A tweet from Jesse Rogers yesterday got me to thinking:
Hoyer not ruling out trading a major prospect: "If it did make sense for the future we’d certainly consider it."— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) December 9, 2013
I responded to that tweet that I couldn't figure out how it would make sense for the Cubs to make such a move and Rogers kindly responded that he interpreted it as Jed is just not ruling anything out.
But it got me to thinking. What would the Cubs need to get to part with one of their top prospects this off-season? For the purposes of this exercise, I'm considering the phrase "major prospects" to mean any of the Cubs top seven prospects according to this year's Baseball America list. That's Javier Baez, C.J. Edwards, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson or Arismendy Alcantara. Kris Bryant cannot be traded this off-season by MLB draft rules. I have no doubt the Cubs would part with Dan Vogelbach if the right deal came around.
Obviously it would make no sense for the Cubs to trade those players for someone approaching free agency in the next two seasons, and that includes David Price, really. The Cubs aren't likely to compete next season and while they could be ready to go after a playoff spot in 2015, it doesn't seem like a wise use of resources to gamble six years of control of a young prospect hoping that a player like Price would put the team over the top in 2015. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns to take a risk like that.
So that leaves three other possibilities: A trade for a veteran under long-term control, a trade for a young major league ballplayer who is still three or more years away from free agency or a swap of top prospects.
Let's deal with the last possibility first, because I think it is the least likely. Teams rarely swap top prospects. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is that every team likes their own prospects more than other teams like them. That's usually why they drafted and signed them in the first place. Teams also put in a lot of work developing their prospects they way they want them to be, which makes them more valuable to the team they are already playing for than for another team.
Plus, teams know more about their own prospects than they know about prospects on other teams. This unequal information makes such deals very difficult. Look at it this way. The Cubs have a lot of hitting prospects and the Mariners are heavy on pitching prospects. So let's say the two teams decide to swap a hitter for a pitcher. The Cubs put up Javier Baez and the Mariners offer Taijuan Walker. Who says no?
Both teams likely do, because if the Mariners are offering the Cubs Walker, or the Cubs offering Baez to Seattle, both teams' first thought will be "What do they know that we don't know about this guy?" Getting burned on a deal like this could cost a GM his job.
The next possibility, that the Cubs would get a veteran on a long-term contract, is highly unlikely as well. The Cubs could take on salary, so as long as they could be assured of long-term control, they could give up a top prospect. If there was a non-contending team that wanted to deal a veteran to rebuild their farm system, the Cubs might bite.
But who would this mythical player be? David Wright comes to mind as the Mets need to rebuild from scratch and have few assets to deal to accelerate the process. But you and I both know the Mets aren't trading Wright. He has 10-and-5 rights anyway and if the Mets were to deal him, he'd be more valuable to other teams than he would be to the Cubs. You can say the same for any other player like that you could think of, even if the team were willing to eat a lot of the contract, such as a deal for Joe Mauer, who the Twins are also not dealing.
Chris Sale might fit this category, but while there have been some rumors about the White Sox dealing Sale, they've steadfastly denied them and they wouldn't be likely to trade him to the Cubs anyway.
So that leaves the Cubs trading a prospect for a young player several years away from free agency. The model for this would be the Yankees trading Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda, when the Yankees sent their top prospect to Seattle for a starter coming off a strong rookie season.
That trade has worked out terribly for both teams, of course. Montero has been a major disappointment and Pineda has yet to throw a pitch for the Yankees, having missed the past two seasons with injuries.
But one bad deal doesn't mean the concept doesn't have merit. The problem is finding a team that has a young player but wants to cash him in for a player even younger. The Cubs would have a lot of interest in a player like Shelby Miller, for example, and the Cardinals have enough depth in their pitching staff that they might want to deal him. But the Cardinals aren't in a rebuilding mode and if they were to deal Miller, would almost certainly want experienced stars ready to contribute on April 1. That's not any of those prospects.
So again, you need to find a rebuilding team with an established star player with three or more years away from free agency but a farm system in need of a shot in the arm. Toss the Rays into that hopper because of their financial situation means they're always rebuilding, even when they're contending.
I come up with four names. The first is Mike Trout, but the Angels aren't trading Trout, period. In any case, the Angels don't even think of themselves as rebuilding.
The second is Brett Lawrie. Lawrie's not a star, so he couldn't command a player like Baez or Almora. But I could see the Cubs offering Toronto someone like Alcantara or even Soler for him. But Lawrie is also Canadian and the Blue Jays see him not only as a good ballplayer, but the face of their franchise for the next decade. Besides, the Blue Jays don't think they're not a contender. Toronto isn't trading Lawrie.
I've already ruled out the Cubs dealing for David Price because he only has two more years of control. But the Cubs could be tempted by Matt Moore, who the Rays have under contract, including his options, through 2019. But while the Rays are always rebuilding, they're also always contending and dealing Price and Moore would likely doom their postseason chances. On top of that, the fact that they have him under control on a team-friendly contract means the Rays would never trade Matt Moore.
Finally, that brings us to the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton, who won't reach free agency until 2017. The Marlins have insisted that they're not trading Stanton, but they know they're certain to lose him when he becomes a free agent and the sooner they trade him, the more they'll get. The Cubs would easily be willing to give up any of their top prospects for a player like Stanton, who would be much more likely to stick around Chicago than Miami long-term.
So what Jed Hoyer is saying is that no one is untouchable if the Marlins decide to move Stanton. Otherwise, none of this is going to happen.