cubs azl spring training logoThere are two key ways in which a very strong farm system can help a major league team. First, and most obviously, the farm system can develop players who beocme a valuable part of the team at the highest level. Not only this this outcome yield a good player, it also can greatly help the financial flexibility of the organization. Nearly every player that comes out of the farm system offers the team production at a discount. Whether he turns into a perennial All-Star or a reliable bench piece, the team is probably going to pay somewhat less for that contribution than it would have cost via the free agent market. Those excess funds can then be reinvested else where (on other free agents, or on international talent to restock the farm system for example).

The other method by which a strong farm can really help out the major league club is by providing the means by which the team can trade for what it is lacking. Unlike dollars, though, good prospects come with an expiration date. At some point they become eligible for the Rule 5 draft and must be protected on the 40 man roster or else the team could lose them for, essentially, nothing. The trick, then, is to figure out which prospects are the most likely to help out the major league team, and then try to trade the rest before they become Rule 5 eligible and hopefully while they are at maximum value.

This summer, for the first time in a very long time, the Cubs have a major league team that it makes sense to reinforce with a mid-season trade or two. And what’s more, they have the prospects to make those trades, including some prospects that it would be helpful to move for Rule 5 reasons. After a survey of the system, we’ll take a look a at couple of the Cubs’more valuable prospects that are could be attractive to potential trade partners.

Standings Watch

Iowa : 21-20, 2nd place.

The Cubs are staying over .500, but they haven’t been able to catch Oklahoma City (who is six and a half games ahead) or shake off Omaha (who trail the Cubs by one game). Oddly, the Cubs are a slightly better road team than they are a home team right now. If that situation normalizes and their home road record moves back over .500, it is very possible that the Cubs could find themselves in a position to make a run at Oklahoma City in the second half of the season.

Tennessee : 23-20. 2nd place.

It was not the best of weeks for the Smokies. They are still over .500 and still in second place, but they are sitting four games behind Chattanooga. There is still a lot of baseball to be played before the first half of the season ends and the initial playoff spots are awarded, but there is not so much time left that the Smokies would not be well served to narrow the distance to first place a bit. Tennessee gets five more games against Chattanooga before the end of the first half, but only two of those are at home.

Myrtle Beach : 26-14, 1st place.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans are starting to pull away from the pack. Their division lead is up to six and a half games now as they continue to maintain the best record in the league. Their home record is only one game better than .500, but on the road this team is an impressive 16-5. The core of this team contains many of the group that stomped all over the Midwest League as part of that title winning Kane County juggernaut a year ago, and they are in good position to secure a chance at another playoff run.

South Bend : 19-24, 6th place.

This time last week the Cubs were sitting at .500 and were within striking distance of first. Now, after a brutal week, they are next to last in the division. Fortunately, next to last in this division is only six games back. It is unlikely that South Bend can make up all that ground and vault over every team in front of them before the first half ends next month, but they have a chance. They will need to find some consistency on both sides of the ball if they are going to cash in on that chance.

Trade Talk Topics

A complete list of the Cubs’ prospects who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter can be found here, at The Cubs Reporter. I am not going to review all the tradeable names on that list (because there are a lot of them), but I do want to call out a few that jump out at me (as well as one who is not on the list at all).

Christian Villanueva, 3B. Iowa.

Villanueva does some very nice work with the glove, but I suspect he may not get a chance to show off that glove at the major league level with the Cubs. Chicago has quite a bit of infield talent even without Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara on the roster, and barring a nasty series of injuries it is hard to see the team finding room for Villanueva for any sustained stretch.

Fortunately, this right handed hitter is having a decent year at the plate for Iowa. His line through 95 PA read .277/.347/.458 with 3 home runs and a strikeout rate of just 14.7%. Those are solid numbers for any team that might be looking for future utility guy who could help out a major league bench right away. He would probably be most attractive to teams plotting a short rebuild and who are a little light on infield talent. Villanueva is already on the forty man roster.

Dan Vogelbach, 1B. Tennessee.

To me, Vogelbach looks so much like a Billy Beane kind of player that I’m kind of surprised Oakland hasn’t found a way to acquire him yet. He walks, he slugs, and he walks some more. On an AL team that could give his very questionable glove plenty of rest with some time at DH, he could be a very valuable guy.

Every single AL team would be interested in Vogelbach, as would any NL team that does not already have a young, slugging, cost controlled first baseman established in the majors. He has a high enough potential impact to be a key piece is a fairly significant trade. If the Cubs deal for a very good starting pitcher, particularly one that is not just a half season rental, do not be surprised if Vogelbach is going the other way.

Josh Conway, RHP. Myrtle Beach.

Conway is pretty much the epitome of what teams look for among the pitchings ranks in the Rule 5 draft. He throws hard, has had his career slowed by injuries, is reestablishing his feel for his pitches, and offers enough right now that a team could dream on stashing him in the bullpen for a year and finding their own Hector Rondon.

As a prospect in a mid-summer trade, Conway by himself could possibly bring back a decent veteran bench bat or fifth outfielder. He would also be of interest to any team looking to work a more significant trade with the Cubs. And since he is a pitcher, literally every team in baseball would be happy to have him. Including the Cubs, if they could figure out a way to squeeze him onto the 40 man roster before the Rule 5 hits.

Dillon Maples, RHP. Extended spring training.

Maples, even after his injuries and wildness plagued career, has a fastball / curveball combination that makes it easy to believe that he is on the doorstep of turning things around. Maples is very unlikely to be taken in the Rule 5 unless he has a great summer, but if he has that great summer he will be very attractive as a bullpen arm with future projection (similar to Conway).

While he is a safer bet to slip through unscathed, I suspect he is good candidate to be moved in a mid-summer trade as the final piece to a small to medium sized deal. The ceiling on Maples, if he can every stay healthy and refine his control, is that of a number two or three starter. That makes him the sort of lottery ticket type prospect that is often the finishing piece to a summer trade.

Bijan Rademacher, OF. Tennessee.

Rademacher is not having a great season right now (.227/.328/.328 with just 2 home runs), but I think any team in the market for a third or fourth outfielder for their 2016 roster will give Rademacher a close look. His walk rate for the Smokies is very good (13.0%), he doesn’t strikeout out excessively (just 18.1%), and his left handed swing contains more power than his current ISO of .101 would lead you to believe. In a less crowded farm system Rademacher would be viewed as part of the future, maybe as a left fielder who would hit seventh or eighth, but the Cubs have so many young hitters that Rademacher probably does not get as much respect as he deserves from many fans.

He would not be the headliner is a large trade, but he would not be out of place as the second guy in a deal that could bring back a high quality major league player.

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