In the early part of the offseason, there is necessarily a speculative edge to most conversations. Even the rough contours of an organization’s plan of attack have not made their way into the public consciousness, and, indeed, for many organizations, they themselves might not yet know precisely what they’re going to be doing in the coming months.
It can make for some fun exercises for us, so long as we’re all on the same page, understanding that the actual processes going on behind the scenes are imbued with a great deal more information than things we pontificate about on the outside. There are things we will not know, and if we’re having some fun thinking about moves the Cubs might make, well, then, we just have to be OK with a certain level of missing information.
With all that background in mind, something that has caught my attention is the looming roster crunch of the San Diego Padres. You see this not at all infrequently with rebuilding clubs as they approach years 3/4/5 of the rebuild: so much accumulated young talent that has not yet graduated to the 40-man roster that they’re going to have tough decisions to make in advance of the Rule 5 Draft.
As Kevin Acee breaks down at the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Padres may wind up with something like 10 to 13 roster spots on the 40-man right now, which must be apportioned out to offseason additions, keeping certain borderline guys on the 40-man, and adding prospects in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. That last category, alone, may have upwards of 15 worthwhile additions!
I mention this here because that’s the kind of organizational depth – and impetus to make moves – that the Cubs may well target in the early part of the offseason, as they do every single year. Whether it’s a minor trade for a guy who is out of options or who must be rostered before the Rule 5 Draft, or merely a waiver claim or two, the Cubs always seem to grab a couple guys in late October/early November. Maybe, having already discussed San Diego’s borderline types (for example, when swapping Matt Szczur and Justin Hancock last year, or maybe in trade discussions over the years), the Cubs and Padres are already in a logistical place to make deals on this front.
Whom could the Cubs target in these kinds of talks? Well, you’d be looking at guys who are worth having on the 40-man roster, who have minor league options left, who could be stashed at AAA until needed, and who may turn the corner in a new organization. There is 24-year-old righty starter Brett Kennedy, who was solid at AAA this year, but who struggled mightily in six big league starts and then had knee surgery late in the year. Or 25-year-old righty reliever Phil Maton, who was dominant in the upper minors, but who was only so-so in the big leagues this and last year. Or maybe even a post-hype guy like righty Anderson Espinoza, who is only 20, but who has missed the last couple years with elbow issues and Tommy John surgery (and who is Rule 5 eligible nevertheless). Or maybe a potential breakout power bat in Ty France, who saw his ISO take off at AA and AAA this past season, and who also doesn’t strike out much, but who mostly plays first base.
I could go on, because, as the Union-Tribune piece notes, there are a ton of interesting fringe guys in the Padres organization who may have been surpassed by higher-upside, shinier new objects, but who may have a great deal of reclamation value in another organization.
How could the Cubs put together a deal for these types of players? Well, to be sure, it’s not necessarily a difficult thing for fringe guys – and, indeed, you might be able to grab one of these guys off of waivers anyway if the Padres seek to clear up space on the 40-man that way. Maybe it takes a low-level, medium-upside prospect (the Cubs are loaded with those types). Or maybe you put together something a little more unique.
To that end, I’d be lying if Addison Russell wasn’t going to be at the corner of my mind any time early-offseason trade speculation comes up. Having been suspended for domestic violence, and having very plausibly worked his way out of the organization no matter what, it’s perfectly likely that Russell will be moved in the coming weeks, long before the deadline to tender him a contract for 2019 on December 2.
The Padres have been rumored to have trade discussions with the Cubs about shortstops for literal years. And although the Padres have two tip-top middle infield prospects in Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Luis Urias, they are only 19 and 21 years old, respectively. With Russell under control via arbitration for a few more years, it isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario where the small market Padres would be interested in taking a buy-low risk on Russell for a year or two, seeing what future value could be there, and then themselves trying to spin him off when Tatis and/or Urias are ready to take over at shortstop.
Just thinking out loud here, albeit about an organization I do not cover closely. So, you know, take this all for what it’s worth if you’re a Padres fan.
To be sure, the ultimate resolution for the Cubs and Russell may not involve a trade, but, if it does, it’s hard to see the Cubs getting a substantial return given the 40-game domestic violence suspension, the regression at the plate the last two years, and the injuries the last two years. Yes, Russell is still young, controllable and cheap, and is stellar defensively, but the shine is off. Any team trading for him will understand that the floor is as a defense-only guy who offers modest cost control, who will not take another step forward with the bat, who comes with significant off-the-field troubles, and who may very realistically settle into that floor from here on out.
If there’s a return to be had for Russell in trade, it seems most likely to come from one of two areas: very low-level, high-risk young prospects (Padres have a strong system in that regard), and/or upper-level fringe roster types. Sure, there’s always a chance of a big league player who fits the Cubs but has warts of his own being landed in a one-to-one swap, but that’s definitely the exception in this kind of deal. Instead, it seems like the low-level prospect or upper-level roster crunch is the most likely avenue for a deal.
So, again, it’s not that hard to imagine a hypothetical fit with the Padres if they’re already concerned about their roster crunch. Maybe the Cubs could roll the dice on a couple fringe guys while the Padres consolidate their talent on the 40-man roster.
Like I said at the outset, this is all very much an exercise in speculation. Sure, there’s a realistic match-up here, but we are operating with limited actual information. Until some smoke develops, a fit on paper is only that.