For most of the offseason, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez have not been able to go a week without seeing their names tied up in trade rumors. The outfielder and middle infielder for the Chicago Cubs have been linked (or at least speculated about) in talks to starting pitchers like Shelby Miller, Carlos Carrasco, and Tyson Ross, as well as closer Ken Giles.
Now that two of those potential fits on the Cubs’ pitching staff are off the table, will the rumors begin to die down? Should the Cubs sit on their hands the rest of the winter and keep the pair of 23-year-old players?
At this point in their careers, Soler and Baez should still be labeled as prospects. Baez has played in only 80 games to date, while Soler has played 45 more. Baez struggled mightily in his debut season, 2014, striking out 95 times in 52 games. He was back towards the end of the 2015 season and handled big-league pitching much better this time around, striking out only 24 times in 28 games and batting .289. Baez could really be trending upward, but the Cubs just blocked him at second base for the foreseeable future with Ben Zobrist.
Soler got much more action with the big club in 2015, and he posted a respectable .262/.324/.399 line with 10 home runs. A strikeout total of 121 in 101 games is a bit troubling, but no more troubling than the high strikeout totals of fellow rookies Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson. In the playoffs, Soler hit three more home runs. On a per-162 basis for his career, Soler’s power numbers project to 19 home runs and 87 RBIs. Not bad for a player just starting a nine-year, $30 million contract. The Cubs may find themselves hard-pressed to squeeze 19 and 87 out of their $23 million man, Jason Heyward.
Both young players would seem attractive on the trade market, and Baez will not be giving the Cubs his full value being used as a bench player. By the middle of Zobrist’s four-year deal, however, Baez should be the better offensive player. The super utility man’s versatility will not really be a huge asset to the Cubs. His defensive value is already declining, and Chicago does not really have room for, or a need for him in the outfield. Obviously, you do not turn down Zobrist when he so clearly wants a reunion with Joe Maddon, but he will be 35 in May. Baez could be the better player in less than a year. If there is an injury in the outfield, and Zobrist is forced to change mitts, Baez is a far superior option than any other bench player currently on the roster. The only problem for the Cubs is that Baez will see his value as a trade piece will only continue to decline while he sits on the bench.
It will be difficult to trade Soler without an assurance that a capable replacement can be signed on the free-agent market. Alex Gordon is still out there, and would seem to be an excellent fit for the Cubs. He is a Midwest boy, and played with Zobrist in Kansas City. Signing on to help end the lengthy Cubs’ World Series drought has seemingly become the thing that all the cool kids are doing. If the Cubs want Gordon, they should be able to get him.
Baez is the more easily tradable player. He’s blocked at second base and shortstop, and will not figure into the starting lineup in 2016. It’s possible, but far from probable, the team could try him in the outfield if Soler is traded and a replacement cannot be signed. A trade for a starter like Ross or Carrasco could not be built around only Baez, but the Cubs do have a handful of minor-league prospects who could sweeten the deal.
The Cleveland Indians should be viewed as the better potential fit for the Cubs right now. They clearly have a need in the outfield, especially with Michael Brantley‘s injury. A one-off swap of Soler for Carrasco might not be feasible, but it may only take one or two more prospects to make the trade click. As for Ross, it may be more difficult to pry him away from the San Diego Padres. Most of the pieces acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade play the same positions as the top prospects the Cubs have available to offer. Soler may not be that valuable to the Padres, as they already have a glut of outfielders.
The Cubs could also elect to sit on their hands and continue hoarding under-25 offensive talent. The New York Mets built their World Series core around young, controllable pitching. The Cubs are doing the same with young, controllable hitting. The real reason Chicago lost the NLCS was not because Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel were in the rotation, it was because the young hitters were simply overwhelmed by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.
The 2015 season was not supposed to be the Cubs’ time to shine, and it eventually caught up to them. Carlos Carrasco is not going to be the difference between winning and losing a World Series, but seeing Jorge Soler turn into another 30-homer threat in an already loaded lineup may very well be just that. Soler was, after all, the only young hitter who did not come crumbling down as the World Series run came crashing down against the Mets. The Cubs have gotten this far with their young hitters, and it may be wisest to see it through to the end.