The Trade Deadline remains a solid month and a half away, and that’s actually good news as far as the 2018 Chicago Cubs are concerned. At least as of this moment.
Unlike some other contenders for whom dire needs have already appeared, the Cubs … really don’t have an obvious need right now. I know that is just begging the baseball gods to smite somebody, but when you look up and down the roster, there isn’t that hole that you know can immediately plugged with an upgrade that doesn’t displace a guy you aren’t especially opposed to displacing.
Sure, you could say there are concerns in the rotation, but it’s currently full up, and Yu Darvish is still set to return in a few weeks. The need for a trade acquisition is not obvious.
Ditto the positional group … though I know some folks have a serious hard-on for trading away Addison Russell, I remain where I’ve been all along: unless Manny Machado’s market craters or unless the Cubs are dead set on ridding themselves of Russell no matter what, I’d rather just let Russell play the season out at shortstop, and then the Cubs can reevaluate things in the offseason when Machado – among others – is a free agent.
And ditto the bullpen, where the main group has not only thrived (plus Carl Edwards Jr. is about to return), but the fringe additions the Cubs have made over the past 12 months (Randy Rosario, Justin Hancock, Luke Farrell, and Cory Mazzoni among them) have all acquitted themselves quite well in the early going.
The thing about the Trade Deadline for a clear playoff contender like the Cubs is that, even if there aren’t obvious holes at the time of the deadline, there could be in a couple months, or a couple weeks, or a few days. And that deadline is the last free and clear shot you have to make an addition preemptively before having to futz with waivers in August (and sellers who can jack up the price in your time of need).
So, like every single year they’ve been competitive, I fully expect the Cubs to be active in the bullpen trade market, even if the guys they have keep on pitching as well as they have been. Keep in mind: even if you add another guy to an already full and deep group, you only have to figure out how to sort it out – from a roster perspective – for a month. The big league roster expands to include the full 40-man in September, and then you can just have a monster-sized bullpen to not only help win games down the stretch, but also to protect against late injuries and sort out who you want on the playoff roster.
To that end, when Bruce Levine mentions that “[s]couts have been hovering around the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres” and intimates that there could be Cubs interest there in Kelvin Herrera and/or Brad Hand, I take note and put it in the back pocket.
Herrera, 28, is not quite the monster he was a few years ago when the Royals had him, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland locking down every game. But after a down 2017 season, Herrera is posting a near-1.00 ERA with an obscenely low 2.1% walk rate (and solid 23.2% strikeout rate). He’s currently serving as the Royals’ closer.
Your only red flag is that his formerly premium velocity has dipped each of the past three years, and is down another click this year (of course, for him, down is about 97 mph, but still – it’s a flag of sorts, especially after many years of heavy usage).
Herrera is a free agent after this season, and would be a true rental, likely costing a couple very good (but not elite) prospects if he stays healthy and effective. Herrera makes $7.94 million this year, and if the Cubs took on about half of that, there wouldn’t be any luxury tax concerns.
Hand, 28, has been a fixture on the trade rumor circuit for what seems like forever. And then he signed a three-year deal with the Padres that kicked in this season, which temporarily halted the rumors. With the Padres’ awfulness this year, those rumors will return.
Hand has been fantastic for the third straight season since the Padres acquired him from the Marlins and converted him into a full-time reliever. He’s got a 1.83 ERA, a career-best 37.4% strikeout rate, and a playable 10.1% walk rate. He’s a lefty, but he’s a clear full-inning guys, currently closing for the Padres. There are no velocity concerns with Hand, who is throwing as hard as ever in the mid-90s.
We’ve heard Hand connected to the Cubs before, even as recently as last summer, but the Padres were apparently looking at Javy Baez, which was silly then and is silly now.
Still, given the contract – $4.1 million this year, $7.1 million next year, $7.6 million in 2020, and a $10 million team option for 2021 – and Hand’s improving performance, the price tag would be significant. In fact, I’m sure they would keep asking for a guy like Baez (not that the Cubs would do it). Given the way relievers like Hand have been valued in recent years, I’m not sure the Cubs will be in the best position to acquire him using prospect currency. Not that they couldn’t – I’m just saying, there will probably be other shoppers with just as much need who could offer more enticing packages. (Also, keep in mind: this offseason’s reliever free agent class is *LOADED*, and you needn’t pay a huge premium for control right now. There will be options.)
We’ll have a better sense of just how aggressive the Cubs might be in the trade market as we get into July. For now, though, I think it’s safe to say relievers will be on the radar no matter how the bullpen performs – because it’s one area that can fall apart so quickly, and where you can never have too many quality arms available, especially if you’re expecting to head to the postseason.