At this moment in the Cubs’ trajectory, more so than at any point in the last three years, it seems highly likely that at least one positional player at the big league level will be moved out. We’ve talked about that possibility for years now, but with so many players key to the team’s success at the big league level and with many excellent trade chips beneath them in the minor leagues, nothing has quite made sense for a trade to materialize, outside of a post-hype Jorge Soler being sent to Kansas City for Wade Davis.
But now? It’s not so much a matter of the ever-pervasive “need for controlled pitching” rearing its head (to the contrary, I could make an argument that the Cubs’ need for controlled starting pitching at the big league level is the lowest it’s been in years). Instead, it’s the reality of a lineup that is going to need serious augmentation to get the offense back on track heading into 2019. And if that’s going to happen, it’s going to make sense to reconfigure the roster a bit on the positional side, even if it means trading a big league position player for – just as an example – pitching prospects.
Against that backdrop, I do think it’s very reasonable that, when going over the roster in a “who stays, who goes” kind of manner, Mark Gonzales had to list some positional talent in the “likely to depart” section. Indeed, given his domestic violence suspension and the reconfiguration of the infield that already occurred, having Addison Russell in that section seems like a near no-brainer at this point.
But Gonzales, who has been on the Cubs beat for a good long while now, also points to Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ as likely to depart. I’ll let you head to the Tribune to read Gonzales’s rationale there, as well as his take on the rest of the roster. He had also previously mentioned that specific duo after Theo Epstein’s end-of-season presser hinted at changes being needed in the organization.
What makes this a challenging conversation is that, while I do believe a position player – in addition to Russell – is “likely to depart,” I don’t know that the Cubs will necessarily be the ones to unilaterally drive the decision on whom that player will be. That is to say, they will probably have to be open to a number of possibilities, depending on what trade partners emerge, what they have to offer, and, most importantly, what they are looking for from the Cubs.
If the Cubs go after Bryce Harper (as the market sure seems to think they will, and as logic dictates they should), then it will make the most sense for the Cubs to look to their outfield talent – Schwarber, Happ, and Albert Almora – to make a move. While you can easily accommodate four starting-caliber outfielders on a good roster, it can be much more of a challenge to make five+ work (keep in mind, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist will both continue to see time in the outfield). And, given his defensive value, plus the fact that he hits from the right-handed side (very well against lefties), and his potentially lower trade value, it may be the case that, of those three, Almora makes the most sense to retain.
(And when you consider other players in this broad “young offensive talent” category, there aren’t any others that make sense as a trade piece without *SIGNIFICANT* other moves on the roster of that type that we cannot reasonably project. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez … these guys just aren’t going anywhere.)
None of that is to say the Cubs definitely will or even definitely should trade Schwarber or Happ (and, in any case, I don’t realistically see them dealing both; you still have to have some quality depth). We get attached to these players and, frankly, we don’t want to see any of them dealt, especially when we think about their offensive ceiling. But, as Theo Epstein himself said, “We have to be an offensive force. We should be, with the talent on our roster. But it’s probably time to stop evaluating this in terms of talent, and start evaluating it in terms of production, and we need to do everything we can to produce offensively.”
If the Cubs can find more certain offensive production elsewhere, then it’s possible they will contemplate trading one of these guys if they can get good value that the organization otherwise needs. It sucks. It’s painful. But it’s almost certainly going to be a very real consideration this offseason.