Not that there was any doubt at this point, but I’d say the latest round of rumors truly confirms it: the Chicago Cubs are in the market for a reliever.
Yesterday’s meltdown from Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon, and Justin Grimm isn’t the reason, of course, but it was a reminder that although the Cubs have had one of the best bullpens in baseball this year, it wouldn’t hurt to add another arm to the mix.
Yesterday, the Cubs were connected to top lefties Brad Hand and Justin Wilson (after previously being connected to tip-top left Zach Britton), and today’s it’s about the righties.
First, from Jon Heyman:
aj ramos, who picked up 18th save, is drawing good interest and may be next to go for marlins. dbacks, rox, rays, bosox, brewers, cubs, more
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 22, 2017
Ramos, 30, is controllable through next year via arbitration, so, like Hand, Wilson, and Britton, he’s not strictly a rental. But like Britton, the financial considerations are non-zero: Ramos makes $6.6 million this year, and will get a healthy bump in arbitration next year (as a closer), maybe even approaching $9 to $10 million. Worth it? Probably, but he’s working on a down year, and I’m not sure how much under market that 2018 salary will actually wind up being.
Speaking of the down year, after sporting ERA’s under 3.00 and FIP’s under 3.30 for three straight seasons, Ramos sports a 3.96 ERA and 3.84 FIP in 2017. The culprit, as it has been for so many pitchers, is a dramatically increased home run rate. At just 0.50 HR/9 for his career, Ramos is yielding a 0.99 rate this year. That’s not terrible, but when you’re a guy who also walks 12.3% of the batters you face, it’s trouble. Ramos does at least still strike a ton of guys out, at 29.0% this year.
On the whole, when you consider the performance and the contract, Ramos is a guy worth adding to the mix, but I don’t know that he’s a guy worth sacrificing a serious prospect return. The Marlins probably want to move Ramos right now, because I doubt they’ll want to be the team on the hook for that $9 to $10 million in 2018. Even with a number of suitors, that will depress the market. A couple decent prospects? That’s probably about the max return the Marlins can realistically expect.
Meanwhile, Jesse Rogers writes generally about the Cubs’ needs at the deadline, and, as expected, there’s a discussion of the catcher spot (the Cubs need to add a veteran backup), and also the bullpen. Rogers mentions Britton as a possibility for the Cubs, which is especially interesting, given that it adds a local connection to the earlier report, which used firm language (“Industry source thinks Cubs will trade for Britton.”), but it was hard to tell just how connected to the Cubs that person was.
Rogers mentions the following righties as possible fits: Angels righty David Hernandez, Orioles righty Brad Brach, and old friend Joe Smith, now with the Blue Jays.
Hernandez, 32, had a couple great years with the Diamondbacks before injury and ineffectiveness sent him into the wilderness until he reemerged as a passable reliever for the Phillies last year, and now he’s dominated with the Angels in 2017 (2.56 ERA, 1.86 FIP). His velocity is down from where it was in his previously great years, but his command is now much better. He sports a 27.6% K rate and a 6.5% BB rate, each of which are great. If you knew for sure you were getting that guy, even as a rental, you’d give up a decent (non-upper-tier) prospect. Do you know for sure you’re getting him, though?
Brach, 31, has been very good for three years running with the Orioles now, and is controlled via arbitration through next season (making just $3 million this year). He will be a very attractive target for a number of teams, and is having another very good year for the Orioles, sporting a 29.0% K rate and a 7.7% BB rate.
Smith, 33, might conjure bad memories for some Cubs fans after he was a deadline acquisition last year, as he become a homer magnet immediately following the trade. But remember, he was dealing with a leg injury at that time, and after he came back from a DL stint to rest it up, he was fantastic. This year, with the Blue Jays, he’s getting decent results (3.41 ERA), but has fantastic peripherals (36.7% K rate, 6.3% BB rate). The problem for him has been a combination of a reduced groundball rate, an increased HR/FB ratio, and a dramatically increased BABIP (.362). He’s not giving up a ton of hard contact, so I tend to think he’s had some bad luck this year, especially when you consider how many bats he’s missing.
The trick with Smith, though, is the same as it was last year: he’s basically a ROOGY. Lefties continue to hit him well (.260/.351/.400) while righties can do almost nothing (.217/.243/.313). There’s a use for a guy like that for sure, but it makes him less attractive than options with less pronounced splits.