It’s not like we don’t recognize it. We talk about it all the time, even if in the abstract. We just don’t want to let ourselves get too close to it.
Eventually, the Cubs are probably going to trade one or more of their young positional players. It’s a numbers game, a maximizing value game, a playing time game, and a roster allocation game. Even Theo Epstein himself conceded that, if the Cubs were to try to trade for controllable pitching this offseason, they’d probably have to use big league positional talent to pull it off.
And it’s possible such a trade will be borderline necessary this offseason. What if the Cubs don’t land Shohei Ohtani? What if the Cubs can’t thereafter sign the free agents they want? Let’s be real about where they stand right now in the rotation: it’s Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks, it’s a soon-to-be 34-year-old Jon Lester coming off a very down season, and then it’s … Eddie Butler? Alec Mills? Mike Montgomery? Jen-Ho Tseng? If the Cubs want to be a playoff contender again in 2018, this is a pretty dire situation.
So, then, you’ve gotta be open to considering those trade proposals when they come along. That’s why I was very interested to read the John Harper’s proposal to the Cubs for Kyle Schwarber, whom he envisions slotting in as the Yankees’ new DH.
The proposal is underwhelming: reliever Dellin Betances and pitching prospect Chance Adams.
Betances, you might recall, was involved in a very public arbitration spate with the Yankees before the 2017 season, and then went on his weakest results of his time with the team. He was still solid (2.87 ERA, 3.22 FIP), but nowhere near his previously dominant self, and posted a 16.9% BB rate, the worst mark in all of baseball.
Moreover, Betances, who turns 30 in March, is already headed for his second year in arbitration, where he’s projected to make $4.4 million, and would be under team control only for 2018 and 2019.
Adams, 23, has put up very good numbers across the minor leagues since the Yankees took him in the 5th round in 2015, reaching AAA in 2017. He recently ranked as the 4th best prospect in a very good Yankees system, according to Baseball America. MLB Pipeline likes him even more, ranking him 2nd in the system, behind only Gleyber Torres.
He has consistently outpitched his periperhals in the minors, thanks to a wide arsenal and polish, but without huge strikeout rates or a plus-plus pitch, I get a little nervous about him translating to the kind of starting pitching prospect you’d need to get as a center piece in a Kyle Schwarber deal. You need a lot more certainty.
To be quite fair to Harper, this is not an embarrassing trade proposal. It’s more fair than most of these proposals you see. But if the Cubs are going to part with Schwarber, it just seems like they’re not going to do it unless the deal provides FAR more sure-fire pitching coverage in the coming years. No, you won’t necessarily get Chris Archer for Schwarber, but there’s a middle ground somewhere.
Simply put: yes, there’s a version of a Schwarber-for-pitching trade the Cubs may someday have to stomach, but I don’t think this is it.
For me, I’ll go a step further: the very prospect of trading Kyle Schwarber right now is a near non-starter, because of the disconnect in the way I perceive his still-very-much-intact offensive potential, and the way I know the market at large will perceive the opportunity to trade for him.
“Above all, Schwarber is no longer off-limits. The Cubs were more than willing to find a position for him when it appeared he was going to be a superstar with the bat, but his defensive shortcomings aren’t nearly as easy to overlook after he hit .211 last season with 150 strikeouts in 129 games.
Of course, he still hit 30 home runs, but in this longball era of big-league baseball, that power has been devalued a bit.”
The rest of baseball will see Schwarber as a buy-low opportunity. A guy with a ton of latent offensive potential that they can snatch up and realize on their time. And if that’s the mindset for trade offers, then I just don’t see how the Cubs are going to get appropriate value for a guy with almost no minor league experience, whose only poor offensive production in the big leagues came in the first half season after he returned from a major knee injury.
No thanks, man. No thanks. I’d much rather the Cubs hang onto Schwarber and see what he can be in 2018.
If a crazy offer comes along in the meantime, yes, I’ll open myself up – just as the Cubs must – to the possibility that Schwarber’s value is best converted into pitching. For now, though, I doubt that offer is coming.