It will be very interesting to see if the Cubs continue to be connected to “controllable pitching” trades if they land Alex Cobb this week. Cobb’s presence would give the Cubs five clear starting pitchers (Quintana, Lester, Hendricks, Cobb, Chatwood), and, outside of Ohtani-related speculation, there have been no credible indications that the Cubs will move to a six-man rotation (even though I’d *extremely* support the move).
So, then, if Cobb comes into the fold, do the Cubs close up shop on pursuing pitching trades, or do they see what comes along, add a pitcher if the right deal comes up, and figure things out in the spring (since something bad frequently happens to alleviate rotation gluts)? I tend to think the actual answer is neither of those things, and the Cubs would still pursue controllable pitching – but the type that can be stashed at AAA or in the bullpen.
In any case, for now, the Cubs do not have Alex Cobb (yet … do they now? how about now? things happen quickly at the meetings). So the pursuit of controllable starters will continue unabated, and, to that end, David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle at ESPN actually proposed one of the rare hey-that-actually-kinda-makes-sense trades: Ian Happ to the Royals for Danny Duffy. To be quite clear, this is not a reported rumor. This is merely some thoughtful dudes looking at rosters and motivations and coming up with a swap. Most of those types of proposals are garbage. This one actually merited a little discussion.
Duffy, 29 later this month, is controlled for the next four years at a reasonable salary (an average of $15 million per year), and has been almost exclusively successful when healthy and when the Royals have given him time in the rotation. He was especially excellent in 2017, posting an ERA 14% better than league average, and a FIP 20% better.
Would Happ, with six more years of team control, be an appropriate price to pay for Duffy? Certainly feels like the Royals would think so, as he perfectly fits their rebuilding process and has the upside to be a quality regular (or better) at second base for cheap. For the Cubs, it’s a closer call. They’ve got the redundancy available to move Happ without destroying the roster, but he showed himself to be one of the most powerful bats in baseball this year, and his switch-hitting ability plus defensive versatility make him one of the more perfect pieces to have on a competitive roster.
Let me put it to you (and myself) this way: I like Duffy better than Alex Cobb. But if you could land Cobb on a four-year, $60 million deal (the same that remains on Duffy’s contract), is the difference between Cobb and Duffy worth Ian Happ? That’s a crystal clear no. Framing it that way, unless the Cubs were getting a much better deal than a straight up swap, it seems like pursuing this kind of trade is not something they should consider until the free agent market shakes out.