When a team is clearly in the “seller” camp as July approaches, every player on the team’s roster is scrutinized for possible sale. That scrutiny comes not just from the media, but also from other teams who want to know just how deep the sale is going to go.
To that end, it was only natural that teams would ask the Chicago Cubs about lefty reliever James Russell, even if the Cubs aren’t expected to explicitly shop him. Indeed, Jon Heyman reports that teams have been doing just that, only to be told by the Cubs that they are disinclined to trade him.
Nobody is untouchable on the Cubs, but there are obviously guys that fit with the long-term plan, and thus don’t make quite as much sense to deal – the Samardzijas, the Rizzos, the Castros. Does Russell fit in with that crew?
It depends on your perspective. While a non-closing lefty reliever isn’t typically the type of guy you’d think of as a “core” piece, Russell’s value to the Cubs is obvious. He’s an effective, cost-controlled reliever who has demonstrated a consistent ability to pitch well in high leverage situations. The Cubs are going to need that in 2014 and 2015, and it’s not something that’s super easy to find (especially when there aren’t a number of obvious replacements in the high minors).
For his career, Russell has a 3.26 ERA as a reliever (196 innings). His K/BB in that role is an impressive 3.06, and his WHIP is 1.219. He’s been fantastic.
Russell is in his first year of arbitration, making $1.08 million. The Cubs have him for two more years after this one, and he’s not going to break the bank in either season. Again: his value is obvious.
So … what now? The more valuable a player, the more he generates at the Trade Deadline. But the more valuable the player, the harder his replacement is to find. Can the Cubs afford to deal Russell right now and hope to successfully make over the bullpen again next year?
If you sense a lack of commitment here, it’s because I don’t have a strong opinion either way. The Cubs won’t deal Russell unless the return is extremely promising, so I’m already guessing that, if the Cubs do trade Russell, I won’t be angry. On the other hand, if they keep Russell, it’s not like they’re foolishly hanging onto a free-agent-to-be who can’t help the team when it’s good and competitive. In other words, I won’t be angry if they keep him, either.
Gauging what that trade value could be is tricky, given that Russell doesn’t have some of the peripherals – or the fastball – of your typical, overpowering late-inning reliever. He isn’t quite Sean Marshall, who was one of the best relievers in baseball in his later years with the Cubs. But could two and a half years of Russell be worth one year of Marshall? Because that’s what the Cubs traded to land Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Roni Torreyes.