I said last week that we could see an uptick in rumors before Spring Training ends, and it didn’t take long for some serious rumor-mongering to arise. Last night, I was told the Chicago Cubs have been fielding calls lately about a number of players, including Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, Randy Wells, Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, and especially Marlon Byrd. Teams reaching out include the Angels, Blue Jays, Braves, Indians, and Rays.
Obviously not every team is inquiring about every player, but, based on previous rumors, I’m assuming you can line up which guy(s) goes with which team(s). (A new suggestion, though, connects the Angels to Matt Garza. It’s hard to see a fit there as the Angels already have a full rotation, but I’m told the Cubs quickly escalated their efforts to scout Angels prospects. I don’t know anything more than that.)
I wasn’t going to dismiss the multi-player, multi-team rumor, but I’d intended on discussing it rather generically, given that, as I’ve said before, I believe teams are constantly placing and fielding exploratory calls this time of year, the vast majority of which never go further than that first call.
But then this morning, Gordon Wittenmyer offered up a bit that he’s been hearing on Byrd, specifically:
One major-league source said the Cubs offered Byrd — who’s in the final year of a contract that pays $6.5 million in 2012 — to the Nationals for pitching, with the Braves also believed to be discussing Byrd. Another source said the Cubs don’t appear to be shopping Byrd as much as listening to offers.
Couple that with a suggestion from the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s David O’Brien that the Braves would be wise to go after Byrd (and a follow-up comment from Buster Olney that he agreed it would be a good move), and there are some legs to the Byrd piece of this rumor set.
Byrd has been the subject of rumors dating as far back as last offseason, and the two most frequently mentioned teams have been the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals. Entering into the last year of his deal, Byrd is a prime trade candidate. He plays solid defense in center field, hits plenty well enough for the position, and is excellent in the clubhouse. The return on Byrd would vary depending on how much of his salary the Cubs are willing to eat (if it’s none, they’ll get, at most, a low-level, high-upside, probably-won’t-make-it prospect; if it’s a lot, they could get as much as a solid B prospect).
But is now the time to deal Byrd? Spring Training deals are rare because teams like to see what they have in the early part of the season before making a move. Should that be the Cubs’ thinking, too?
The primary consideration for the Cubs on the timing of a prospective Byrd deal should be “when can we get the greatest return?” If that time is right now, the Cubs should pull the trigger. If they feel like Byrd can build his value over the next few months, or that additional openings will pop up, they should wait.
I know what you’re thinking: what about Brett Jackson? Well, I want to be clear that the Cubs should not hold up on trading Byrd in an effort to keep Brett Jackson down at AAA for a little bit longer.
Should the Cubs manage to trade Byrd before the season starts, I believe they should still let Jackson play at AAA for at least a month. I want to see if he really looks like he can cut his strikeouts down (he K’d in almost 30% of his plate appearances at AAA last year – that kind of rate in the bigs (where, in theory, your rate should go up) will absolutely kill you, and, in turn, your confidence). And, yes, I want the Cubs to gain that extra year of control on the back-end of Jackson’s first six years in the bigs. The value the Cubs gain, and Jackson gains, by just one more month in AAA far outweighs the loss of having Jackson put up numbers for the Cubs in April. We’ve been thinking long-term for months – it’s not time to stop now.
As for who plays center field on the big club for that month, pick your poison – Campana? Mather? Sappelt? I could accept any of them, to be candid.