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.

  • die hard

    Soto should be given shot at 3B. Hitting, especially power, could improve and if so would solve problem there and of making room for Castillo.

  • JasonB

    Forget about the fact that he likely doesn’t have the range to play there.  He’s a catcher for a reason.

    • die hard

      A creative front office would find ways to mix and match with what Cubs have. If he can make move, could be improvement over Aram defense given has catcher arm and reflexes. Without catching strain could easily give Cubs 20-25 hr and 75-80 rbi couple of seasons. Would like to see him try winter ball at this position and come into spring training. At very least could make him more valuable trade if makes move to 3B.

      • Luke

        Given that catchers are more rare than third basemen, I don’t think the move would help his value any.

        He did play a grand total of 2 games at third in the minors. The results aren’t pretty… 1 error on 4 chances, 2 assists for a fielding percentage of .750 and a RF/G of 1… but then again, it was two games.

        The fact that he only has two games at third (compared with 42 at first) in the minors strongly suggests to me that he’s not likely to make that move successfully.

      • JasonB

        A creative front office would find ways to take the current roster and turn it into a better roster through a number of different ways including trades just like what is getting contemplated here.  Re-positioning the same pieces into a sub-optimal spots isn’t going to do anything to improve the team.  Soto has a bad body and he’s slow – he doesn’t have the skills necessary to play anywhere on the field other than C or 1B.

        • die hard

          Well, thats the point. If his hitting ramps up with move to 3B, then its a win win inter-team no cost move. I dont know if his body is any worse than other 3B and if asked to move then he would take better care of self over winter. As to being slow, then how would he be able to cover bunts, popups and first? If so slow, then how could he be traded as a catcher if thats what is being discussed here? Who would take him? But to get more information on this, I forwarded your post to Soto. Lets see if he agrees that his only position is catcher. Maybe it is. Maybe not.

      • JasonB

        Whatever – I don’t know why I bother.  Last time I ever make that mistake.  You’re a genius – we’d have the same number of WS titles as the Yankees if you were in charge.

        • Fishin Phil

          You are getting smarter now JasonB. 😉

        • Internet Random

          Die hard is a troll. Don’t waste your time.

          • die hard

            Sure when someone doesnt agree just call then names. Id expect that from a 5 yr old or a Politician. Unless you are either, you need a time out.

            • Internet Random

              No food for you.

          • Ian Afterbirth

            He’s not a troll – he can be compulsively (and perhaps subconsciously) perverse but he means what he says and can be semi-respectful and we need devil’s advocates so I say he ain’t all bad – just don’t take what he says personally.

    • Q

      Santo was a catcher, just saying. i would think you’d need quickness more than range at 3B.

      • JasonB

        Quickness is part what gives you range – the faster you can get to a ball, the better range you have.  Reaction is another sifgnificant contributor to range.

        And does Soto look like he’s quick to you?  He doesn’t look quick to me.  There are a lot of former catchers who moved out from behind the plate – Craig Biggio is the best example that I can think of.  Part of the reason that Biggio moved though is because he had the skill to play in the field – Soto does not appear to have the same ability.  He’s a C or a 1B and his bat isn’t strong enough to play at 1B.

  • Luke

    If the Cubs are going to move Soto, this is the year. The Cubs starting rotation should be significantly changed between 2011 and, say, 2013. Any catcher, including Soto, would have to build familiarity with the new arms as they arrive. That would make this the perfect time to make the change at catcher. Let the new guy, be it Castillo or someone else, be the one to learn the pitchers as they arrive.

    • Fishin Phil

      Agree with Luke that this would be a good time to make the move.

      I like Soto, but if we get pieces back that improve the team, then we have to make the move.

  • Spencer

    Have the Angels looked into Mike Napoli?

    If the Cubs do indeed trade Soto, they HAVE to bring in a veteran to back Wellington up and help teach him. I wouldn’t kind Koyie Hill returning in that capacity. If Soto is the only player the Cubs move to the Angels, I suppose I wouldn’t mind just getting Conger and one or two other young prospects. However, if they decide to move Marmol and Soto (which, I think, is the smart decision here), then they would almost certainly have to request at LEAST one player from the Angel’s big league roster, instead of a boatload of prospects. Can’t trade away two pieces from your big league club and not get any big league ready talent back in my opinion. Howie Kendrick?

    • JasonB

      The Angels had Mike Napoli and traded him – Scoscia didn’t like him because he didn’t play good enough defense behind the plate.  So he kept the Jeff Mendoza Line Mathis over him – good idea Mike!

