Having frequently connected the Cubs to reliever Zach Britton, and then having yesterday dropped the possibility that the Cubs could also look at a young, controllable starter like Dylan Bundy, it was only natural that Bruce Levine would look into the possibility of a bigger combo deal.
To that end, Levine does some dot connecting in his latest, pointing out that the Cubs could be in on Zach Britton and Dylan Bundy, each of whom may ultimately be traded this month by the Orioles, and then noting that the Orioles could be looking for a shortstop like Addison Russell.
Levine does *NOT* say that there’s any kind of Russell for Britton-and-Bundy offer there on the table, and this is all in the realm of informed speculation.
Starting there, though, is that a trade the Cubs should actually consider? Before looking at the pieces in the deal, it’s important to note up front that there is inherent risk in moving a starting position player in the middle of a competitive season. Yes, the Cubs could easily cover the loss by moving Javy Baez permanently to shortstop, and then letting Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella, and David Bote cover second base. But it’s disruptive. It depletes depth, exposes the Cubs to serious risk if there’s an injury to Baez, and greatly diminishes the middle infield defense (in front of a pitching staff that apparently really needs elite defense this year).
So, without digging in, as I’ve said pretty much every time the idea of trading Russell comes up: I just don’t like the idea of trading him in-season. After the season, can the Cubs re-evaluate things and then plan for the move? Sure, maybe, if the right trade opportunity comes up. But the in-season risks are just so considerable.
And, in this instance, the Cubs would be doing it to get back two big question marks.
We’ve talked a lot about Britton already, and while I’m into the idea of the Cubs rolling the dice on him for a reasonable prospect cost, you’re talking about a guy who hasn’t been consistently good or healthy in over a season and a half. There are positive signs on him lately, but we have to be clear that he’s a low-floor, high-ceiling gamble in a rental deal.
Bundy, 25, was at one time an uber prospect of the highest order, but whose contract situation (and Orioles gonna Oriole) contributed to him coming up to the big leagues at an extremely young age despite having very little minor league experience for a high school draftee. He finally settled in as a regular starting pitcher for the Orioles only last year, when he was acceptable – 4.24 ERA over 28 starts and 169.2 innings, 4.38 FIP, 2.7 WAR – but not the kind of front-end guy he was always hyped to be.
This year, his strikeout rate has ticked up to a very nice 25.7%, while his walk rate has been a very playable 7.7%. But he’s given up a ton of homers that have – when combined with an average BABIP and not enough soft contact – conspired to make his results and FIP slightly worse than league average. There is a HUGE however in there, though: Bundy’s numbers on the homer and result front are massively inflated by a 0.0-inning, 4(!)-homer, 7(!)-earned-run performance earlier this year that screams fluke. Since that early-May start, he’s posted a 3.73 ERA over 62.2 innings. He’s probably better than his season-long ERA suggests.
Bundy also comes with team control through 2021, though he’s always going to be a little pricier in his arbitration years than you would otherwise expect for his early-career results thanks to the big league contract he signed out of the draft (higher pre-arb salaries = higher arb salaries).
All in all, Bundy is a controllable starting pitcher you’d want to see the Cubs acquire. There’s no question about it. He still has unrealized potential, and is otherwise a solid back-end starter on the cheap.
But is he enough, together with a couple months of a Zach Britton roll of the dice, to justify three and a half season of Addison Russell? The answer there has gotta be no. If the Orioles were to include millions in IFA money that the Cubs *knew* they could successfully use on top Cuban prospect Victor Victor Mesa? Well, then maybe you’d turn my head a bit more, but that’s a lot of uncertainty.
There is also the reality that Russell is himself just 24 years old, has been his typically stellar self in the field, and has a league-average bat for the first time in his career (trending up, that is to say). He’s on pace for something like 3.5 WAR this season, and the Cubs would have him in his mid-20s for three more seasons after that. As we’ve seen with Javy Baez this year, guys who have it sometimes don’t show it completely until they’ve had many years to grow and adjust. Russell has the kind of talent to be a superstar. Maybe he doesn’t get there. Maybe he does.
That, too, has to be part of the calculus in a hypothetical trade where the Cubs would not be receiving any guarantees in return.
There are also other considerations with Russell that can’t go unmentioned, even if their impact on his trade value are unknown. Last year, Russell was investigated by MLB for a domestic violence allegation levied by a third party, though no punishment ultimately resulted from that investigation. Again, it’s impossible to know how that impacts his standing with the Cubs or in hypothetical trades – if at all – but it’s part of the picture.
Ultimately, this doesn’t feel like the right move for the Cubs right now, if it even becomes a serious consideration at all.
Russell as part of a package for Jacob deGrom, on the other hand? Well, we can at least chat about it …