Having addressed four of the favorites for Jeff Samardzija's services, we're taking a slight detour from the scheduled order of this series to tackle the possibility of a deal with the Cubs' nemesis: the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals do not appear to be a great match with the Cubs with regard to trading for a marquee pitcher given the strong seasons thus far from Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Lance Lynn combined with strong depth arms including Jaime Garcia (15-day disabled list), Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly (rehabbing), Marco Gonzales, and even the scuffling Shelby Miller.
But from allowing Albert Pujols to walk in free agency to flipping Colby Rasmus for a few months of Edwin Jackson, the Cardinals have been known to buck trends. Perhaps acquiring one of the more sought-after starting pitchers on this summer's trade market could be in the works.
The St. Louis farm system ranks among the best in baseball, perhaps just behind the Twins, Pirates, and Cubs. At the top is mega-prospect outfielder Oscar Taveras. The lefty Dominican signed for just $145,000 in 2008, yet he has since gone about obliterating every level of the minor leagues. Taveras has been regularly limited by injuries and his walk totals have been nothing better than average. Taveras projects as an average defender with only average speed. But the bat -- wow. Taveras has a .330/.382/.536 line as a professional with the batting average and some of the power playing well at Triple-A. He scuffled mightily in his one trip to the Show, but he's a near-lock for some All-Star berths with the chance to be among the best hitters of his generation. He turned 22 two weeks ago and Taveras is undoubtedly ready for a full-time gig at the MLB level with his over-aggressive approach at the plate the only limitation separating him from an elite ceiling.
Beyond Taveras, the St. Louis system is an interesting mix of high-ceiling and high-floor prospects. Accordingly, I'll be breaking the mold of this series a bit to address the prospects by type.
Kolten Wong: St. Louis's first-round pick in 2011, Wong stands just 5-9, 185 pounds, but he gets plenty of production out of his frame thanks to quick wrists and a strong approach. He should have a plus hit tool and a plus glove, but the overall utility of his game is limited by an underwhelming power projection and only average speed. Wong should be able to spend a decade or so as a starter at the keystone; it's just difficult to imagine him doing so in an impact fashion.
Stephen Piscotty: Dude can just hit. Much like Wong, Piscotty's overall profile is limited due to an average-at-best power projection, but the rest of his game is very impressive. Standing 6-3, 210 pounds, the 23-year-old has overmatched the pitching at every Minor-League level thus far as a professional with an extremely smooth and balanced swing driving consistently excellent batting averages and enabling him to avoid strikeouts. Piscotty won't draw a ton of walks or bring much on the basepaths, but his massive arm and solid athleticism should make him a plus defender to go along with his plus bat. He figures to be an ideal table setter for a contender.
Marco Gonzales: Although Gonzales stands just 6-0, 185 pounds and works only around 90 with an average fastball, his changeup might make you cry (skip to 2:41). The pitch just absolutely disappears and the deception is as good as it gets. It's hard to imagine Gonzales as an impact arm, particularly with an underwhelming curveball, but it's equally difficult to imagine him not spending years as a valuable member of a Big League rotation.
Randal Grichuk: There's no way to sugarcoat this: Grichuk's swing is ugly. For a player with a solid defensive profile and plus power, it is a shame. Measuring 6-1, 195 pounds, the former first-round pick will always struggle to get on base and he doesn't bring any speed to the table. Still, righty bats with good power tend to find jobs, particularly in outfield corners.
Tim Cooney: A classic junkballing lefty, Cooney doesn't have a single plus pitch, yet he has four offerings that should all play in the Majors. Cooney has the size to make it work at 6-3, 195 pounds, but it's possible that the underwhelming nature of his arsenal won't enable his pitchability to shine. He has been hammered by 14 home runs already this year at Triple-A, suggesting the more advanced hitters can wait for a crushable pitch. He could still make it in the Travis Wood model, something this front office has obviously embraced.
James Ramsey: Yet another outfielder with a useful stick, Ramsey is more of the prototype corner outfielder than Piscotty in that he has much better power, more walking ability, and way more strikeouts. Confusingly, the 24-year-old lefty has made a return trip to Double-A this year where he appears to be learning about as much as Kris Bryant did at the level. Ramsey has to gear up more for his power, meaning that strikeouts will always be a problem. Still, there's certainly an MLB bat in the profile, even if it plays off of the bench.
