james russell cubsWhen 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.

  • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

    “thus don’t make quite as much sense to deal – THE CASTROS”

    You know this is going to explode today… wait for it….

  • King Jeff

    If the return is good enough, they have to consider it. I wouldn’t like them leaving the bullpen that bare again. If Gregg is traded as well as Russell, the end of the year is going to be a nightmare when the bullpen is called on.

    • Geo

      We ain’t winning anything this year, & we need prospects & high draft pick.

      • Jay

        Totally agree. Doesn’t matter who’s in the pen at the end of the year, the team on the field by then will make what we have now look like the Big Red Machine. If you’re going to gut and rebuild, then you can’t be dainty about it.

        • King Jeff

          If not this year, then what about the next two years? They took a gamble by trading Marshall, it paid off, in part because they had Russell to step into that role. There is nobody to be that guy for the next 3 seasons. I think he’s needed too much to be traded at this point, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t listen and hope someone blows them away with an offer.

          • Eternal Pessimist

            I don’t think anyone expected Russell to be this good this year. I think we have a number of potential replacements for the pen, but few future starters in the minors. Hopefully one or two of the relievers could be the surprises later this year that Russell and Greg were early this year. As next year is really not expected to be a contention year, I think it is too costly to use up another year of eligibility on another losing season. I would rather build the minors up for one more year. Looking forward to a solid 2015 season!

          • JBarnes

            I like Russell but obviously the Marshall trade is the best comparison to go off of. At the time quite a few people had an issue with it but I don’t see how anyone con logically say the Cubs haven’t come out on top of that deal so far. We got a guy in Travis Wood that looks to be an extremely valuable piece for years to come along with a couple other players (Sappelt/Torreyes) that could fill certain roles in the future. Obviously like any other trade it would depend on the return but the Cubs may be in position to make the right move with either direction they go…trading him or keeping him.

        • cubzfan23

          I understand getting draft picks, but for you people who making everyone available when do you stop getting rid of core pieces. You have to have a set foundation and those are the ones you dont trade.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Thompsonville, Il_Cubs

          I feel like at this point Russel should be part of our future plans. There has been enough gutting its time to start winning and I think the cubs are on the right track. I believe they will compete as early as next year. So they need to keep Russell IMO.

    • Serious Cubs Fan

      Trade Russell: IF we get a decent return. The bullpen will be terrible which = high draft pick. If we are going to be terrible I’d rather be god terrible (near Marlins territory, maybe not quite as bad). Its a lost season again. Tare down the scraps and sell them off and only keep the big impact core like Samardzija, Rizzo and Castro.

  • Josho

    Maybe a good trade to look at would be the Marlins/Cards trade last year. Mujica for Post-hype guy Zack Cox. Cox was still the #88 prospect in the game last year. Mujica wasn’t a closer at the time of the trade, more of a set up kind of guy, similar to Russell. However, I think Russell is even more valuable than Mujica was at the time PLUS has 1 more year of control. I don’t think its crazy to think Russell could fetch a top 100 guy and another top 150 by himself. Or packaged with Garza, could bring back some real impact talent.

  • Kyle

    Of course he’s a keeper. We don’t have nearly enough pitching as it is. You don’t deal from shortage.

    Blah blah blah blah what if someone overpays, etc.

    • hansman1982

      The question also should be:

      Can he continue doing what he is doing?

      If the answer is anything but “most likely” and you can get a prospect arm back, it’s explorable.

      • Spriggs

        Exactly. For that reason, I would be listening to every offer. I think he’s a great example of selling high.

      • Kyle

        I don’t think it is explorable in that scenario.

        Trading any pitching that is under contract for 2014 for prospects who won’t contribute then is tantamount to waiving a white flag on the season before the offseason even starts.

        You deal from surplus. 2014 pitching is not a surplus.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Good point, but you go too far. Strictly speaking, it is plausible that the Cubs have identified a cadre of relievers available after the season that they plan to target and acquire. In that instance, dealing Russell now, at the peak of his value, says nothing at all about 2014.

          (And that’s me assuming that they deal him for player(s) incapable of contributing in 2014.)

          • Kyle

            Disagree. The entire concept of “peak value” is being overplayed considerably among Cubs fans these days, for two reasons.

            The minor reason is that other teams’ GMs see the same things we do. They know when a guy might not be able to sustain what he’s doing now. There
            are very, very few dumb GMs left in baseball, compared to 20 years ago when they were everywhere.

