Soto, albeit less convincingly.
Soto, who turns 29 in January, is coming off a down 2011 (which followed a great 2010, which followed a down 2009, which followed a great 2008), in which he hit just .228/.310/.411. That line, however, was impacted by an unluckily below-average BABIP of .280. Had that been closer to his career average, he would have been closer to an .800 OPS – pretty great for a catcher. Throw in Soto’s average-to-above-average defense, and you’ve got a valuable player.
Soto, who made $3 million last year, will make something in the range of $5 million in 2012 and $7.5 million in 2013, his final two years of arbitration. Now you’ve got a really valuable player.
But is Soto easily replaceable by the Cubs? Welington Castillo has been waiting in the AAA wings for some time, and many believe he’s got a big league bat on the order of Soto’s. The question with Castillo remains whether he can handle a big league staff. There is also Steve Clevenger, who is excellent defensively, and could possibly put together an average offensive line for a catcher. Neither player, however, is expected to be able to replicate Soto’s numbers – or rapport with the pitchers – immediately.
Of course, “replaceability” means not only internally, but also externally.
For the Cubs’ part in the Angels’ discussions, I’m told they have some interest in 23-year-old catcher Hank Conger, whom the Angels no longer believe is a suitable long-term option at catcher. The Cubs, apparently, disagree – believing Conger’s defensive issues are correctable or overstated. Conger, a switch-hitter, has put up great numbers in his minor league career, but hasn’t yet found offensive success at the big league level in limited duty – he sports a .204/.284/.356 line over 231 plate appearances in 2010 and 2011.
Conger wouldn’t necessarily be the centerpiece of a potential deal with the Angels, mind you (indeed, you’ve got to believe the Cubs would be looking for young pitching and corner infielders, too), but his is the only name I’ve yet heard.
Setting Marmol and the other possible pieces of the deal aside, the natural question is: why would the Cubs trade Soto for a kid who might only one day hope to become Soto? There are a number of possible answers: (a) Soto is approaching 30, and is under contract only for two more years, (b) Soto costs a lot more than Conger, (c) new management might love Welington Castillo more than old management, and/or (d) the Cubs might think Conger’s upside is much higher than what Soto is now (each player’s minor league numbers certainly suggest it).
There are any number of reasons to consider the swap – and that, again, sets aside Marmol and other pieces in the deal, which could further explain things. The discussions are preliminary, so drawing conclusions at this point is premature.
Instead, it’s fair simply to say: Geovany Soto, like Carlos Marmol, is a highly-valuable trade piece, whom the Cubs could conceivably replace without a drastic drop-off in overall team performance in 2012. So, if the Angels, or any other team, are interested in Soto, the Cubs should play those discussions out.
Now, as usual, I feel compelled to preach temperance.
One thing that becomes abundantly clear if you run the rumor game for long enough is that MLB teams “discuss” a nearly unbelievable amount of deals with each other. Names are floated, ideas suggested, offers made, etc. A tiny percentage are actually consummated, and the rest are discredited by the team after the fact for obvious reasons – teams almost never want to acknowledge that they discussed trading a player upon whom they now rely.
So, it’s important to keep in mind throughout the rumor season: (1) Not all rumors are legit, (2) Many legit rumors never end in a signing or a trade, and (3) Teams discuss almost everything under the Sun with each other. I am confident that the Cubs and Angels have had discussions involving Soto, Marmol, and Conger. Whether that leads to anything remains to be seen.
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