Although the uneven offense has gotten most of the hey-what-about-trades attention since the Craig Kimbrel signing, it should not be ignored that the Cubs will also continue to explore the reliever market. Although the Cubs have a surplus of decent relief options – far more than their bullpen can hold – what they don’t necessarily have a surplus of are truly impactful arms, of the type you’d have significant confidence in October, when relievers are disproportionately valuable.
To that end, and with the best arms all coming on the right-handed side (Kimbrel, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Brandon Kintzler), if the Cubs have the opportunity to add a truly impactful lefty this trade season, I’m all for it. Does it further crowd a crowded bullpen picture? Yup. Can you worry about that when this is your only opportunity to make such an addition before the stretch run and the postseason? Nope.
To that end, the best rental lefty on the market is likely to be Giants reliever Will Smith, a guy we’ve discussed before as connected to the Cubs. The 30-year-old lefty has quietly been one of the most dominant relievers (lefty or righty) in the National League the last two years. With the Giants extremely likely to sell their short-term pieces, Smith might be the best reliever moved this trade season, so you can expect the Cubs will be in on those conversations.
As Jordan Bastian writes: “There are a handful of arms that look intriguing in light of the Cubs’ need for an impact lefty in the bullpen. The one that looks like a no-brainer for the North Siders to target is Giants lefty Will Smith. The 29-year-old has been fantastic against lefties and righties, and he is under contract for $4.23 million with free agency looming. That fits the budget and would help the Cubs to avoid shipping off their most-coveted prospects.”
Bastian, whose perspective is likely informed by a variety of conversations on the subject, suggests the Cubs’ top trio of prospects – Nico Hoerner, Miguel Amaya, and Adbert Alzolay – would not be involved in discussions for Smith, which sounds reasonable to me. Smith is not quite on the level Aroldis Chapman was at the time the Cubs picked him up as a rental, and the Cubs are not NEARLY as locked into a divisional playoff spot as they were in 2016. For those reasons, the price tag they should be willing to pay is considerably less than a four-player package with a top 20-ish prospect in the game as the centerpiece.
That said, even after Hoerner/Amaya/Alzolay, there are plenty of prospects that would sting to lose in a deal for a rental reliever. It’s quite easy to see the Giants coming after guys like Brennan Davis, Brailyn Marquez, Cole Roederer, Tyson Miller, etc. I could go on. You wouldn’t necessarily call that tier a dealbreaker group, but it would hurt to lose a couple of them without having the utmost confidence that Smith was going to be there to see action in the postseason.
So, I suppose that raises a really important related conversation here as we come out of the break: the better the Cubs play right out of the gate, the more comfortable you might be seeing them go aggressively after Smith. It might seem counterintuitive, because obvious Smith would help the Cubs win more games in August and September if they were still scuffling and the division were tight. But when it comes to rental relievers, like I said, a disproportionate chunk of their value is in the postseason, when they can be deployed very aggressively in nearly every single game. They are definitionally the highest-leverage moments in the season, and if you know with a great deal of certainty that you’re going to get to participate in them, you might pay more to get a guy like Smith.
In any case, I’m pleased to see Bastian mention Smith, specifically, as a possible Cubs target. I love, love, love the fit, and I do think he’d be worth an aggressive price. But I would like to see the Cubs get a little hot right out of the gate in the coming weeks to feel a little more comfortable.
Of course, you are reminded that many other teams will have interest in picking up Smith for the same reasons, many of which *ARE* already comfortably in a division-leading posture. The Cubs would be far from alone in pursuit of Smith later this month.