For those not following the comments, or BN on Twitter, or BN on Facebook yesterday, the Cincinnati Reds picked up 24-year-old starter Mat Latos from the San Diego Padres for a very healthy return – first baseman Yonder Alonso, catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, relief prospect Brad Boxberger, and pitcher Edinson Volquez.

Among my immediate reactions to the trade: it was both good and bad for the Cubs.

The Reds just got better for 2012 (they are clearly “going for it”), which could further put the Cubs’ hopes for a surprising 2012 run out of reach. At the same time, the move weakened the Reds in the long run, which might line things up better for the Cubs when they actually project to the be good again. Also, the move can only help the Cubs’ market for Matt Garza, should they elect to trade him. To be clear, Latos probably has more value than Garza, as a pitcher under cheap team control through 2015. But the return on Latos was huge, and the Reds were not one of the teams interested in Garza – so, acquiring Latos didn’t take away one of the possible landing spots for Garza.

The second reaction that I, and so many others, had? What are the Padres going to do with top first base prospect, Anthony Rizzo?

That we thought of Rizzo is unsurprising – not only is he a top, young first baseman (something the Cubs clearly want), but he was drafted by the Red Sox back in 2007 when the Cubs’ triumvirate of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were running the show. And then, when the Padres dealt first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox last year, whom did Hoyer net in the deal for the Padres? Rizzo.

It makes too much sense, right? The Padres now have effectively blocked Rizzo (though GM Josh Byrnes is being a wise man, telling the world that they expect Rizzo to head back to AAA for 2012, and that they’re perfectly happy to keep both Alonso and Rizzo), and he’s just the kind of kid the Cubs want. And he’s a kid they already have a connection to. Let’s do it! Totally! Perfect fit!

But here’s the thing about our initial reaction: the Padres had that reaction, too. If anyone knows how much Jed and Jason love Rizzo, it’s the existing Padres’ front office. You think Jed wasn’t discussing with folks there how much he wanted Rizzo included when putting the Gonzalez deal together?

There is no sneaky maneuver to be had here. If the Cubs approach the Padres about Rizzo – about which, more in a moment – the Padres will undoubtedly hold their feet to the fire. The Padres don’t have to trade Rizzo, and they certainly don’t have to trade him to the Cubs. The Padres don’t care that Rizzo is a perfect fit for the Cubs, except to the extent it might allow them to extract additional value out of the Cubs. And, given the Padres’ near-term position (i.e., non-contention), there aren’t too many pressure points the Cubs can apply to get the Padres to pull the trigger on a deal favorable to the Cubs.

In fact, I can only think of two angles for leverage for the Cubs. The first: threaten to sign Prince Fielder. Maybe it’s unconvincing, given how divergent the two paths are (22-year-old prospect, 27-year-old All-Star wanting a mega contract). But if the Cubs express that they are close to signing Fielder, which would eliminate their interest in Rizzo, perhaps that helps? I suppose it’s also possible that a deal for Rizzo could include Matt Garza (whom the Padres may not want, but they could spin off to the Rangers, for example), and the Cubs could concurrently negotiate a Garza deal with another team, and whoever pulls the trigger first gets Garza. That would be the second possible way to create leverage.

Absent those, the Cubs would be negotiating with a team who knows just how much they value the asset they’re trying to get from the Padres, and the Padres have no incentive not to squeeze them for every last drop. That rarely ends well. Hopefully the Cubs can still swing a fair deal, if indeed they put something together.

About approaching the Padres: the Cubs made that call within minutes of the trade announcement (and I got word of the call not long after that). Since then, I’ve been “working the phones,” so to speak, to try to get a handle on how the Cubs might try to put something together. All I’ve yet been able to confirm is that the two sides are talking, and that a deal would probably involve a fair bit more than just a straight-up Player X for Rizzo swap. Jim Bowden, for what it’s worth, says Matt Garza’s name is coming up as a possible centerpiece in a deal. Based on the Latos deal, and the A’s requests for Gio Gonzalez, the Cubs should be able to get a fair bit more than just Rizzo for Garza.

