Ever since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the Chicago Cubs front office following the 2011 season, they have made one thing abundantly clear: they will prioritize drafting and developing college bats, while relying on free agency and trades to fill out the pitching staff. After some very lean years, and some very high draft picks, the Cubs have built one of the best lineups in the game, headlined by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Jorge Soler. However, after Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, the pitching staff has been a problem area for the Cubs, and the front office has made it clear that pitching depth is priority number one for the north siders. So far this offseason, the Cubs have already been linked to many of the premier names on the free agency, most notably among them being perennial Cy Young candidate, David Price.
It remains unclear if the front office will devote another big-money, long term contract along the lines of the one handed out to Lester last offseason. Instead, it appears the front office may dip into the trade market for younger, more cost-controlled options. For years, the Cubs and Mets have been linked together, and while there may still be hope for a deal between the two.
It appears another NL East club may make more sense for the Cubs. The Atlanta Braves have seemingly enter a full-blown rebuild and have already traded Andrelton Simmons and Cameron Maybin for prospects. Next order of business for the Braves appears to be dealing from their pool of young, cheap pitchers, most notably, Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller. Between the Cubs’ need for pitching depth and deep farm system, a deal could be in the offing for the two oldest teams in the National League.
How much would this cost the Cubs?
Ever since the Cubs were swept by the New York Mets in the NLCS, rumors have been flying regarding the availability of certain players. Starlin Castro and Javier Baez, neither of whom are strangers to rumors, have once again popped up in the rumor mill. Given the logjam in the middle infield, it would make sense that the Cubs would try to deal from their position of strength. Currently, the Braves have Erick Aybar and Jace Peterson at shortstop and second base, respectively. There appear to be some concerns about Peterson’s bat, and Aybar’s sustainability over the long term. Of course, acquiring Baez and Castro both carry some risk as well.
Baez’s “boom or bust” approach at the plate is worrying to many observers, however, with more plate appearances, it’s certainly possible that Baez’s high strikeout rate will continue to drop. Castro, meanwhile has proven to be an enigma at times. He did acquitted himself nicely following a midseason switch to second base after Addison Russell‘s emergence. However, Castro saw his value hit a nadir in 2015, and his strong finish to the season may not be enough to calm the concerns other teams may have.
For a deal to go through, the Cubs may also have to say goodbye to a fan favorite in Jorge Soler. Soler had a strong 2015, and anchored himself in right field for most of the season. However, there are concerns about Soler’s health. Soler lost time this year because of an oblique injurie, and hamstring injuries cost Soler valuable time in the minors. That being said, Soler has tremendous potential going forward, and would fetch a decent return on his own.
Lastly, the Cubs might also have to give up some of their valued minor leaguers. Gleyber Torres, Willson Contreras, and Dan Vogelbach may all be on the block. Torres and Contreras both had strong 2015 campaigns, and while Torres may be a few years from reaching the majors, it’s not as though the Braves plan on competing anytime soon. Contreras, who was named the 2015 Cubs minor leaguer of the year, made a name for himself with his bat, and while the Cubs may want to keep him around, there may not be a spot for him with Miguel Montero and Kyle Schwarber claiming the catcher spot for the next few years. Dan Vogelbach is an interesting case, as he has proven that he can hit for power, but with Anthony Rizzo claiming first base, Vogelbach is a man without a clear role on the major league club. If the Braves plan to move Freddie Freeman (which remains a possibility, though the Braves have denied this), Vogelbach could very well have his chance.
Why would either team make this trade?
Following the lead of franchises, such as the Kansas City Royals, and the Cubs, the Braves have entered a full-blown rebuild, with the hopes of competing by 2017 or 2018. While Teheran is young and cost-controlled, the Braves have proven that if the price is right, anyone is available. The Braves have built a formidable staff of young pitchers behind Teheran and Miller, including Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz, and Sean Newcomb. The time may be right for the Braves to trade from this position of strength for young, cost-controlled position players. The Cubs have one of the deepest farm systems for position players, and could certainly afford to deal from the farm without risking giving up too much.
The Cubs won 97 games in the regular season, and made it to the NLCS, however, to make the next step in the rebuild, it is clear the Cubs need starting rotation depth. As of right now, the Cubs have three locks for the rotation: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks. Trading for Teheran, and letting pitching coach, Chris Bosio work with him could pay dividends for years to come, and along with signing of the second-tier free agent pitchers, such as Mike Leake could give the Cubs one of the best rotations in the game.