We told you it could be coming as soon as today, and just like that, smack in the face, it comes. The Chicago Cubs’ sell-off begins.
Tonight, the Chicago Cubs sent outfielder Joc Pederson to the outfield-needy Atlanta Braves for first base prospect Bryce Ball. With Ronald Acuna Jr. out (ACL surgery) and Marcell Ozuna unlikely to come back any time soon (domestic violence), the Braves needed an outfield bat ASAP if they were going to hang around in the race. Pederson is that bat, it seems.
In return, the Cubs are getting an enormous prospect in return. That is to say, Bryce Ball is physically huge – listed at 6’6″ and 240 lbs, but the amount his size comes up in everything you read makes you think he registers as even bigger. The just-turned-23-year-old first baseman was playing at High-A for the Braves, hitting .207/.354/.396 (112 wRC+) with a 27.8% K rate and an 18.9% BB rate.
A 24th rounder in 2019, Ball absolutely destroyed Rookie Ball and then Low-A in his debut, though with the lost 2020 season, it’s tough to say where his talent/projection/prospect-standing is. Coming into the season, though, he was highly regarded. Baseball America ranked Ball the Braves’ 18th best prospect, MLB Pipeline had him as the 12th best prospect, and FanGraphs had him as the 11th best prospect(!). And that’s not a bad Braves system! Ball is adding significant raw power to a Cubs farm system without a lot of it.
Ball spent last year at the alternate site for the Braves, so clearly they were pretty high on his near-term potential. That makes me wonder how it is that they soured on him so quickly that they’d trade him for a Joc Pederson rental. Which is not to say that Pederson doesn’t have value, especially if you’re trying to jump the market early to get him. But this return seems … too good to be true? Pederson has been split-neutral this year, which is nice, but the overall production has been slightly below average and the defense has been rough.
All the best to Pederson with the Braves, where he could easily break back out. Ultimately, he wound up being what the Cubs hoped he could be, along two possible paths: great and contribute to a winner (nope), or good enough to be traded for a nice prospect (check!).
Meanwhile, the Cubs will have no issue filling in left field with a combination of Ian Happ, Kris Bryant, and Jake Marisnick (Patrick Wisdom has also seen a little time out there). You wonder if/when Michael Hermosillo will get a chance to see some big league starts. That might be who the Cubs eye for left field after the Trade Deadline.
UPDATE: Multiple reports indicate that no cash is changing hands in the deal, which, if strictly true, would mean the Braves are not only on the hook for the $2 million remaining on Pederson’s 2021 deal, but also the $2.5 million for the mutual option buyout after the season. I have a hard time believing they actually took all that on, and my gut says the Cubs are chipping in the buyout (if it gets bought out), and that helps explain the prospect return.
For more prospective Cubs selling on the way, make sure you check out our Buyer’s Guide to the Chicago Cubs from earlier today.