Now that the Cubs have traded for their left-handed reliever (Mike Montgomery) and their dominant, back-end closer (Aroldis Chapman), it’s fair to wonder where they’ll go from here.
After all, the August 1 trade deadline is still four and half days away, and it’s not as though the Cubs are a perfect team – their starting rotation included.
Put differently, there are always room for improvements, especially if you’re willing to get creative. Moreover, the rotation looks like it could benefit disproportionately (compared to other spots on the roster) from improvements, at least in terms of depth.
To that end, the Tampa Bay Rays may hold the key(s) to the Cubs rotational needs this deadline, and rumors confirming as much are starting to surface:
Cubs seem to be viewing Deadline Week now as a long-term shopping opportunity. Wouldn't be a surprise if they took a run at Rays' starters.
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 27, 2016
We’ve long known the Cubs to be searching for a cost controlled starting pitcher, because their rotation will have significant turnover in the next few years. It is in this way, that the Rays starters might make exceedingly more sense for the Cubs than many other teams.
Let’s take a quick step back, to explain.
As of now, there is not a very robust trade market for starting pitchers. In fact, it’s quite the sellers market, even for less exciting pieces, because there just aren’t too many quality options out there. Put more simply, 36-year-old Oakland A’s starter Rich Hill (out with a blister injury) remains the most impactful rental starter on the market. So, if the Cubs want to add a starter, it might have to be someone who may not be able to help out immediately in the second half, but could be depth for now and a big piece for next season. We know that the Cubs’ starting pitching needs will only grown in 2017 and beyond.
Surprisingly, there are several options that fit that criteria on the Rays alone.
Earlier this week, Nick Cafardo reported that Rays may make any or all of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Drew Smyly, and Matt Andriese available over the next 4-5 days. Each one of those pitchers, almost without exception, is a young-ish, cost-controlled starter with pretty nice upside, but present struggles here in 2016. Should the Cubs want to improve their depth or their starting rotation for now and 2017+, they could target any one of these pitchers with an eye towards the future.
If that pitcher is capable of figuring it out sooner than that, however, then they can step into the rotation immediately. If not, 2017 is another year and the Cubs have a high ceiling candidate for the starting five.
Of course, the Rays aren’t the only team with starters that match this criteria, but they do have a large number of them and the Cubs have been connected to more than one very specifically, this past offseason and now again earlier this week. Given that the groundwork for trades is often laid down weeks and even months in advance, it’s possible that the Cubs are quite aware of what it’ll take to get any one of these guys and are simply mulling over a number of options.
It’s not all up to the Cubs, though. At ESPN, Jerry Crasnick writes that the Rays may be content holding onto all of their starters until the offseason. Given how much control each has right now, the Rays wouldn’t even lose much by waiting. In addition, Crasnick writes that the Rays value Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly in that order, with Moore and Odorizzi being more or less equal. To acquire Archer, however, it will require a supremely top prospect – like Julio Urias from the Dodgers or Nomar Mazara from the Rangers. I’m not quite sure the Cubs have too many players *in the minors* from that tier anymore. I suppose we’ll have to see.
Without a dire need (at the moment) in the rotation, but a pretty significant need later on for high-ceiling options, the Cubs have fairly unique set of needs that may align well with the unique set of circumstances in Tampa Bay. Perhaps, then, the Cubs will be the exception to Tampa’s offseason hold-out. Only four and a half days left to find out!