      • Spencer

        lol i know, twas joking :)

  • Poopypants McGee

    MLB ready starters are what the cubs need to be looking at.

  • Hcs

    Didn’t I see hints of Varitek being looked at by the Cubs as a backup for next year, or is that just more Theo/former Sox linking?

    • MichiganGoat

      Varitek can barely catch anymore

  • John

    I agree with Spencer, that there better be some big league talent coming back. However Kendrick doesn’t really fit the Theo mold, he is very impatient with a lifetime .329 obp and is 29, so he doesn’t provide any more long term fix than Soto at catcher, so it seems like a lateral move. I believe with this package the Cubs might be trying to pry Kendry Morales, the Angels have three players for two spots at the moment and to be honest, he is the only player who does fit the Theo mold.

    • Luke

      You know, I had dismissed Morales initially, but on taking a second look at him I think you have a point. There would have to be some special arrangements given his injury status, but nothing can’t be worked out.

  • Jeff

    Soto isn’t a third basemen, but I applaud Die Hard’s expanded thinking. Is a 23 year old Conger catching and 1st base material? I don’t know if he is an ideal first base prospect at 6’1″ (really 5’9″ or 5’10”, but worth a conversation because he is a switch hitter).
    Personally, I really like the way Theo and Jed are exploring all options…. very refreshing!

    • Lou

      If the Cubs are thinking along these lines, then I would support a trade. Just not sold on Conger’s catching abilities. I know it’s Scocsia, but the Angels used Mathis last year over Conger. Really!

      • Luke

        And Quade used Koyie Hill over Castillo and Darwin Barney over a bunch of guys. Then again, Scocsia is a much better manager than Quade (who isn’t?).

        I see your point, but the scouts are generally very positive on Conger’s bat, and BA seems to think his catching problems are in the footwork. If that’s the case, that is correctable. Why wasn’t Anaheim fixing it? Good question, and one that the Cubs will surely get answered before they pull the trigger.

      • JasonB

        This is the same team that played Mathis in front of Mike Napoli for the 3 or 4 years prior to this year.  It is almost comical how much Scoscia (sp?) overvalues a defensive catcher.

        • EtotheR

          I don’t know, Jason…I still think an awful lot of Scioscia’s managerial skills.

          It used to be that catchers were really measured on their defense and game-calling skills. It’s not that they didn’t need to hit…but, (with a few exceptions) teams knew they were susceptible to injury, and needed more days off. They were rarely the primary offensive force on a team. Lots of catchers still bat eighth. Joe Girardi fit this mold. You filled the offensive void at other positions.

          There were always exceptions like Berra, Bench, and Campanella, but I think Piazza really changed thinking. He was a monster hitter, but a lousy defender. Mauer is more balanced. Some teams are now willing to forgo good defense…for a better hitter. I still think you (at least) need a strong balance.

          If Geo were a monster defender, his bat would be fine for me. In fact, he would be a sort of prototypical old school catcher.

          Just my opinion, but I understand Scioscia’s philosophy, and agree with it.

          • JasonB

            I’m not completely knocking Scoscia because he has suceeded with a lot of teams that should not have suceeded.  I think he does some things well (his teams are always among the best baserunning teams in baseball) but there are some decisions that he has made that have been questioned by many people and playing Mathis ahead of Napoli at Catcher was one of them.  Two places I can think of immediately that continuously criticized him for it were Fangraphs and Baseball HQ.  Lots of smart guys write about baseball for those places.

            There is also no question that a defensive catcher is important and there is no question that Mathis is a better defensive catcher but his offense is terrible.   The argument from Scoscia’s critics was always that Napoli’s defense was less awful than Mathis’ offense so Napoli should be the catcher.  Given the year he had this year and the fact that it did not appear to impact Texas’ pitching staff, it’s hard to argue with them.

            We’ll likely agree to disagree – I get the importance of defense but games can be won defensively or offensively.  A run created is the same as a run saved.

        • Lou

          Yeah, the Angels made two of the most atrocious off-season moves in recent memory. Signing Wells and trading Napoli. Maybe the Cubs are correct in their assessment of Conger, guys. Maybe with Conger it’s a matter of footwork. Problem is, once Napoli got to Texas and was used primarily as their C, we saw his stand-out defensive abilities. And that was credited to Scocsia. So, unless Scocsia knows something, why they wouldn’t take the time with a 23 year old C to develop him at the MLB level, as opposed to sending him back to the minors and using Mathis–this has me questioning things a bit. AND I agree with the above comment. Yep Soto would that much more value if his defensive prowess was raised to a higher level. Essentially, there would be no discussions of trading him.

