In October I wrote an article about how the Chicago Cubs could become baseball’s next big dynasty. After all they had a list of young players under team control that included Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Jake Arrieta, plus Jon Lester signed to a long term deal. Since I wrote that article the Cubs have gone out and added Adam Warren, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Jason Heyward. The combination of homegrown and outside talent only strengthens the Cubs. They are now the NL Central favorites and look to be in prime position to be in control of the division and possibly the entire league for the foreseeable future.
So, what could the Cubs possibly still need? The answer isn’t much, but they could still use a little help. Even the New York Yankees of the 1990s made moves to get better while winning five pennants and four World Series titles in six years. The Cubs could use some bullpen help and possibly one more starter. So I’m going into Theo Epstein’s chair and showing how the Cubs could fix this and become the best team in baseball on paper without much argument.
The Cubs now have a surplus of outfielders. They have Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler as their two full time pieces and Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist figure to spend a decent amount of time out in left field in 2016. Heyward will move from right field to center field, which will not take away much of his defensive value, as he was worth 4.8 WAR on defense alone the past two seasons in right. Most rating systems do have him as above average in the thirty games he’s started in center. Still, I’d want to keep Heyward in right, where he’s comfortable and has experience, along with a good track record.
The Cubs also have a second flurry of outfielders in the minors that should come up during the next few seasons. That list includes first rounder picks Albert Almora and Ian Happ and also Billy McKinney, the second big piece acquired in the Jeff Samardizja deal. This makes an outfielder expendable. My choice of the outfielder to trade comes down to Jorge Soler. This would allow Heyward to slide back into right field, the Cubs to keep Kyle Schwarber whom seems to be a future star with the bat, and trade a guy who can bring back a ton of value still. Now if the Cubs trade Soler, they can go for a premium young arm. In 2007 the Tampa Bay Rays traded their young, hyped outfielder Delmon Young in exchange for a great young starting pitcher, Matt Garza. The Cubs can look for a good young arm.
Shelby Miller did cost the first overall pick from the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson, this offseason. So the best trade match would probably the Cleveland Indians who have Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco in their young and talented rotation. The Indians need another bat though, and with Corey Kluber anchoring their rotation they may be willing to part with one of those pitchers. Personally I’d go for Danny Salazar because he has more team control left than Carrasco has years on his extension, and since he’s younger, he has a higher ceiling. Trading for Carrasco would be no mistake for the Cubs though, as he’s very talented too, and had a FIP below 3.00 last season. The Cubs would probably have to add more to the offer since Miller set the market so high, but for the Cubs that would be worth it since they’re so close to that title that they’ve coveted since 1908. I would add first baseman Dan Vogelbach to the deal since he is blocked in Chicago by Anthony Rizzo and is close major league ready. He has 40 homer potential and is an above average hitter who walks a ton. He could be the Indians first baseman for years to come as Carlos Santana transitions more into a DH (or splits time as a 1B/DH with Vogelbach). The Cubs also have a decent amount of third base prospects, whom will be blocked for at least the next six years by Kris Bryant. Jeimer Candelario could definitely start in the majors as soon as 2017, and the Indians need a third baseman. He’d fit the trade needs of both sides. I think a package of Soler, Vogelbach, and Candelario could get the Cubs either Salazar or Carrasco and make their rotation very scary. This would also move Adam Warren to the bullpen, a place where he’s been very successful the past few years. The Cubs bullpen and rotation would improve by trading what is essentially just a surplus of young talented players to them.
The question after this proposed trade goes down would be whether or not one of the young outfielders would be ready to take over in center field. Albert Almora is the only full time center fielder I mentioned, and he seems to likely need at least a few more months of seasoning in AAA Iowa. So the Cubs would probably need to contact their 2015 center fielder Dexter Fowler and see if they could reach a two- or three-year agreement with him. This would give them cushion so as not to rush any outfielders, and insurance just in case something doesn’t pan out. In Fowler, you know you’re getting a quality leadoff hitter who can handle playing center field and be an above average player for your team. He helped lead the Cubs in 2015 with his .346 on base percentage, a number that was actually below his career average. Fowler isn’t the sexiest free agent, but he’s only 29 and has proven he’s a good hitter who gets on base, has power, and plays defense that doesn’t kill the team while being a 2-3 WAR player. I think Fowler fit very well in Chicago and if he re-ups with the Cubs his 2016 will be even better than his 2015.
With these moves the Cubs would look like this (assuming the best possible option for the Cubs offensively is to get Javier Baez into the lineup every day):
- CF Dexter Fowler
- RF Jason Heyward
- 3B Kris Bryant
- 1B Anthony Rizzo
- C Kyle Schwarber
- LF Ben Zobrist
- 2B Javier Baez
- SS Addison Russell
The only spot I could see needing any improvement in season is the bullpen, which could easily add an arm or two around the trade deadline. With the addition of one more starter and a strong center fielder, the Cubs will be very hard to beat from series-to-series.