Ah, yes. Rizzo. After all of this discussion, you may be wondering: is Rizzo really worth all of this spilled ink? The short answer is oh yeah.

Rizzo, who just turned 22 in August, is the top prospect in a very, very good Padres’ system. Rizzo was a top 100 prospect in all of baseball going into 2011, and then all he did was put up an eye-popping .331/.404/.652 line, with 26 homers and 34 doubles in just 93 games. Those numbers are great even for the PCL, particularly for a 21-year-old. Before 2011, Rizzo’s minor league numbers were good, if unremarkable, but he was young at every level, and was consistent after each promotion. Rizzo is also believed to be an above average defender at first base.

Rizzo was called up late last year for a cup of coffee, and struggled mightily, hitting just .141/.281/.252 in 153 plate appearances (love that IsoD, though, eh?). Very few saw that as a reason for concern, however.

If Rizzo is being made available, the Cubs will have some competition, at a minimum, from the Rays, who have the talent to make a deal, and the need for a young first baseman. I’m guessing this isn’t the last we’ve heard about this.

UPDATE: Some of the other names I’m hearing bounced around in the talks include Orlando Hudson, Casey Kelly, Keyvius Sampson, Simon Castro, Jedd Gyorko, Robbie Erlin, and Joe Weiland. Obviously the Cubs wouldn’t be getting all of them (or even most). These are just some of the names that the Cubs are interested in, or – in Hudson’s case – that the Padres want to ship back to the Cubs. A three-team deal with the Rangers (who would get Garza) is also a possibility.

UPDATE II: The Cubs are still in active discussions with the Padres, I’m told, but it’s pretty complicated when you’ve got this many parts involved. The Cubs’ most valuable piece is Matt Garza, but the Padres may prefer to get the prospect-equivalent of Garza, rather than the pitcher, himself. That means a third team is necessary, and the Rangers have been involved. Bringing in a third team makes completing an already “complicated” deal a real “pain” (not my words). The two/three sides will continue to discuss a deal until they reach an agreement or seem hopelessly gridlocked. These things tend to take on a life of their own, and the deal could evolve into yet another incarnation. Or, it could just wilt on the vine. With this many players involved and such high stakes, I couldn’t say a deal is more than 50/50 to get done. You’ve also got the Prince Fielder pursuit and Yu Darvish post as a backdrop for these discussions, which only complicates things further. I’m doing my best to get the most complete and reliable information I can, but, given the circumstances and the moving parts, you can understand how the best I can give you is: (1) they’re talking, (2) a trade might be completed soon, (3) or a trade might be completed in a week, and (4) or a trade might be completed never.

UPDATE III: I’m told the biggest hold up, from the Cubs’ perspective, is making sure they get the right pitchers/pitching prospects included in the deal. While Rizzo may have been the impetus for the discussions, the Cubs don’t appear to be interested in moving Garza unless some very, very good pitchers/pitching prospects are included. That is to say, Rizzo may not necessarily be “the centerpiece” of a completed deal, such as there is a centerpiece, and such as the sides are actually able to consummate a deal (which, again, remains very much in doubt).

  • Mike

    Rizzo looks like a very good prospect. 22 years old, hits for power and a good defender. However I agree with Mike F. If the Cubs trade Garza, they must get high level pitching prospects back.

    Prince Fielder to me just seems to be a much more logical target for the Cubs for number of reasons. He will cost the team a lot of money and there is a chance he skills will decline towards the end of his contract. I’m not saying Vogelbach is the future answer at 1B for the cubs, but I don’t understand trading valuable pieces for someone who you hope can give you what Prince Fielder currently can. It’s one thing if you can’t afford Prince, but the Cubs can.

    If his skills begin to decline in 4-5 years as a lot of people think, the cubs will have Vogelbach in the system who will be 23/24 and the Cubs should have a good idea of what kind of player he can be.

