Prospects are a great commodity for a team to have, and not just for what they might do as a member of that team’s roster in the future. A good general manager knows that sometimes a prospect has more value in a trade than he ever will on the field. It isn’t always dependent on talent, either. For example, if Anthony Rizzo breaks out this season and solidifies himself as the Cubs’ long term answer at first base, then Dan Vogelbach is probably more valuable to teams lacking first base prospects than he is to the Cubs. If that happened, I would expect Vogelbach to be made available in trade down the road.
We saw an example of this thinking in the Matt Garza trade. The Cubs had a good young shortstop in the Majors, so Hak-Ju Lee was tradeable. They had two catchers with Major League potential who were both going to be in Triple A, so one of them (Robinson Chirinos) was tradeable. Both players were dealt to Tampa (along with a few others) for Garza.
It also makes sense to trade prospects when a particular position at a particular level is becoming very crowded. To use the Garza trade as an example again, trading Lee allowed the Cubs to free up some badly needed middle infield at bats at Double A. To give you an idea how crowded the Tennessee Smokies were at second and short last season, consider that D.J. LeMahieu now has a chance to be the Rockies starting second baseman, Ryan Flaherty was taken in the Rule 5 draft and has a great chance to stick with the Orioles, and Marwin Gonzalez was taken in the Rule 5 draft and has a great chance to stick with the Astros. The Smokies were loaded, and someone had to be traded to clear some at bats. That someone was Hak-Ju Lee, and the rest is history.
So, with all of that established, what players in the Cubs farm system are the most likely to be traded in the next twelve months? Here are the four names I think top the list.
Scouts love five tool players, and Lake is one of the most toolsy. He also does not have an obvious position with the Cubs. Offensive oriented shortstop prospects are among the most valuable a team can have, and thanks to his AFL performance Lake’s value has never been higher. In this case, that value might be better used in a trade than as a part of the Cubs future. I expect to hear Lake’s name quite a bit in July.
Hard throwing, left handed relievers are always valuable to any team, the Cubs included. In fact, as we saw in the Marshall trade, sometimes they can be valued so highly that a team can get a very nice haul in exchange for them. Maine, although he is no Marshall, is as ready for the Majors as a pitcher can be, but he will have a tough time cracking the Cubs’ bullpen. James Russell is locked in as one lefty, and Jeff Beliveau and John Gaub join Maine as young lefties looking for a break. One of those three could easily be moved, and I think Maine is the most likely. Like Lake, I expect to hear Maine mentioned as part of several potential packages in July.
Cabrera is one of those pitchers who is younger than a lot of fans seem to realize. He has struggled in Triple A, but alongside those struggles have been flashes of success. At this stage he is probably a bullpen arm. Unfortunately for Cabrera, the Cubs are crowded with bullpen arms who look more promising. Cabrera won’t be a big part of any trade, but I do think there are a number of teams who would be happy to have a 23 year old, hard-throwing right handed pitcher to develop in Triple A for a year or two.
I really should throw Geovanny Soto in here as well, but he isn’t a prospect. If Soto is extended, I think Clevenger will eventually be his backup and Castillo will be traded. If Soto is traded, I think Castillo will be the starting catcher in Chicago and the Cubs will look to pair him with a veteran backup. That would lead to Clevenger being traded. Of the two prospects, Castillo looks more like a potential starting catcher while Clevenger is almost the ideal guy to have on the bench. Personally, I have no problem with the Cubs having two young catchers on the roster, but it is not something you see very often. And, with the depth the Cubs have at catcher in the farm system, keeping one and dealing the other just makes sense.
This list will change as the players break out or regress and as the needs of the Cubs and of other teams evolve over the course of the season. I will probably revisit this topic as we get closer to July and the rumors start to fly. Feel free to nominate future names for the Most Likely To Be Traded List here, on the Message Boards, or send them to me on Twitter @ltblaize.