To clear up front, this post is just the product of me thinking about the Cubs talking to the Royals about trades – one version of which came together in the Mike Montgomery for Martin Maldonado swap this week – and mulling how else their roster might fit for the Cubs as they think about shoring up their depth for August and beyond.
To that end, while I think we all want to see the Cubs add something perfect, like an impact leadoff hitter or whatever, you can acquire only the players realistically available to you. As Theo Epstein has said, the Cubs are still wearing two hats this trade season – trying to improve the team while protecting their redeveloped farm system – and it’s possible that deal for a mega-impactful leadoff hitter type is not going to be there.
Of course, you can’t talk about that and about the Royals without mentioning Whit Merrifield. The unusual breakout 30-year-old, signed to a team-friendly extension, is having his best year yet, and is increasingly playing all over the field. To the extent the Cubs are still talking to the Royals, I’m sure Merrifield’s name has and will come up. Michael discussed the latest in yesterday’s Lukewarm Stove, but the reality for now is that we’ve been given no sense that the two teams are on the same page about actually putting a deal together. By age, yes, the Royals should be looking to trade Merrifield to maximize his value for their rebuild. But by contract, they could certainly afford to wait. As for the Cubs, yeah, you’re getting an impact player on a great contract, but you’re also getting a guy who bloomed way late, is almost impossible to project going forward, and is already 30.
That is all to say, until and unless there is something more concrete connecting the Cubs to Merrifield, it’s not where I’m going to focus any of my speculative energies.
Instead, today, I’m curious about a couple much less sexy, much more depth-oriented outfield bats the Royals could look to sell: Alex Gordon and Billy Hamilton.
Gordon, now 35, is having a resurgent season at the plate, slashing .279/.358/.447 (111 wRC+), with the best strikeout rate (17.1%) of his career. He’s playing his typically solid (though not super elite like he was back in the day) defense in left field, though he could presumably still handle right, as well.
In a lot of ways, Gordon is the type of veteran lefty corner outfield bat the Cubs seemed to be hoping to add to the mix when they took a flyer on Carlos Gonzalez. I don’t think Gordon is going to be an impact guy, and I also don’t think he’s a lock to keep up this performance at the plate (he was very solidly below average from 2016-18). But a steady depth bench addition on a team whose bench is extremely suspect right now? A guy you could start against most righties and get really nice overall performance? I could see it, especially if you’re comfortable with Jason Heyward seeing more time in center field.
And if the Cubs had an injury or two to their current outfielders and/or Kris Bryant? The lack of MLB-caliber outfield depth would be scary down the stretch.
A side benefit? Because Gordon’s contract pays him $20 million this year, but the AAV on his deal is only $18 million, if the Royals threw in enough salary, acquiring Gordon could actually SAVE the Cubs a little bit of money by LOWERING their team payroll for luxury tax purposes! It’s a quirk when you’ve got these kinds of contracts being traded, but it can help you win-win, especially in a situation where the Cubs are very likely not going to be willing to take on a lot of salary right now.
As for Billy Hamilton, the Royals picked him up this offseason for precisely this reason, and with no more August waiver trade period, you kinda have to make a move for Hamilton now if you want him to be your super elite speed/defense bench guy down the stretch and in the postseason.
… and I do!
Guys like Hamilton, who you can insert at your whim to create chaos on the bases, and to play superlative defense all over the outfield, are – like elite relievers – disproportionately valuable in the postseason, when you can deploy them when the leverage is the greatest it’ll be all year.
Like his now former-teammate Terrance Gore, who just wound up with the Yankees (and was this dude with the Cubs last year), Hamilton cannot and will not hit. It’s just not going to happen. But, again, on a team with a bench that hasn’t been productive at the plate anyway, maybe the Cubs could figure out a way to carry Hamilton for the month of August – then, rosters expand in September, and it’s no problem at all. Heck, it’s not like he’d be useless for that month of August, either. Yes, the addition of Martin Maldonado as a potential third catcher complicates things, as does the Cubs’ ever-persistent demand to carry at least eight relievers, but we’ve seen them maneuver around tight roster corners before. And if you want one of the best – the best? – speed/defense guys in baseball available to you late in the year, now might be the only time to get him.
Hamilton, 28, is signed to a one-year, $5.25 million deal with a pricey mutual option for next year that will definitely be bought out for $1 million. It’s conceivable that the Cubs could afford to add Hamilton from here on out without blowing their budget (it has never been clear just how much room they left themselves this year after the Craig Kimbrel signing and before the Ben Zobrist return), but it’s also possible they’ll need the Royals to eat some salary.
So, anyway, there you go. I’m thinking out loud about the Cubs talking to the Royals (something we know they’ve done/are doing) about depth position player pieces (something we know the Cubs want) that they could realistically acquire.