  • Cbp

    I say get Rizzo! The thing is then we will have 2 1b prospects blocked then in Dan Vogelbach and Rocky Shoulders which is ok I mean we need to Build depth imagine if we can take 3/10 out of the Padres Top players in their farm that makes our system better quickly. I believe that saving our money for next year for Pitching is starting to look like a great idea. Fielder is not worth 10 years 254… Rizzo in Wrigley could be very dangerous and if we get 2 top pitching prospects wow that makes Trey Mcnutt spendable or even Carpenter. It would be crazy to see in the future 3b Baez ss Castro 1b Rizzo C castillo Rf Szcur CF Jackson

    • Jeff

      I think Jackson will eventually move to right field with Szczur in center.

    • Adam H

      I looked at Rizzos stats from last year (horrible) and his minor year (nothing special). LaHair was better last year by far. .331 avg, 38 HR

      • Rob

        I see what you’re saying, but you have to realize that LaHair is 29, whereas Rizzo is 21 and getting better. Sure, Rizzo was overmatched in the bigs this year, but again, he was 21; very few players look good against major league pitching at that age. Plus all the buzz on Rizzo’s defense makes him even more desirable than playing LaHair every day at first. If they can get the pitching they desire in this deal, Theo and Jed will have done well.

        Besides, imagine all the bad photoshops we’ll get!

        • Adam H

          Castro wasn’t overmatched in big leagues at 21.

          • Rob

            Yeah, but how many hitters can you say that about in the past decade? Miguel Cabrera and Castro are about it. Using Castro for that argument is setting the bar a little high.

  • Matt

    What is the possibility of this being “leaked” information to control the asking price of Prince Fielder? Just curious since all we have been hearing is we are the only large market team after him, and we would be a preferred destination. If that is the case and we are bidding against ourself, could this be a way of controlling the asking price early in the process?

  • OHBearCub

    The cubs are not including Garza in a trade for Rizzo. I see Wells, samardja, russell, lake being traded in this deal. 1 starter who will pitch well in the Padres big park. Shark will be their closer or possibly get a shot at their rotation, Russell will pitch out of their pen. Jr. Lake gives them a decent prospect with potential upside. 3 known MLB players that can fill positions the Padres need and good prospect from our system.

    Theo gets rid of Wells he is a 5th starter we can replace with Maholm. We have lefties who can replace Russell. And we never have to watch him pitch again. He does however have 2 seasons of experience in the Cubs been. And he is a Hook. The Shark good turn out to be world beater as a closer or set up guy. I can live with him doing that on the left coast in that big ball park. As for Jr Lake, he was a stud in the AFL and is a big athletic looking kid
    that has some skills the Padres can work with him to develop further. And all we want is Rizzo. Maybe we send the Padres a years supply of Angus Burgers from the McDees across the street. Tell them we will buy their cleats, gloves and bats forever and thrown in bucket of game balls. I want to see how good a salesman Theoreally is.

    • Jeff

      Interesting OhBearCub,

      How about Wells, Russell and Lake for Rizzo.

      I’d live with that. I’m might even let Cabrera or Dolis go to get it done.

      • Adam H

        Rizzos isn’t worth all that. Even laHair has better stats.

        • Jeff

          Yep, but LaHair is 29 and you really don’t know what Rizzo is worth yet. But we do know he will be under control for more years and has a better chance to peak earlier than Lahair.

        • CCunt

          You must be quite the sabermatician

  • OHBearCub

    Oh and Theo its getting close to month end and thus far you aint sold sh*t. This is a real job you cain either make deals and close them and hit quota or you will be on a PIP. Performance Improvement Plan that is air tight. These days along with your Sabremetrics try using Salesforce. Use the tool and embrace it as it takes over your life. I dont care what you sold in Boston. Boston aint Chicago. Put what you preach into practice. Get paid for what your going to do on this new contract you’ve got. We don’t pay for past performance just like you keep saying you dont. And don’t show up on donut. Cuz these 1st two rookie deals don’t impress.

    • Kansas Cubs Fan

      I take it your a Hendry fan?

      So I’m guessing you would like to see the Cubs make bad deals just to make a deal? They know what their doing so calm down.

      It’s only half way through December move’s will be made so quit gettin’ your panties all in a wad because the Cubs aren’t making the big block buster deals. Aren’t the Big deals what got us where we are now?

    • cubs4life

      The cubs are also like every other team out there right now, everything is being jammed up by both the winner of the darvish bidding and signing of fielder. Once those two find homes, the dealings should start happening.

