The cold, brutal reality of baseball is that, to teams, prospects are, among other things, assets. Currency is the usual analogy used, but as analogies go that one has at least one hurdle. With currency, any dollar is as good as another. That is definitely not the case with prospects.
A better analogy might be real estate. Not all properties are equally valuable, but if the price is right you generally always find a buyer. And if you know what you are looking for, you can score some real bargains that net quite a profit as well. Mistakes, though, can be very punishing.
The Cubs look to be buyers this winter, and that means it is very possible that we will see some prospects exit the farm system in trades. For the sake of this article I’m largely going to ignore Rule 5 considerations except to note, right now, that Rule 5 rostering decisions could lead to some players being dealt or released before the really significant trades ever get underway.
The question, then, is which prospects are the Cubs most likely to trade?
For the right price, I honestly believe the Cubs would trade absolutely anyone on the roster. The caveat to such thinking is that the Cubs price for some players will realistically never be met. In prospect terms, that means pretty much anyone in the organization could be included in a deal. Some, of course, are more available than others.
Even if I limit myself to just those prospects on the current Top 40 Prospects List, I can still find plenty of reasonable trade candidates. Some of these prospects could be a key piece in a major trade while others may only project as additional pieces in smaller deals, but all are players that I think will come up in trade conversations this winter.
In order of their appearance on the Top 40, here are some of the prospects likely to appear in rumors in the coming months.
I think the Cubs will be reluctant to part with Contreras, but he will be asked about quite a bit. Defensively he looks like a major league starter in the making, and at the plate his approach is exactly what the Cubs need: high walks, low strikeouts, and good power. It isn’t hard to imagine him as a .300/.380/.425 kind of guy in the majors. A line like that would look very nice behind the plate for virtually anyone.
Including the Cubs. Short of a deal for star level talent (likely in the pitching department) I don’t see Contreras being dealt, but the Cubs could easily be looking to acquire star level talent (particularly pitching) via trade. We’ll see.
Billy McKinney, OF
Quality corner defense comes in a package with a disciplined, left handed contact oriented swing. He looks like a relatively safe bet to have a major league future, so I don’t doubt that teams will be asking about him. Right now it looks like the Cubs will have no shortage of corner outfielders, though, and moving McKinney might make sense.
Gleyber Torres, SS
Torres is (1) a shortstop who was (2) young for his league and (3) enjoyed a lot of offensive success in the pitching-friendly Midwest League. Those three factors are going to push up his value, possibly to the point where some team weak in middle infield prospects will value him too highly. The Cubs won’t let him go cheaply, but he could definitely be a part of a major trade package.
Pierce Johnson, RHP
The Cubs need pitching, so why would they trade one of their best high-minors starting pitching prospects? Possibly as part of the package to land a young starter. There is a tendency when teams deal for young, very good major league pitching to send high ceiling pitching prospects in return, and Johnson is a good candidate to fill that role in a possible package.
If I were a General Manager, this is the guy I would be calling the Cubs about. He can get on base, hit for power, and is blocked at every likely position by a young player already in Wrigley. This switch hitter could be a middle of the lineup kind of guy, and I think there will be teams eyeing him with that possibility in mind.
Albert Almora, OF
Almora is tough to value thanks to his odd season splits, but if you buy into the second half bat (I do) then he is one of the more premium prospects in the system. The Cubs could use an elite defender in center, though, so if the Cubs agree the bat will play in the majors then Almora would be unlikely to be moved short of a mega-deal. I suspect Almora is staying around and will be in Wrigley by the end of the year as a defensive replacement if nothing else.
Mark Zagunis, OF
Zagunis is an on base machine, and that could make him attractive to some organizations (including his current one). He’s been at his on-base best in the Arizona Fall League, and that exposure isn’t going to hurt his chances of coming up in trade talks. The Cubs are loaded with outfielders in the minors; dealing Zagunis could make some sense.
Villanueva has a major league glove and a bat that is good enough keep him employed on a lot of teams. He is also completely blocked in the Cubs organization, and there are players coming up behind him who will need playing time (Candelario in particular). One way or another, I don’t think Candelario will be a Cub when April gets here.
Eloy Jimenez, OF
Teams looking for their own version of a Bryant-sized bat could do a lot worse than ask about Jimenez. He is still raw, but there is no questioning his potential power. Trading for him this early in his career could be a risky move for the acquiring team, but it is a risk that could have a huge pay off. If the Cubs do trade for a cost controlled elite-level pitcher, Jimenez is likely to be a candidate to go the other way.
Bijan Rademacher, OF
A left-handed hitter with a high walk rate, a low strikeout rate, and a decent blend of power and speed, Rademacher still manages to be overlooked in the Cubs’ farm system. I think he could be fourth outfielder, but that is going to be a tough job to earn in Wrigley in the coming years.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B/DH
There is just no room for him on the Cubs roster, and everyone knows it. There is clear value in the bat, though not as much as if his power had been a touch louder in Double A this season, and I don’t think there will be a shortage of American League teams interested in taking him off the Cubs’ hands. I don’t think Vogelbach alone will bring a substantial return, but I do think he’ll be dealt this winter.
I believe I’ve been saying that every six months for about two years now. One of these day’s I’ll be right. You watch.
One final thing to keep in mind regarding trading prospects in general: just because they have them doesn’t mean they need to trade them now. There will be a lot of potential trades this winter, and some of them may even be good ones, but that doesn’t mean the team has to make a trade. Now, as when they were in the middle of the rebuild, having the patience to wait for the right deal is going to be key.