            The major reason is that this is not a daytrading game. The “buy low, sell high” analogy has some limited use, but it breaks down when you ignore that we aren’t trying to stockpile the biggest portfolio but rather field a baseball team. You can’t trade guys at their highest value frequently because you need them on your team. Russell falls into that category.

            We don’t have infinite resources for next offseason and we already need to hit on a ton of relief pitchers. Given the nature of the position, we’ll probably need to bring in six just to hit on three useful ones. There’s no need to make that eight.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              You just went off on a tangent that is only tangentially related to my point (redundancy alert). The point is much smaller: trading James Russell now does not guarantee an ineffective bullpen (or bullpen plan) in 2014, and doesn’t waive any kind of white flag

              • Kyle

                It significantly increases the odds of both of those things.

                We are already teetering over the edge of a cliff with our 2014 pitching. A small nudge may not seem like much, but it’s something we can’t afford.

                • hansman1982

                  Which is why it is important to project what you think Russell with do next year. If you think he will remain good against LHB and not good against RHB or worse, you become open to trading him.

                  It’s clear the FO thinks he will be a valuable piece next year which makes me question my low valuation of him or they may simply be saying the risk of him under-performing next year is less than the risk of bringing in that extra BP arm.

            • hansman1982

              Correct, there aren’t GM’s out there that are dumber than I am; however, you have GM’s that NEED a good reliever this year and would be willing to overlook his splits and pay handsomly for him because they need him for a playoff push this year.

              Weren’t we just having a discussion the other day about how volatile relievers are?

              • Kyle

                Were we? I honestly think the volatility of relief pitchers has been overstated a bit. They can fool you if you look at things like ERA, but when you get down to the peripherals, they aren’t near as volatile as their reputations (though all players are volatile).

                • hansman1982

                  Probably and I think it relates more to paying a truck-load for relievers (and it’s probably heavily skewed by the failures).

                  Then the question becomes, is 2012 or 2013 the real Russell and can you get someone to pay you for the 2013 Russell if he is more likely to be the 2012 Russell?

          • The Dude Abides

            Yeah I think we have three relief pitchers who will be back from TJ surgery throughout the year that we have been paying this year so we have that going for us. Plus don’t forget all the relievers we have signed this year and have picked up off the wire.

            A young lefty? Better to trade him just in case he’s a bust in the future.

            • hansman1982

              A young lefty that only really succeeds against LHB…

              I’m not saying you dump him just to dump him, but if you could get Travis Wood and Roni Torreyes back for him? Do it.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              I believe I explicitly said I was NOT advocating trading him. I can see either approach being fine, depending on the multitude of possible outcomes.

        • Spriggs

          Though it is a pretty obvious bonus, you don’t always have to deal from surplus to make a nice trade.

          • Kyle

            You do if you want that trade to help your organization.

            • Beer Baron

              Cubs haven’t had a surplus of starting pitching in their system since circa 2003. Yet last year they traded their most promising starting pitcher for Anthony Rizzo. Seems to have worked out nicely. I think the point is even if its a small step backward it could ultimately help the team in the long run if done right (big if, but still plausible).

              • Kyle

                If we haven’t had a surplus of starting pitching, then why was Travis Wood out of the rotation last spring?

                • Beer Baron

                  Surplus in the system. Last year Wood couldn’t beat out Chris Volsted or Paul Maholm – both of whom were 1 year rental players. If those kind of guys count as “surplus” – then Brett’s comment above stands that they could (possibly) replace Russell in the off season with a free agent lefty.

                  • Kyle

                    Cashner was 25 at the time of the trade. He wasn’t in the “system” anymore, he was part of the rotation that we didn’t need anymore.

                    But sure, that wasn’t a pure surplus. It was more of a relative surplus. You can never have enough pitching, but we were certainly closer to having enough pitching than we were having enough power-hitting first basemen.

                    • Eternal Pessimist

                      The team seeking help doesn’t care what kind of surplus you have when making the trade, they only care what kind of surplus is on the entire market. If everyone is offering players up for trade it is a buyers market and they get a great deal. if there are few sellers, someone is likely to “overpay” to win now. Let’s hope someone is ready to overpay for Russell. If not, maybe we just hand onto him.

        • hansman1982

          “You deal from surplus. 2014 pitching is not a surplus.” I don’t disagree; however, if you think that Russell is going to turn into a pumpkin and not be worth a damn in 2014 you trade him now.

          He is still a platoon oriented reliever and the Cubs have maximized that this year. James Russell =/= Sean Marshall. Marshall was good against lefties and righties, Russell is Marshall-esque against lefties and stinks (.346 wOBAagainst) against righties.