  • die hard

    If Garza is traded, why wouldnt Dempster demanded to be traded? Dempster is a #3 or 4 but would be expected to be a #1. He just doesnt need or want that pressure and wouldnt be able to meet the need. Would think the team would be alot stronger keeping Garza who would stabilize the staff…or just trade both and go with all kids….

    • cubs4life

      i would think that if by some chance we get Darvish, i would think it would be harder to trade garza right now, it would give us at least what looks like a half decent rotation with garza, darvish, dempster, big Z and whoever wins the fifth spot out of spring. At that point it would almost seem like it would be time to buy, and try to get a bat or two and attempt to win, in what should be a very weak central.

  • cubbiecop

    Agreed Kansas Cubs Fan,  we need to have some patience here.  We didn’t get crappy overnight and we will not get better overnight.  I am in the wait and see mode.  I will give Theo and Jed 2 years to make a difference and then if they are not making headway and the Cubs minor league system is not in better shape then I will question.  Would I love for the Cubs to compete in 2012, HELL YES!!!  Do I think it will happen, unfortunately not.  We are lacking too many pieces to be a SOLID team and there isn’t 1 or 2 that will put us over the top.  That being said, I know everyone wants Fielder and I have to admit, I would love to have him too, but if we don’t get him or Rizzo, I am interested to see what Lahair can do in a full season.  Lets not cut the poor guys nuts off before we see him play a full season.  He might suprise us all, he hit well when called up and he was killer in AAA.  Plus he has paid his dues and I would like to reward him for his hard work in AAA. 

     I look at it this way, if your employed at a job for 5 years, and have been busting your butt for a promotion and made the business tons of money (AAA season for Lahair) and then I went out as your CEO and hired someone from outside the organization without giving you a fair shake to show you could do the job wouldn’t you be disheartened and royally pissed off?  I happen to think Lahair might be a very good player if we give him the opportunity and that allows us to spend more money on what’s important.  Pitching and defense.

  • Mike F

    Lahair is a LH version of Matt Murton with more power and less BA. He’s 29 and a candidate for Japan. Rizzo is more than that, and I don’t have an issue per see with Rizzo, anymore than Stewart. Both are good moves in context. Rizzo is a 22 a solid prospect you want to pencil in at 1st and take your lumps in 2012 and hope he’s maturing in 2013, at the same time recognizing what Byrnes said in saying he’s comfortable with him in AAA if need be and your still wc talking a 23 year old kid.

    The problem is how ludicrous it is for the Cubs to take back Hudson and give up Garza. Theo was honest in saying SP is the greatest need. I get they want pitching, but it’s a little arrogant to think after Byrnes recent trade, he’s going to give us all we need and it’s somehow a magic fix. And even if he does, we still have a lot of holes 1,2,3 with a lot of candidates and potential trade pieces for 4,5 and depth, but not starters. Hey, no doubt, there’s packages that would satisfy what a lot want, Texas rumored trade to me started to a go a long ways towards that, but it still requires the Cubs to make a move to add a front line starter. And I initially agreed with Brett and others and still do to this extent, if they were to add two outstanding say top 50 pitchers and and go ahead and get a piece like Rizzo, coupled with signing a guy like Jackson, I’d be all for it. The problem is you make a big hole, because as in Darvish whick we are seeing play out the Cubs weren’t players and to some extent have allowed us to mislead ourselves. They just made a bid, which is now being characterized as low as someone in the MLB offices is beginning to leak

    Which leads me to believe they are either dumping salary and attempting to rebuilding, or indeed there is financial trouble. The pitching they have shown interest in has to date been bargain basement and when they were interested in MB money was an issue, so that’s the rub in the Garza situation and that’s the rub with taking back Orlando Hudson a 34 overpriced guy who has clearly in every category been in decline. If it has to be done it has to be done in terms of salary dumps etc, but it’s a bitter bitter pill to swallow if the roster ends up with junk like Soriano, Zambrano and Hudson, while trading away a guy like Garza. I was hopeful the Cubs would be able to add a pitcher and bat in free agency, and while i like DeJesus and Maholm they don’t begin to make up for where we are, what we shed and what we need to add. I understand it’s not over on December 19, and it’s not, but it’s beginning to look like 2012 is a learning and rebuilding season. Hope I’m wrong, but the quality pieces of pitching are to thin to replace Garza let alone bolster in terms of quality.