Alex Reyes: Reyes is the kind of arm that makes or breaks front office careers. The 6-3, 185-pound, 19-year-old righty features a dreamlike fastball-curveball combination that has completely overwhelmed professional hitters. Command has been an issue for Reyes this year in the Midwest League, but batters simply cannot hit his mid-90s tailing fastball and 11-5 power hook. His changeup offers plenty of projection, and with his body built to shoulder a load, there is no doubt that there is a top-of-the-rotation ceiling here.
Carlos Martinez: Also mentioned above, Martinez has made a handful of starts for the Cardinals although he has been used predominantly out of the bullpen thus far. He has averaged 97 miles per hour on his fastball this year; there is no doubt that the heater will be an excellent pitch, especially given plenty of command. He has scrapped his low-80s curveball for a mid-80s slurve that has proved plenty effective, but Martinez throws his fastball nearly 70 percent of the time. To me, the 6-0, 165-pound fireballer is bound for a lifetime in the bullpen, albeit as a lights-out closer. Thus, his perceived value as a trade chip will likely outweigh his future value, making him an unattractive prospective acquisition. Still, 99 is 99.
Carson Kelly: Kelly had a fine profile a year ago as a third baseman with a solid hit tool complemented by a plus power projection. However, a move behind the dish has brightened his prospect star significantly. At 6-2, 200 pounds and just shy of his 20th birthday, Kelly has the big arm needed to control the running game as well as the athleticism required to hold up as a catcher. While he learns the nuances of his new position, his solid hitting approach with limited strikeouts and emerging power should help to carry him up the prospect ladder. By all accounts, Kelly has the makeup to be a strong catcher. With a plus arm and a strong offensive profile, he could be an impact player at his new position, but it will certainly take at least a few more years given only middling production in the Midwest League.
Rob Kaminsky: Most 5-11, 191-pound lefties don't impose much, but Kaminsky could be an exception. Although his command needs work, his fastball and changeup should be play as average-or-better offerings while his curveball is the kind of traditional left-handed power hook that makes careers. Kaminsky's arm has proved way too advanced for Midwest League hitters as evidenced by his sub-one WHIP and nearly strikeout-per-inning pace despite a fastball that works only around 90. Again, the Cubs have not been afraid of pitchers of this stature, and Kaminsky absolutely has the pitches to make it if his body can hold up.
Edmundo Sosa: The one truly out-there suggestion, Sosa has plenty of glove to stick at shortstop, although the 18-year-old's arm will need to improve a level or two to justify the position. While he hasn't hit for any power yet and doesn't figure to have any plus power in his swing, he has shown a good approach and a nice feel for making contact. Add in plus speed and Sosa has the kind of projection that keeps evaluators intrigued.
The Cardinals wouldn't move the disappointing Shelby Miller...right?
With such a deep system, the possibilities are nearly endless. Here are four to consider:
Proposal #1: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to St. Louis for outfielder Stephen Piscotty, catcher Carson Kelly, and starting pitcher Rob Kaminsky
Proposal #2: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija to St. Louis for starting pitcher Alex Reyes, starting pitcher Marco Gonzales, shortstop Edmundo Sosa, and outfielder Randal Grichuk
Proposal #3: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel to St. Louis for starting pitcher Marco Gonzales and outfielder James Ramsey
Proposal #4: Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel to St. Louis for starting pitcher Tim Cooney and catcher Carson Kelly
Proposal #5 (the multi-player proposal has become a staple): Chicago Cubs trade starting pitcher Jason Hammel and infielder Luis Valbuena to St. Louis for second baseman Kolten Wong, starting pitcher Marco Gonzales, and shortstop Edmundo Sosa
Proposal #1 is basically the perfect deal to me. Piscotty solves the biggest medium- and long-term offensive need as an on-base animal at the top of the order from a plus outfield profile, Kelly has a plus catching profile, and Kaminsky has the stuff and projection to be the third-best starter on a great team. I'm sure most folks want more pitching, but this amount of talent makes me salivate.
So what do you think? What deal would you do with the evil Cardinals?
(Yes, I felt dirty and gross thinking about Shark pitching for the Cards.)
On Deck: Los Angeles Dodgers