As Red Sox fans took pains to point out when it seemed that the Theo compensation would actually come to fruition, the top players in the Cubs farm system would rank outside of the Red Sox top twenty. Specifically, McNutt was considered a mid-20's prospect outside of the Cubs system, and while I think this is an exaggeration, I think we are all expecting heavy amateur investments to dramatically improve the farm. It seems that it might be prudent to trade away those current prospects who might get lost in the flood of improvements now while they still shine as "Cubs top prospects"--while Jackson should definitely stay, anyone else should be expendable.
Some have mentioned that the Cubs free agent spending should focus on guys like Cespedes that are young and team-controlled rather than focusing on expensive players that might be out of their prime once the Cubs are ready to compete. Unfortunately I think this is probably the right move--Pujols will command a huge investment and will be overpaid in three years, and even Fielder may be overpaid in three years, and most of the justification for those investments assumes that the Cubs will be competitive by 2013. Maybe, and let's hope so, but that's a hell of a risk for a one year window when the player is worth more than his contract.
Given these two tendencies, it looks like the strategic move is to trade mid-level prospects (or our "top" prospects) to cheaply compose the roster. Here are some relevant names that the front office should investigate.
Chase Headley: Headley has been coming up a lot recently, which might explain the recent report that the Padres are growing more committed to keeping him. I do think that Hoyer's connection with San Diego would help get this deal done, and I think a defensively-minded outfielder like Szczur should suffice as a center piece. I like Szczur, but as a 22-year old single A player, he's no sure thing. I'd also be interested if anyone remembers what the Padres were rumored to receive in the Jake Peavy deal that fell through, but I think it included Marshall, who needs to be dealt. Someone posted Headley's triple slash elsewhere, but if you look at his splits away from Petco, he hit .399/.465/.864 in 2011 and has OPS'd over .800 career. His 2010 UZR at 3B was +16.5. He's entering his second year of arbitration as a Super Two.
Logan Morrison: Morrison has put up about a season's worth of games over two years (185) and a triple slash line of .351/.475/.811. Last year, as a 23-year old, he put up 23 home runs and 25 doubles in 123 games. He's a corner outfielder with poor defensive metrics, but he's not even arbitration eligible yet, and the Marlins would never think of dealing for him if not for (1) supposed attitude issues, and (2) there impulse to sign every free agent available. Ideally, Zambrano and some young arms that project as bullpen hurlers would be enough.
Lucas Duda: Duda and Murphy both played first for the Mets once Ike Davis went down, and the Mets are rumored to offer either with Ike expected back for the start of the season. Duda is a year younger (25) with a year less service time (five years left of control by my count), and so he offers a more intriguing option with better power numbers throughout the minors. Granted, none of these numbers have been great, but he can take a walk, consistently posted OBP's in the high .380's to low .410's across the minors and putting up .370/.482/.852 this season in the majors. He's not a high pedigree guy and shouldn't cost much, especially since the Mets need middle infielders with the departure of Reyes, and we have plenty.
These three offer cheap ways of getting some double power into the lineup, with upside and under team control for the foreseeable future. Pitching is still a problem, and I don't believe that many of the available free agents or trade options are that intriguing outside of Gio Gonzalez. That said, these moves would field a competitive offense that could make some noise as soon as 2012 and would be ready for the influx of free agent pitchers coming in 2013 (Cole Hamels being the most interesting).