Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

johnny cueto righty redsWith the Chicago Cubs likely buyers this year for the first time in the last several Trade Deadlines, we thought it would be appropriate to take a brief look at some of the teams that could become sellers. These teams could present possible fits for the Cubs should they look to improve externally.

Previously: Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers.

Possible Seller

Cincinnati Reds

Record and Standings

  • Current Record: 39-47 (.453 W%)
  • Projected End of Season Record (PECOTA): 74-88
  • Standings: Fourth place in NL Central, 7.5 games back of second Wild Card

Why They Might Be Sellers

The Cincinnati Reds aren’t as far back from the second Wild Card as the first two teams of this series (Phillies and Brewers), but with five teams ahead of them for that final spot (plus the two current leaders – Pirates and Cubs) it would take more than a miracle to contend in 2015. Indeed, Baseball Prospectus has the Reds playoff odds at just 0.6%. With very little hope for 2015, some aging and expiring contracts, and young, intimidating competition in Pittsburgh and Chicago – not to mention the ever-present spectre that is St. Louis – it appears that the Reds will begin selling off, perhaps a lot, starting this July.

How Soon They Could Be Ready to Sell

Last place teams that are looking up on youthful, better teams in their own division should be ready to sell yesterday. The Reds have yet to begin their sell-off, but I assure you, it’s coming. Cueto is likely moving on after this year, Homer Bailey is on the shelf, and there are some aging and expensive contracts on their books; if there ever was a window to win, it has passed. The Reds are as likely as any team to make moves over the next two and half weeks.

Realistically Available Players That Might Interest the Cubs

  • Johnny Cueto
    • Position: Starting Pitcher
    • Bats/Throws: R/R
    • Age: 29
    • Contract: $10M in 2015, free agent at end of 2015 season
    • 2015 Stats: 118.2 IP, 2.73 ERA (3.18 xFIP), .235 BABIP, 19.5 K-BB%, 2.7 WAR
    • Recent Rumors/News on Bleacher NationHere, here and here.
  • Aroldis Chapman
    • Position: Reliever/Closer
    • Bats/Throws: L/L
    • Age: 27
    • Contract: $8.o5M in 2015, arbitration eligible in 2016, free agent at end of 2016 season
    • 2015 Stats: 37.1 IP, 1.69 ERA (2.67 xFIP), .324 BABIP, 28.3 K-BB%, 1.5 WAR
    • Recent Rumors/News on Bleacher Nation: Briefly here.
  • Mike Leake
    • Position: Starting Pitcher
    • Bats/Throws: R/R
    • Age: 27
    • Contract$9.775M in 2015, free agent at end of 2015 season
    • 2015 Stats: 114.2 IP, 4.08 ERA (3.57 xFIP), .277 BABIP, 10.1 K-BB%, 1 WAR
    • Recent Rumors/News on Bleacher Nation: Briefly, here and here.
  • Manny Parra
    • Position: Reliever
    • Bats/Throws: L/L
    • Age: 32
    • Contract$3.5M in 2015, free agent at end of 2015 season
    • 2015 Stats: 16.1 IP, 4.41 ERA (3.60 xFIP), .271 BABIP, 11.9 K-BB%, .1 WAR
    • Recent Rumors/News on Bleacher Nation: None.
  • Jay Bruce
    • Position: Outfielder
    • Bats/Throws: L/L
    • Age: 28
    • Contract: $12M in 2015, $12.5M in 2016, $13M club option in 2017 ($1M buyout)
    • 2015 Stats: 343 PAs, .251/.341/.465, .292 BABIP, 12.2 BB%, 22.2 K%, 1.6 WAR
    • Recent Rumors/News on Bleacher Nation: Here.

Overall Fit with Cubs

The Reds are a somewhat interesting fit with the Cubs, even if I don’t necessarily see a deal forthcoming. Of the four pitchers available, one starter (Cueto) and one reliever (Chapman) will cost far and above what the other starter (Leake) and reliever (Parra) will cost.

Cueto will give you about 100 more ace-caliber innings this year, and slides in at the top of the Cubs rotation, bumping Kyle Hendricks down to a more comfortable fifth starting role. Of course, that’s true for almost any team in baseball; such is the story when dealing for an ace. Leake, on the other hand, has an xFIP (3.57) that makes him much more enticing than his ERA (4.08) would lead you to believe. With the upcoming free agent class loaded with starting pitchers and the likelihood that the Cubs will be entering into a one-game playoff as a wild card (hopefully), acquiring Leake – for a great deal less – seems like a more likely, and, frankly, better outcome.

What you just read can mostly be used to describe the situation regarding a deal for Chapman or Parra; however, it’s far less likely that Chapman will get dealt (he’s not a rental) and the Cubs’ bullpen isn’t as in need as the starting rotation. Because of that, and the looming presence of Rafael Soriano, I’m not so sure the Cubs need to roll the dice on another buy-low arm like Parra. Chapman, on the other hand, would improve any team in baseball. The Cubs have gotten together with the Reds in the past in a deal for a back-end lefty reliever (Sean Marshall for Travis Wood), but Chapman is a good deal better than Marshall was, and I don’t see the Reds’ front office parting with such a prize – within their own division, no less – without an acquisition cost that doesn’t make sense for the Cubs.

And with that, we’re left with Jay Bruce, who is young, has some good, cheap control left and is a pretty good baseball player. This is what Brett had to say about Bruce, when a rumor popped up this offseason, though:

He’s also coming off a disastrous year wherein he dealt with knee injuries and posted an ugly 77 wRC+, his second straight year of power decline (by ISO), his third straight year of walk rate decline, and his fifth(!) straight year of strikeout rate increase. There are some warning signs here.

Yes, those are/were warning signs, but Bruce has had a pretty solid year; his walk rate is up significantly (12.2%), his strikeout rate is down significantly (22.2%) and his ISO is back up around his career marks (.214). The problem with Bruce, like many outfield options, is where he would play. He can’t play center field, and he’s not taking over in right field for Jorge Soler. If he played left field, he’d likely be taking over for Chris Coghlan, who is also a lefty and is one of the Cubs’ top producers over the past couple of months – his current, fake-slump notwithstanding.

On top of all of that, I don’t know if the Reds are going to move Bruce at all. He is young enough to theoretically be useful the next time the Reds are contending, but his fate will depend on just how deep of a rebuild the Reds are willing to go. Bruce is a nice trade chip, and his value may never again be as high as it is right now.

In any case, with the All-Star break coming to an end, the Reds are likely to start selling soon.

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