          Trading Russell is not a white flag in 2014.

          • Kyle

            I agree he’s not Sean Marshall. And you aren’t getting a Sean Marshall deal for him.

            If you trade Marshall, you are down to precisely four pitchers under contract for 2014 who project to be comfortably above replacement and healthy. Trying to build an acceptable pitching staff in one offseason from that is pretty close to impossible.

            • hansman1982

              I don’t think you are, I think you could get a couple high minors middle-late-relief slated guys back for him that project to provide at least replacement level production.

              • Kyle

                If a guy is slated for middle relief in the minors, he’s probably already pretty terrible.

                • hansman1982

                  Way to take the worst possible interpretation of what I said.

                  • Kyle

                    I could come up with worse, I bet. I’m pretty creative.

                    • DarthHater

                      Yea, I couldn’t tell what hansman was getting at, but it sounded like some kind of improper behavior with a couple high minors…

                    • BluBlud

                      Getting Minors that are high. I see how Hansman roles now.

                    • BluBlud


                    • hansman1982

                      “Yea, I couldn’t tell what hansman was getting at, but it sounded like some kind of improper behavior with a couple high minors…”

                      “I see how Hansman roles now.”

                      Role-playing is usually involved…

  • David

    Another key point is: Who do we in the minor leagues who may be able to take the role in 2014/ 2015. When we traded Marshall, Russell took over his role.

    • Spriggs

      Del Valle and Rosscup come to mind as possibilities – both of whom need to be promoted.

      • Josho

        It really seems to me that Rosscup can and will be that guy eventually.

        • AB

          The red flags with Rosscup are his durability.

          Innings pitched in the minors:
          2010 – 44.1
          2011 – 49.2
          2012 – 31.1
          2013 – 29.2

          The guy that replaces Russell is going to have to pitch 60-70 effective innings a year.

          • Kyle

            The walks are also uncomfortably high.

            Rosscup could be a loogy in the majors, but I’m still not completely convinced.

  • Hebner the Gravedigger

    The FO decision to trade or retain guys like Russell will be an indicator of how soon they anticipate being competitive.

  • Cerambam

    We’re gonna be bad next year aren’t we…

    • Jeff

      Yes, since Theo and Jed can only build a team through the draft and are 50/50 on trades and free agent signings, we mostly likely will be tanking it again next year for a top 10 draft pick.

      Got to love it, thanks Mr. Ricketts, really enjoying these shitty 4 years of rebuilding.

      After 4 years of Theo & Jed’s experimenting, I doubt we will even be an 85 win team.

      Meet the new bosses, same as the old boss.

      • cub4life

        wait wait 4 year…did i miss something…isn’t this the second year of Theo and Jed???? didn’t the just draft a mostly senior class to get them ready for the majors quicker??? didn’t they sign some guys that they plan to have next year to help start winning (yes they missed on 1 of those guys they signed)??? didn’t they attempted to sign possibly the best FA pitcher last year??? Just making sure I didn’t miss anything.

        • cub4life

          Oh and if we can get anything like we got when we traded Marshall I think we need to explore it…..If not something that absolutely blows them away, he can help us next year so lets bring him back.

          • Eternal Pessimist

            …and didn’t the minor system move up a top 5 system this year (and hopefully top 2 or 3 soon with the addition of Bryant and some excellent trades that may be made…possibly including Russell). And won’t it by nice to have so much young talent on the cusp of their major league careers, to provide long term, cheap service, which will allow the addition of a few, high priced free-agent additions to round out a competitive team in 2015 that really has a chance to be special (maybe special in 2016?).

        • ssckelley

          I think he is saying that in the 4th year the Cubs will not even be a 85 win team (2015).

          • cub4life

            oooooo got ya……so lets fire these guys and hire new guys that sign all the big named free agents and oh wait didn’t the Angels and Dodgers just basically do that?? would that be happiness??

            • YourResidentJag

              Wow, the gross exaggeration is strong with this one ^^^^ :)

      • X the Cubs Fan

        Do you honestly think the Cubs would be better off not rebuilding?

    • Kyle

      It looks very possible, if not probable.

      Unless they’ve been playing coy leading into a mammoth 2014 offseason, or every vaguely talented player in our system simultaneously puts it together.

    • willis

      Yes, bad next season. You got to think, trading away pieces this year, not having pieces ready to step in, and going cheap on FA, which will yield a decent, but not awesome result..I’d say this team could be worse next year than this actually.

