Earlier, we talked about the Cubs’ presumed pursuit of pitching in the coming month and how the ideal targets may have shifted in recent days, and we also talked about Thursday’s opening of the next IFA period. I mention that here because, well, they’re kind of Lukewarm Stove-y topics, and if you missed them, now you can un-miss them.
Among the other things rolling around out there …
It’s a tricky thing for fans to have bought so whole-heartedly into the “acquisition mode” the Cubs employed for the last three years, and then flip a switch on the inevitable prospect affection that followed. Patrick Mooney offers a great read on that very topic, reminding folks that there’s a timing element to trading prospects. The Cubs know they can’t keep everyone (there wouldn’t be spots for everyone if they all did pan out, and, since they won’t all pan out, some have more value right now than they every will again).
A reminder: prospects are a kind of baseball currency, and they can help the big league roster in two ways. First, they can blossom into young, big league, cost-controlled talent, and directly help win games. Second, they can serve as assets, used to acquire other big league pieces. The very best teams use their prospects in both of these ways, and the most successful teams have a knack for keeping the best prospects for the former group, and trading the ones who wind up stalling out or never reaching their ceiling. At some point, the Cubs will trade a prospect you love. Brace yourself now. This was always part of the plan (The Plan).
A great read from Sahadev Sharma on the men in charge of the Cubs, and how they work with the coaching staff continuously to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, needs and surpluses. Although it’s not the focus of the piece, I can’t help but be struck – again – by just how much Starlin Castro’s struggles are hurting the Cubs’ offense this year, and, moreover, how difficult it really is to make any kind of change there in-season. The Cubs aren’t going to get much value for Castro in trade right now (which might have allowed them not only to get a nice return, but also to shuffle some guys internally, and upgrade a bat at another position externally), so the hope is that he rebounds. Until then, he’s effectively blocking a spot where the Cubs might otherwise be able to upgrade offensively, without actually providing a “blocking”-caliber performance.
There’s an implication – though something shy of a clear suggestion – in this Tribune piece that Marlins starters Dan Haren and Tom Koehler could be among the Cubs’ plausible pitching targets this month. Haren, 34, is a very different pitcher than he was a few years ago when the Cubs very nearly traded for him, but he’s still had some success. His 3.38 ERA is fantastic this year, though the 4.26 FIP and 4.31 xFIP mostly hint at the troubles under the surface (a career-low BABIP, 54(!) points below his career mark; and an 80.4% LOB rate (72.6% career mark)). He’s a serious, serious regression candidate. Koehler, 29, is an interesting back-of-the-rotation/depth type, who is not eligible for arbitration for the first time until next year. The career numbers aren’t sexy – 4.03 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4.20 xFIP – but they are about what you’d hope for out of a depth guy who makes close to the minimum. Would you want to have that guy on the roster? Sure. Would you want him as the 5th starter in a playoff chase? Eh, maybe. Would you want to give up much of anything to get him? Not really.
Haren comes in for mention here at ESPN, too, together with this past weekend’s rumored arm, Jon Niese. Jon Heyman later reported that Niese was no longer a current Cubs target, for what it’s worth.
Speaking of Niese, I’ve been mulling how he could be a fit for the past couple days, and the best I could come up with for both teams would be a deal where the Mets are getting a player like Javy Baez (huge offensive upside at a spot where they’ve got needs) and they’re saving salary by shedding Niese, and the Cubs get Niese (can use him at the back-of-the-rotation this and next year), together with some risky upside arms like Zack Wheeler (TJS) and Rafael Montero (shoulder questions). I’m not saying, specifically, that that’s a deal the Cubs should consider – and all of this is my own thinking-out-loud speculation. But isn’t that the kind of deal that makes sense? The Cubs improve now and in the future on the pitching side using their positional depth. I know you’d love to see the Cubs get more sure thing young arms, but you’ve got to be a little realistic here.
On Niese, Ken Rosenthal previously noted that the Dodgers had also considered him, but he’s since added that there are no active talks.
Steve Phillips said today on Kap and Haugh that, if a trade for Cole Hamels involving Kyle Schwarber were presented to the Cubs, they should not refuse to part with Schwarber (Phillips is particularly convinced that Schwarber never catches in the big leagues). This is not a rumor, mind you – it’s just a hypothetical (but not entirely unrealistic) discussion.
From where I sit, depending on the money, I won’t fight anyone who says that a package including Schwarber is a fair return in a Hamels deal. The question I have – the one I’ve had even going back to last August when the Cubs claimed Hamels on waivers but did not trade for him – is whether Hamels, in trade, is the best approach for the Cubs to get another high-end arm. Getting a rental now and signing a high-end free agent starter after the season will absolutely cost much, much more money. And that is not a small consideration for the Cubs right now, unfortunately. But, in that scenario, the Cubs would still have Schwarber. So, in some ways, the questions are (1) how much is Schwarber worth in salary (i.e., and very roughly speaking, the difference between what Hamels is owed and what a free agent starter would cost)? and (2) how much value exists in the certainty of having a guy under contract (as opposed to heading into free agency and hoping you can get your guy)? This is a conversation worth having, but I am not sure any deal this year involving Schwarber is going to make sense for the Cubs. Maybe I’m crazy, but I still want to know if he can be a part-time catcher come 2016.