          • Luke

            Speaking of Napoli, on paper he looks like at least as good, if not better, at catcher as Torrealba was. So why did Torrealba start more games behind the plate (98) than Napoli (61)? I only watched Texas in the playoffs, and numbers never tell the whole story, so I really am curious here.

            My only guess is that Napoli could also play some first and the Rangers wanted both bats in the lineup… but Torrealba had an OPS+ of 84. That’s not exactly fear inducing.

            • EtotheR

              SOme of these guys also wear down faster than others…Torrealba might have been the key to keeping Napoli fresh.

            • Lou

              I thought Napoli got more starts than Torrealba. So guess I’m wrong there. My thought is that the Rangers didn’t know what Napoli could be defensively because of the image he had gotten in Anaheim. The more they used him, the better they realized what they had defensively at C. Also, there was Hamilton’s health status and Young inability to play in the field, which probably minimalized the amount of time Napoli could give them at C. They needed Napoli’s AB in the lineup so with Hamilton out 1b and DH seem logical spots for him.

  • njriv

    How about you Brett? What names would you think we would get out of a Soto & Marmol deal?

  • Larry

    Spencer, Koy Hill sucks!! Cubs can bring in Jason Varitek. Koy Hill is terrible, can’t hit, can field, just sucks!!

  • Jeff

    John, is there video of a fully healed Kendrys Morales working out? Ankles are very difficult and arthritis sets in quickly, even for a 28 year old…. Anything causing a player to miss some of 2010 and all of 2011 makes me wonder.

    • JulioZuleta

      I’m 23 and have had osteoarthritis in my ankle since I was 16 from an ankle fracture that was undiagnosed. It doesn’t take away from your top speed, but it’s uncomfortable every morning and when you get up from sitting for a long period of time. The more annoying issue is the other leg problems that arise from altering the way you walk when your ankle is locking up. I would imagine that over 162 games he will have calf/knee issues.

      • Lou

        I know what you mean, Julio. I’ve been paralyzed from a birth defect since I was born and have arthritic hips. Boy does it slow you down.

  • CubFan Paul

    Abreu will amount to nothing in exchange for Kosuke, and the same will go for a Conger/Soto swap ..its a bad deal and hopefully gossip or just half of the deal/gossip/conversation

    • Brett

      Abreu was merely an example of a kid who is eligible for, but highly unlikely to be taken in, the Rule 5 Draft. That’s all.

  • John

    Reports have the Angels bringing him along slowly Jeff, he began light running and hitting off the tee a couple weeks ago. But won’t begin heavy workouts till January. I agree the injury is scary, but I am assuming Theo and company will do a thorough investigation into his health, and only pull the trigger if all checks out.

  • Aaron

    Soto —> 3B
    Marmol —> C

    • Fishin Phil

      DeWitt  –> LF

      Quade –> GM


      • Internet Random

        Quade -> C
        Soto -> CF
        Marmol -> President of Baseball Operations

        • Kansas Cubs Fan

          Soto = 1B

          Marmol = Gone

          Quade = 8==D~~

          • BetterNews

            Nah—Can’t agree! And money and Experience= Much more at the table.

  • Mark

    I have watched Hank Conger in Double A quite a bit.
    He can play! Let’s get him!

    • BetterNews

      Give a site please. Maybe better, something better than opinion, just asking.

      • hogie

        Maybe you should go to bed sooner, or find another bridge to hide under.

        I have been following your posts and almost never see you site anything. Comments are made for opinion. Scouts go to watch players because stats don’t tell you everything. Just asking, Grendel.

  • die hard

    Soto never replied. But if he did, he would likely say the following:

    “Yes, I can play 3B. In fact, to extend my playing years I have been thinking about switching to another position besides catcher. I know my power numbers would improve especially after the All-Star game break by which time I am worn out from catching. I feel good and have lost weight and plan to lose more. If the Cubs asked me to switch I would in a heart beat. ”

    So, my feeling is before Cubs add to payroll, they should find out what they have first to fill holes. This switch is worth a look.

  • Pingback: Forecasting the Cubs offseason: Fielder, Pitching, Trades, Garza | Cubs Den()