  • Dale Jr

    I say keep the guy!!

  • Jeff

    This team as it is constructed right now is so bad, it really doesn’t matter who gets traded. The only two worth holding on to is Rizzo and Samardzija. If any other player can return us a future prospect with potential or a quality big leaguer, move them!

    That includes Castro, especially if the Rays want to part with David Price.

    • mjhurdle

      yep, nothing excites me more than dumping the farm for a injured pitcher with diminished velocity. i say go for it.

      • sven-erik312

        Good answer!

  • ETS

    the last time that theo traded a lefty reliever the return was pretty good… imo.

  • Jon

    If we can get a top 50-60 prospect for Russell, I would do it.

    • Cerambam

      Said everyone everywhere

    • ssckelley

      No way would Russell get a top 100 prospect let alone a top 60. The most you could expect in return is an organization top 10 along and maybe a top 20. The return for Sean Marshall is the most you could expect for someone like James Russell.

      • Jon

        Well then I’d just rather keep Russell as the odds are a that once you get to the 10th-20th range of a prospect list for a team, the less likely that player will become as productive as Russell.

        What you want is a dumb GM that will swing a Karcher for Garland like deal

  • North Side Irish

    The statement “hope to successfully make over the bullpen again next year” implies that they successfully made over the bullpen this year…

    But yeah, keep Russell because they can’t afford to have such an atrocious pen again next year if they hope to start building towards success. At some point you have to stop trading away assets and use them on the field.

    • Cory

      Albeit the bullpen is a serious issue its not unreasonable to think it can be made over in one off season. I don’t love the idea of trading Russell, but if they can get real value why not? In all likely hood any moves we make will be focusing on pitching in return, and you could possibly be acquiring the next younger more controllable version of Russell or Marshall plus whatever else you get.

      • Kyle

        If a team needed Russell, and they had a younger/more controllable version of him, why would they trade that for the older/less controllable version?

        • cub4life

          the only thing I can think of is that the younger version isn’t close enough to be ready (maybe early next year, but they need the help now)…..that being said, i agree with you.

        • mjhurdle

          i get your point, but i also could see a team that wanted to win right now trading away a younger version that may need another year to get to where Russell is right now.

        • Eternal Pessimist

          Because Russell is performing now in the big leagues, and the prospect they would be trading for has a high enough ceiling, but hasn’t proven it in the majors yet. Yes, many teams trade talent that might be better than what they receive if they are already performing in the majors. There is always the risk that the prospect they give up will fade in the majors. The Cubs should be willing to take that risk for additional team control years and upside. If the team feels the window to win is now, yes they will sometimes give up better talent (higher ceiling or team control years).

          • Kyle

            Of course the prospect you get might be better someday. The question is why would teams give us a *near-ready* prospect that is the better version of the pitcher they are getting?

            Pitcher’s have less of a learning curve than batters, and if a guy has the stuff, you can get away with putting him in an MLB bullpen quickly.

            • Eternal pessemist

              But we are looking for a guy who could be solid in 2015 most likely (or maybe 2016). I don’t think you take a good prospect and hope he quickly adjusts to the major league (1/2 season is fast. Possible, but fast) over a guy like Russell who would probably give you a better chance this year.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    Everyone is a trade chip.

  • mak

    I’d trade him for Wood, Torreyes and Sappelt today. OK, I’d probably want to sub Sappelt with a high impact arm because of the control issue. I love Russell, but relievers’ success can be fleeting. I’m hoping between Raley, Rusin and Rosscup, there’s a solid late inning lefty option there.

  • Rich H

    I have been in the Russel’s return sets the wheels in motion camp. If we get a Marshall type return for him then please open up the bidding. IF he is looked at as a huge piece in a bigger trade I am all for that as well (Garza/Russel to Detriot for Smyley and boot?). But to trade a cost controlled lefty when we do not have anyone ready to step in his shoes means we need to get blown away just to listen.

    I remember when Marshall was traded and everyone came unglued like he was the second coming. He is a great set up man that was about to get expensive. Nice to have but on a team that is rebuilding he was replaceable. I was saying at the time that we had Russel that if he stepped up would be almost the same thing. Guess what a year and half later we are having the same conversation only this time there is no one you look at and say that guy could do it lets see what we got.