  • njriv

    This time of the year is so bittersweet. One day I hear the Cubs put a high bid on Darvish and are serious and even the lead candidate for Fielder, Then the next I hear the bid on Darvish was really low and they are not in on Fielder or even had any conversations with him at all. One minute Garza’s getting traded and the next he’s getting an extension. What should I believe?

    • Brett

      Believe none of them (including the ones from my sources). You’ll be better off that way. Just take them for what they are – interesting discussions and exciting rumors.

      • Lou Cub

        Brett, do you think it might be a smokescreen to get Texas to move more quickly on Garza? If they didn’t win the Darvish bid, Garza is still their best option considering I’d doubt that Billy Beane would never trade Gio Gonzales within the division for anything less than a Hershel Walker to the Vikings deal back in the day..Heck, he got 7 guys from the D’Backs for Danny Haren including Carlos Gonzales..a few years ago… They need to fill CJ Wilson’s spot and they need to catch up after Albert signed witht the Halos. If the Cubs wanted Rizzo, they could get him for James Russell and another player I would think

        • CubFan Paul

          the Padres have already addressed their middle reliever issue (kinda) in 2 different trades ..james russell was sooo 2 weeks ago and so much has changed for them (trading for Alonso and receiving a ton and trading for the Colorado closer)

        • Brett

          Definitely possible (though Rizzo would cost a fair bit more than Russell).

  • ty

    garza threw 200 innings with 200 strikeouts and 65 walks, difficult to replace those stats.

  • Shane

    I like going young for now. I mean seriously it 1. gives us a competitive edge in our farm system 2. It allows us to bring a solid team together of the same age which = chemistry

  • Shane

    But honestly i am very intrigued to watch our young cubs players over our older cubs players. I mean honestly i feel like there are some older players there who can help our team chemistry. But at the same time it makes so much sense to part ways and start from scratch kind of like the reds and pirates which honestly is helping them out a lot. Also look at the Brewers i mean a team in which hadn’t been good sense the 80’s have turned there organization into a winner, all because they strive on there farm system not free agents. I’m not say the Cubs shouldn’t go after free agents but i think they should be smarter moves. Idk i guess its like a bad relationship with a women sometimes you need your space from the dating market while you stay home eat your ice cream and let things settle down and evolve into something great. Honestly though i believe Theo will go down as the greatest Cubs manager in history.

  • Eduardo

    i still can’t understand why trade Garza? makes no sense, isn’t he under control for thousand of years? guy is a young pitcher with ace ceiling, why baseball teams always trade the certain for the prospect of future rewarding? isn’t like Garza is 30 and will waste his best years even if Cubs have under .500 season for 3 years he would still be young

    it’s just to signing you’re in rebuild mode? it’s symbolic ?

    • Kyle

      He’s under control for two more years. If you aren’t planning on competing in that window, it’d make sense to trade him for prospects that will be contributing when you are planning on winning.

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  • Gcheezpuff

    Seeing as how no expects the Cubs to be serious contenders for 2-3 years, if I am Theo/Hoyer, I focus on low cost, 1-2 year guys that are coming off a bad season but could potentially rebound…. The strategy would not be to compete in 2012, but instead have moveable pieces for desperate teams at the deadline. I actually think the Cubs should hold onto Byrd, Zambrano & Soto, hope they start the year looking good and then see what you can get for them mid year when teams with play off aspersions have needs from injury or just need an upgrade. I’d throw contracts to both Saunders and Maholm to fill rotation spots but also potentially trade later. Why waste money on guys like Fielder now.. A prospect could develop over the next 2 years and if not Votto might be available then anyway. They should trade Garza now for the best package of prospects. With the CBA changes they’ll need a creative way to rebuild the farm and taking chances on rebound potential might be the best strategy. What do they have to lose?

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