The current Cubs season does not seem headed for any playoffs despite receiving standout performances again from a couple of starting pitchers. The oft mentioned for trade, Jeff Samardzija, is pitching as the ace (20th in fWAR, xFIP 3.27), finally, dreamt of by the front office; and Jason Hammel added as a shop-a-pitcher trick for others to assess his value. Both are reasoned to payoff in top prospects that the Cubs can fill up their minors with to produce the future stars they are growing from the bottom up. This is called The Plan, loosely.
Added to the list, one 2B/3B Luis Valbuena, a utility guy for most seasons, his bat has surpassed his glove in 2014, putting up a .291/.390/.471 slash and 1.8 fWAR so far on just a $1.7M contract. And finally, the Cubs bullpen, Hector Rondon and Neil Ramirez likely provide some upside for potential acquirers, if the Cubs feel that is right course for each. (Ramirez is 25; Rondon 26, and both cheap.)
A marked improvement at the back end of the bullpen is vital down the road for the Cubs if they ever hope to succeed. And Rondon could provide that for several years. Meanwhile, Ramirez is a pleasant benefit from the trade with Texas along with the pure hit or pure miss Mike Olt aka Mark Reynolds-light.
The quandary the Cubs have is that several trade partners could offer enticing prospects for the right pieces to their particular playoff puzzles, if they actually are in the hunt by July.
When do the Cubs do the trade and with whom?
As of today, the follow OPS by position chart reflect weaknesses for various trading partners:
Baltimore’s FO Executive VP Dan Duquette stated, “that he wants bullpen help as well as better offensive production at second and third base.” The graphic above supports this analysis for production at 2B/3B shortcomings. Manny Machado has struggled like Castro did in 2013. Jonathan Schoop, a 22-year old, has not done well at all against lefties. But neither has Machado rocked the lefties. Left hand hitting Valbuena would not be an obvious choice, but he is providing pop and can play both positions well. As bullpen is a need, for the Orioles, with Tommy Hunter not doing the job they expected as he’s been pulled from the closer role since mid-May. But it all comes down to the whether Baltimore can hang around until July in the ever competitive AL East.
Cubs offer: Luis Valbuena, Hector Rondon, and RF Jorge Soler
Soler’s Prospect Ratings by Baseball America:
Pre-2013: Rated #34 Prospect
Pre-2014: Rated #41 Prospect
Bundy has been a top prospect for 3 years despite his Tommy John surgery and lack of pitching since 2012:
Prospect Ratings by Baseball America:
Pre-2012: Rated #10 Prospect
Pre-2013: Rated #2 Prospect
Pre-2014: Rated #15 Prospect
On Sunday, Bundy made his first start since 2012 throwing 65 pitches. LHP Rodriguez has not dominated AA as one would like from another top-rated prospect , but he’s 21 also with time to grow.
Prospect Ratings by Baseball America:
Pre-2014: Rated #65 Prospect
Reasons for Baltimore: Baltimore has this year to really make a run at the AL East. Toronto has its sights too, and the driver’s seat, and could seek pitching in the form of Samardzija. If Duquette does really think he needs are this, those cheap additions make it plausible. While giving up Bundy will cause a stir, it is comes with a top RF prospect to replace Markakis.
Baltimore has a 2015 $17.5M team option on Nick Markakis they will forgo for sanity reasons. Meanwhile, RF Jorge Soler has been injured himself with hamstrings, mainly, but he’s on a team a friendly deal, and could be ready sooner than later for the bigs – mid to late 2015. His batting when healthy has been good and has potential. So the Cubs might be giving up a sorely needed bat.
Bundy does not come without risk. He would project to approximately 15-20 WAR, on average, for his career, likely 9 WAR as a Cub. Rondon and Valbuena could feasible provide 5-6 WAR over the next 2-3 seasons without too much risk or cost. Soler – could be in the 7-10 WAR range for an average career, depending on how soon he gets to the big leagues. He could explode for 15-20 WAR, or bust. Bundy too could bust, as Tommy John does not always work out.
So this trade would help to solve immediate problems in Baltimore, with players all in their cheap phase, while the Cubs get 2 potential arms to build around and a catcher taken in the 2nd round in 2013. The Orioles would have to option down a few players, but that’s doable.
The Cubs get to prospect arms ( Hunter Harvey) is another option, and have not given up their best two pitchers in 2014 yet.
It boils down to risk though. Who is risking more – Baltimore, who is happy with 3rd again – or the Cubs, casting aside Soler for a bite at the fruits of TOR starting pitching?