Last year, not much later in the season than we are right now, the Oakland A’s and Chicago Cubs got together on a huge deal to fill multiple needs. The big league needs, of course, were on Oakland’s side, as they picked up a couple pitchers, and the organizational needs were on Chicago’s side, with the Cubs picking up a couple excellent prospects.
Might the teams do it again this year, but in reverse?
The A’s are currently in the middle of a kinda-sorta rebuilding phase, and stand at just 14-30, already 13.5 games back in the AL West. A’s GM Billy Beane is a smart, pragmatic guy, so it’s fair to assume they will be sellers come July.
The Cubs, on the other hand, are right in the thick of the playoff picture for now, and currently project to be buyers at the deadline, with needs at the back of the rotation, in the bullpen, and on the bench, at a minimum.
We’ve already talked about the possibility that the Cubs could look to the A’s for a rental started like Scott Kazmir, but what about much more?
Jim Bowden writes about the 20 players most likely to be dealt this year, and, in addition to noting the rental starting pitchers (including Kazmir) in whom the Cubs, among many other teams, could have interest, he lists A’s reliever Tyler Clippard and super utility man Ben Zobrist. Both players are connected, by Bowden, to the Cubs.
The Cubs came close to dealing for Zobrist already once this year before he was traded to the A’s. Zobrist, a free agent after this season, can play all over, provides a quality bat, and is familiar with Cubs manager Joe Maddon from their long time together in Tampa Bay. The caveat with Zobrist is that he’s currently rehabbing from knee surgery, and won’t be back until June. From there, he’ll have a chance to show teams that he’s healthy.
Clippard, one of the best setup men in baseball the last few years, comes with a healthy salary – $8.3 million – and is also a free agent after this season. He’s struggled in Oakland, posting a 4.23 FIP and 5.32 xFIP, each of which belie his 2.50 ERA. His strikeout rate is way down and his walk rate is up to an unhealthy level. Like Zobrist, you’d want to monitor his performance before considering him an ideal target in July.
For now, this is merely a speculative exercise. And, hey: it’s still only May.
At any rate, the A’s are going to be a team to monitor in the coming months, because they do have some pieces that will look attractive to a team like the Cubs (and vice versa – sure seems like a guy like Dan Vogelbach, for one example, and who is Rule 5 eligible after this season, could look mighty attractive to Beane).