  • RizzoCastro

    I think the Dodgers, Padres, Dbacks, Rockies, Giants, Cards, Reds, Pirates, Nats, Braves, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, A’s, Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, and O’s would love to have him. That’s something worth looking into. Who knows what a GM will offer with that many clubs in the mix. I say anyone other than Rizzo should be on the table. Shark only if it brings back a big deal for the Cubs. I think the Cubs should also keep Wood unless they get something back that blows the FO away. I would only trade Castro if you knew 100% Baez would be ready by 2015 to take over at SS, Lake is ready by 2014, and the offer to the Cubs is just got to be to good to pass up.

  • ISU Birds

    So Kerry Wood found a dead body………………

    • bob

      ……..and the Cubs signed him to a contract, hoping he can be fixed by Tommy John surgery…..

      • Eternal Pessimist

        That one made me laugh out loud (though I felt bad immediately afterward).

  • mjhurdle

    i think most people are saying varieties of the same thing that Brett already described.
    Russell is solid, and if they don’t trade him, i’ll be happy. If they do trade him, it will be because the offer was too good to pass, so i’ll still be happy.
    Only bad outcome would be if Theo and Co traded him for some career AA arm with limited potential, which i think is highly unlikely.

  • Derrick

    I think it all comes down to the return we can get for him. Maybe a young starter or catcher in double AA with some upside. I do believe that Raley, Rusin or Rosscup will be able to become a dependable lefty in the pen.

    • Eternal Pessimist

      Of course, because their names all start with R’s. Just like Russell!

  • Chris Lattier

    You definitely trade him as long as you’re getting back a player who has a higher ceiling. Like if the Tigers gave up Castellanos in a deal…or Padres gave up Hedges…or you can get a top flight pitching prospect…you’re darn right you trade Russell IMO. A good left-handed setup guy is a nice thing to have…but literally is like the last piece of the puzzle for a contending team…whenever we get to the postseason he’ll be older/more expensive.

  • Aaron

    Russell is one of the pieces I suggest should not be traded. If the Cubs decide to trade him, please do not trade him to the Braves. Look at the history of the Cubs making trades with the Braves. They know how fleece us.

  • mudge

    I like Russell so much I almost wish him in a better situation. Still, I’d prefer it were here. Team construction: why isn’t there a second lefty in the pen, and another infielder rather than outfielder? Seems pretty basic. The Cubs need a high-level catching prospect.

  • CubsFanSaxMan

    Trade ALL the Cubs!

  • Rebuilding

    In my opinion you trade Russell if:

    (1) You don’t think you are going to be competitive in 2015 – that’s the last year of cheap control

    (2) He’s the 2nd or 3rd piece to a deal that nets you at least 1 Top 75 prospect + others

    You don’t trade Russell if:

    (1) You think enough of the kids are going to be ready and you plan to spend money to be right there in 2015 – he’s exactly what we would be looking for then

    (2) You are trading him on his own – I just don’t think he nets a high enough impact prospect that way

    • Eternal Pessimist

      Totally agree with this. I think 2015 is still a little iffy, but 2016 should start the glorious rein of the World Champion Chicago Cubs of 2016 – 2026.

  • willrust

    Russell to the Tigers for Rick Porcello?

    Garza and DeJesus to the Giants for 3 pitchers from this list (Edwin Escobar, Ty Blach Bryce Bandilla, Kendry Flores or Martin Agosta) and Matt Duffy.

  • Cheryl

    The cubs will definitely trade Garza. I expect some surprises too. The FO is looking long term. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russell is traded and I think there is a chance that Castro could be traded as well. Feldman is being talked about too. There is even speculation that Garza’s next start could be his last for Chicago. This trade market is evolving rapidly. I couldn’t even guess what the cubs will look like come August. Perhaps the one thing that is on the horizon for next year is another top five draft pick next year.

  • Adventurecizin’ Justin

    I sense regression with Russell. He has done well with underwhelming stuff, but he still can’t save a game to save his life. Don’t teade him just to trade jim, but I would be proactive in exploring interest & desperation.

  • Blinda

    I think you have to get at least a top 75 prospect in this deal. He is never going to be a starter or a closer so hes not really in our core so sell him off.

  • cubs2003

    This is one where I’m just going to trust the front office. This team looks like it might be competitive in 2015, but 2016 is probably more realistic. I’m a huge Russell fan, but if you can get a bidding war going you might have to pull the trigger. It probably needs to be a team that thinks he’ll put them over the top to be worth it.

  • http://msn Sacko

    I think Russell is more valuable for us to keep then his value to another team and what we might get for him. I doubt we would get something like the Marshal trade, then again we didn’t know Wood would be like he is now either.
    Schierholtz is also someone to consider holding onto.