An Early, Semi-Rational Take on the Cubs Trading Valbuena and Straily for Fowler

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An Early, Semi-Rational Take on the Cubs Trading Valbuena and Straily for Fowler

Analysis and Commentary

chicago cubs logo featureI think the Astros did very well in this trade, but the Cubs did the right thing.

That’s my #HotTake, which isn’t really something I’m into. I don’t think you can capture the ins and outs of a trade – the value, the rationale, the meaning, the implications – in a single sentence, and especially not without much more time to digest. But, if I had to #HotTake this trade right now, that’s what I’d go with.

If this were a trade that didn’t involve the Cubs, I’d look at it something like this: Fowler provides a great deal of offensive value, and questionable defense in center. He’s got just one year left, and it’ll cost something like $9 to $10 million. On the other side, Luis Valbuena provides nearly as much offensive value (but a much more limited track record), plays good defense at important defensive positions, costs just $4.2 million in 2015 and is under control for 2016, too. Dan Straily is not likely to contribute meaningfully to the Astros, but he definitely has a chance. He’s done it before.

To me, the Astros got the better value in the trade. In the coming days, looking at it from several more angles, maybe I realize I’m wrong about that. But, for today – the trade having just happened less than an hour ago – I think the Astros just flat did great.

But I’m still happy about the deal from the Cubs’ perspective.

Fowler was such a good fit for the Cubs’ current set-up – OBP at the top of the order, veteran presence, cover for Alcantara in center, freeing up Alcantara to be used in a utility role (or for he, himself, to serve as cover at second base for Javier Baez), and all in a manageable one-year contract that doesn’t block anyone – that I love the addition in isolation. Love it. I also love that the Cubs added Fowler without giving up an impact prospect, which I’d feared wouldn’t be possible. I also wonder if Fowler’s “poor” center field defense in the past is driven, in part, by two very tough outfields (Coors Field and Minute Maid Park), and could be improved in a much more manageable center field space at Wrigley. I’m perfectly happy to see the Cubs give it a try.

The Cubs used a valuable trade chip (Valbuena) that they would very likely have to utility soon to improve the team markedly for 2015 in the area they absolutely needed it most (OBP at the top of the order). Of course, they took a hit in that very same area to make the deal, but they’ve got a ton of options behind Valbuena at third. That wasn’t really true in the outfield right now, and certainly not in center.

So, yeah. I think this is one of those trades where if you had to declare one side the winner, you’d probably go with the Astros. But, if you’re the Cubs, this is a deal you want to make. There aren’t many one-year Fowlers out there available right now, and the Cubs dealt from positions of significant depth to get him. I like it. And maybe Fowler winds up netting the Cubs a draft pick when all is said and done.

I guess I’m just a little melancholy about losing Valbuena (even if, in my head, I knew he was gone soon anyway, and also knew that there was a chance he fell back a bit in 2015). It can’t all be rational, black-and-white analysis, can it? The best I can offer you is dispassionate analysis 99% of the time, and then enough honesty for you to spot the 1% of the time that I’m letting my silly fandom get the better of me. I just enjoyed Valbuena’s game, I enjoyed how underrated he was, and I enjoyed that the front office got him for nothing a few years ago.

I’ll console myself in knowing that the Cubs very likely just improved a good bit for 2015. That makes me happy again.

It’s almost silly to go through the exercise of pinpointing the Opening Day lineup configuration given the Cubs’ versatility and youth. Fowler is almost certainly in center field, which pushes Arismendy Alcantara somewhere else. Maybe that’s the bench. Or maybe it’s third base. Or maybe it’s second base, with Javier Baez at third. Or maybe Baez is in Iowa. Or maybe Alcantara is in Iowa. Maybe Tommy La Stella is starting somewhere. Maybe Mike Olt is starting at third.

The one bet I’ll still make is that the Opening Day starter at third is not Kris Bryant. There’s still too much value in waiting just a couple weeks to get that entire extra year of control. HOWEVA, this trade does heavily signify that the Cubs few Bryant as a third baseman in the near-term. With Valbuena in tow, the Cubs could have even more comfortably been covered if Bryant had to move to the outfield in short order. Without Valbuena, there is no obvious full-time third baseman on the roster for 2015. Instead, it looks like the spot will be kept warm for Bryant for a little while by way of some combination of the above, and then it’s Bryant’s spot to run with. I love that hint that the Cubs believe Bryant can stick at third, because his value there could be much higher than in, for example, left field.

Which brings me back to Valbuena. As sad as I am to see him go, and as much sneaky value as I think he has, he was as good as gone if the Cubs believe Bryant is the future at third base. There is so much young infield depth that, even if there was an injury or two at second base, Valbuena would not be necessary if Bryant was up at third. And, given that Valbuena has so much value, the Cubs were going to have to capture it sooner or later. So they did.

This is an exciting deal, not only for what it means for the roster in 2015, but also what it signals.

Yes, the Cubs really do want to win in 2015.


Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.