Whenever I write about a potential Cubs offseason target, the origin of the post can almost certainly be lumped into one of the three following categories:
- (1) Explicit and direct rumors – like the Cubs’ interest in free agent center fielder Shogo Akiyama.
- (2) Educated guesses – like my interest in the Cubs trading for Rockies starter Jon Gray.
- (3) Indirect speculation – like how not re-signing Nick Castellanos might tell us more about the Cubs intentions with Kyle Schwarber than anything else.
Group #3 – the type we’re talking about today – often arises from a stray or seemingly out of place comment from an otherwise knowledgeable reporter or person close to the team. It becomes an “indirect speculation” rumor because it sure feels like there’s a reason that particular player is being mentioned, even if there isn’t an explicit rumor being reported.
For example … Mark Gonzales, who buried this nugget in the middle of a Cubs Q&A at the Chicago Tribune:
Another intriguing option would be Adam Frazier of the Pirates. New general manager Ben Cherington faces a daunting task, but he and Cubs President Theo Epstein worked together with the Red Sox and would have no problems making an intradivision deal if there’s a fit.
Frazier has a career 86.4% contact rate, according to Baseball Info System. That would fit nicely with what the Cubs are trying to accomplish.
Note that this isn’t actually a direct rumor. Gonzales was not explicitly saying that the Cubs and Pirates have had some discussions about Adam Frazier, as you’ll sometimes see. Instead, he was responding to a question about what or whom the Cubs may prioritize this offseason and brought Frazier up on his own (after running through the more familiar Shogo Akiyama rumors and the benefits of moving Jason Heyward back to right field).
That said, it’s absolutely possible that Gonzales didn’t just pluck Frazier’s name out of nowhere.
That’s not to say this little nugget of a story has any more legs than any other rumor out there – in fact, I think signing Shogo Akiyama is probably the most likely outcome in the outfield – but Frazier does make some sense, right? At least, in terms of plausibility, this idea checks a few boxes.
For one, Frazier is certainly the type of player the Cubs would like to target this offseason …
- From an off-field perspective: He’s young (27 years old), controlled (3 more years under contract), and cheap (arbitration eligible for the first time this winter).
- From a fielding perspective: He primarily played second base last season, but is capable of covering all three outfield spots (including center field), which means he’s pretty clearly a positional fit.
- From a batting perspective: He has a career 13.4% strikeout rate and .279 batting average, which checks the all-important contact box, and has also gotten on-base at an above-average clip throughout his career.
To be sure, Frazier is not some big-time impact bat (career 103 wRC+), but he is the sort of different hitter the Cubs could be looking to add to this lineup full of sluggers and high-strikeout guys. (AKA, a different type of banana.) Among National League regulars, just two hitters – Anthony Rendon and Jean Segura – had a higher contact rate than Frazier’s 85.8%.
For another reason why this trade is plausible, although intradivision trades are tough, the Pirates are (1) not the Brewers or Cardinals and (2) are likely now in a legit, full-on rebuild. Just like the Cubs would have traded with anybody at the height of their rebuild, so would these Pirates. And that goes double when there’s an entirely new crew running the show – from the front office to the dugout.
Speaking of which, yet another reason for plausibility: The new Pirates GM, Ben Cherington, served as an area scout with the Red Sox from 1999-2005, the VP of Player Personnel from 2005-2009, and the Senior VP and Assistant GM from 2009 until 2011 … when he succeeded Theo Epstein as GM. Cherington also served as co-GM with Jed Hoyer during Epstein’s brief absence from the team.
So … yeah: Epstein, Hoyer, and Cherington are well-acquainted. But while I do think knowing each other/being friendly could/will help, it is also the case that they’re likely to see eye-to-eye on value, having spent so much time evaluating players and building teams together. THAT’S the lubricant needed to get a deal done.
But now that we know this deal is plausible enough that it might not have come out of nowhere, the real question is: Do we actually want the Cubs to go after Frazier?
Um … sure?
There’s no doubting that Frazier is a useful player who could make extra sense for this team right now – specifically with his contact-oriented skillset and multi-positional advantage. But you won’t find me dancing in the street if a deal gets done. The Cubs already have an assortment of imperfect options at second base, and having a contact hitter with a 30% career hard-hit rate isn’t going to automatically emerge as the solution to those problems.
With that said – not unlike Shogo Akiyama – Frazier’s particular combination of cost-control/acquisition cost, position, and skillset (not to mention youth) is enticing, and I have little reason to believe he wouldn’t be an upgrade to a Cubs roster already expanding to 26 men next season. So if the price is right and the intradivisional hump isn’t too much to overcome, he could make a whole lot of sense as a piece to add to the mix.
And sigh … with another fully-loaded budget in place this offseason, these may well be the kinds of acquisitional waters in which the Cubs are swimming anyway. We might as well let ourselves be intrigued by the best value additions they can make, right?