Welcome to the three news members of the Chicago Cubs organization, acquired yesterday for Jake Fox, Aaron Miles, and $1 million of wheel-greasing: reliever Jeff Gray, and prospects Ronny Morla and Matt Spencer.
Gray is the guy you’ll immediately notice from this trade, because he’s very likely to be a part of the Cubs’ pen in 2010. Already a very crowded group, Gray figures to have a good shot at a middle relief role following a solid 2009 campaign, where he put up a 3.76 ERA in Oakland after dominating AAA. Of course, he did that at age 27, so the dominating AAA part is less impressive. Gray was a boom or bust sort, giving up nothing in 15 of his 19 relief appearances in the bigs last year, but gave up three earned runs in his last appearance. Otherwise, his ERA would have been under 3.00. He doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, but the good news is he doesn’t walk a lot either – just four walks in over 26 innings last year. That’s music to the ears of Cubs fans who are used to seeing their relievers give up at least a freebie every other inning.
Gray won’t be eligible for arbitration for the first time until 2012, so he’s going to be cheap for a while. That part is nice, too.
Matt Spencer is a 23 year old bopper who split time last year between the A’s single A and double A clubs, putting up an .833 OPS in just his second professional year. No one expects him to become a full-time big league regular, but he could contribute off of the bench as soon as the second half of this year. Spencer plays the corner outfield spots and first, but despite his solid bat, is not great defensively at any of those spots (hmm, sound familiar?).
Ronny Morla may be the key to the deal, and could be a good one. The 21 year old fireballer had an ERA near five in A-ball last year and a 1-7 record. So what am I talking about? First of all, learn to be open to ignoring crappy ERAs for low-level prospects. Yes, it’s always a good sign when the pitcher isn’t giving up runs, but sometimes, when the kid is, it’s not reflective of his ability. Sometimes he’s being instructed, and is working on certain things (new pitches, for example), which can result in runs given up. Also, the defense behind you isn’t quite the same caliber as you’ll see at higher levels. So why am I excited about this kid? Well, he’s struck out over 10 guys per 9 innings, and sports a 3 to 1 K:BB ratio, which means he has good stuff and good control. That’s a combination that I’ll take every time over low-level ERA and win/loss.
So all in all, the trade appears to be an adequate one for the Cubs. Sure, there’s always a chance that Jake Fox continues to improve, and turns into David Ortiz for the A’s. But that wasn’t going to happen with the Cubs. And sure, there’s always a chance Aaron Miles hits .300 off the bench for the A’s. But who cares? Miles is the king of empty batting average (by which I mean, his .300 is terrifically unproductive, resulting in an OPS doesn’t even approach mediocre). And, moving Miles opens up $1.7 million in salary that Jim Hendry can blow on some random unproductive veteran the Cubs can use to improve this year’s team.
Of course, the pathetic irony is that the Cubs would not have had to try and “save” money by dealing Aaron Miles if Jim Hendry hadn’t signed him to an absurd, two-year deal last winter.