Rumor season always presents me with at least one delicate balance to maintain. On the one hand, injuries on other teams provide opportunities for the Chicago Cubs – who’ve been “sellers” for a few years now – to unload tradable pieces at a premium. On the other hand, it’s rather déclassé to dance in celebration at the injuries of others.
So, with the Washington Nationals suffering back-to-back serious catcher injuries (Wilson Ramos tore his ACL, and Sandy Leon badly sprained his ankle), it’s natural to want to talk about the possibility of putting together a Geovany Soto trade. Let’s just try to keep some of our eagerness out of it.
Anywho, the Nationals totally need a catcher. Yes, Jesus Flores can be a serviceable fill-in, but on a team with surprisingly strong playoff chances in an exceedingly tough division, it’s hard to see them settling for “serviceable.” Might they come calling about someone like Geovany Soto?
Maybe. On the surface, it makes some sense. The Nats need a catcher, the Cubs have a theoretical glut of catchers, and the Cubs might not want to keep Soto beyond this season anyway. But there are problems.
First, there is the Steve Clevenger injury problem. I mentioned this very issue back when Clevenger first went down with an oblique strain/cartilage break, but with Clevenger out, the Cubs haven’t had a great chance to see what they would really have without Soto. Welington Castillo hasn’t hit overly well, and has obvious issues behind the plate. Clevenger was hitting well, but how much of that was legit, and how much of it was being a young guy who hasn’t yet been exposed?
Second, I’m not sure that Soto is actually a good fit for the Nationals, all things considered. Part of Soto’s value in trade is that he’s under control through 2013. The Nationals, on the other hand, are probably just going to be looking for a one-year fill-in, on the assumption that Ramos will be back for 2013. Maybe Soto could become a back-up at that point, but he’d be an extremely expensive back-up (in his final year of arbitration, Soto, who makes $4.3 million this year, could make as much as $6 or 7 million if he’s tendered a contract).
Finally, we have to consider how much Geovany Soto’s early season struggles have damaged his value. The struggles come on the heels of a 2011 season where Soto was still valuable, but was nowhere near the elite-hitting catcher he had been the year before. If Soto’s value is at its lowest point right now, do the Cubs take whatever deal they can get from the Nats (matching the Nats’ desperation with their own), or do they hope he starts hitting again and try to deal him in July?
… or do they not deal him at all?
Ultimately, if the Nats were interested, it might just come down to what the Cubs think about this season. It’s awfully early to give up your starting catcher, and hope that two young, unproven, and possibly hurt catchers can carry the load without the pitching staff disintegrating.
At the same time, it’s not as though the Cubs are a lock to keep playing like they have been the last few weeks, and, if Soto continues to struggle the rest of the year, it’s not like the Cubs will view him as a long-term building block. Heck, at 29, the Cubs might already be viewing Soto as a guy to be gone come 2013. If so, don’t you trade him whenever you can get an acceptable deal?
That day may already be here.