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.

  • FastBall

    sell High. He isn’t that special. If they can get some value out of him other than prospects at the real low level. I think we need some talent at the higher level AA or AAA. He also needs a haircut so trade him. :)

  • DarthHater

    If you’re basing your hopes on winning the lottery, then you’d better buy as many lottery tickets as possible.

    • hansman1982

      I just need to buy 185M of them for one drawing…it’s easy!

      • DarthHater

        The odds for prospects aren’t quite as bad as that.

    • Kyle

      That’s a great strategy for losing money quickly.

  • fromthemitten

    The Cubs have two more lefties on the 40 man roster in Rusin and Raley. The more years of team control, the more value… so why not sell high if he can bring in a top ten prospect

  • Kenster

    I believe the Cubs should trade Russell for the right price. If they don’t get a good enough offer than just hold onto him.. If he’s traded tho the Cubs will have to pick up a few FA’s since they don’t have many other reliable arms with track records. Although they can go out and sign a Shawn Camp or Kevin Gregg going into spring training sometimes to fill the gaps, there’s still going to be a lot of question marks.
    Next year might look like this..
    SU-Fujikawa(not till middle of the year unfortunately)
    RP-Villanueva (depending on how many SP get the boot this year, including him)
    RP-Rondon (shiver)
    Theres not a lot of established relievers left in the system, but i know the bullpen is the most unpredictable part of a team year in and year out.

    • Kenster

      And RP Casey Coleman, maybe even RP Yeonnir Negrin (i believe thats how you spell it)

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

    The only lefties we have to replace him that actually are relievers right now is Jeffry Antigua (AAA) 4.61 ERA and Zach Rosscup (AA) 2.12, but we do have a few lefty starters that need to be put on the 40 man next year to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.