NOTE FROM AL: Please welcome Rob Huff to the front-page writing staff at BCB. He'll be writing about trade rumors and other related topics.
In this new series, we'll be taking a look at possible trade destinations and return packages for the Cubs' top pair of tradeable assets: Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. I'll be taking over for Kevin Aumiller as we examine the systems of baseball's buyers. Many thanks to Kevin for his excellent 411 on Potential Cubs Trade Partners series from last summer and this winter as well as his examination of Cubs on the Spring Training Trade Block earlier this year.
The Cubs have a tremendous number of tradeable players right now. Admittedly, it would be surprising to see Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jake Arrieta, or the trio of young relievers -- Hector Rondon, Neil Ramirez, and Justin Grimm -- moved prior to the trade deadline. It's also tough to imagine this front office trading Welington Castillo based on the dearth of replacement options or Edwin Jackson given his exceptionally low market value despite a FIP (3.88) largely in line with his last half decade.
Beyond that octet? Anyone and everyone could go. Few would be surprised to see Ryan Sweeney, Chris Coghlan, Nate Schierholtz, Mike Olt, Darwin Barney, Wesley Wright, Carlos Villanueva, Pedro Strop, or James Russell move on. Three more attractive players -- Justin Ruggiano, Luis Valbuena, and Travis Wood -- could just as easily be wearing different uniforms in August although all three fit well with the Cubs plan.
Still, the focus remains on Samardzija and Hammel and rightly so. The pair will bring back the most attractive returns if dealt, and they are currently second and third respectively among Cubs in WAR.
Before taking an in-depth look at what each potential trade partner might have to offer, let's start with two essential questions:
1. What are the Cubs looking for in return?
2. Which teams are most likely to give that to them?
Addressing the first question, the Cubs are looking for talent. It's easy to project future lineups and argue that any package must include a starting pitcher, but trades are more complicated than that. If the Giants offer only $0.80 on the $1 in the form of pitching while the Rockies offer $1.20 on the $1 in the form of outfielders, the Rockies offer should still rather obviously win. If it's $0.94 of pitching versus $0.96 of first base, well, that's tougher. Regardless, the Cubs want talent and value.
The second question requires a deeper look at the league. Let's begin with the premise that a buyer interested in acquiring a starter likely has interest in Samardzija and Hammel as they figure to be two of the top five attainable starters. I've attempted to figure out who is most likely to bit on Shark or Hammel, and while there are some obvious suitors that have been mentioned for many months, there are also some sneakier possibilities. With that in mind, let's take a look at possible buyers by category:
Some of Samardzija's value comes from his control in 2015, but some of it comes from his value down the stretch in 2014, potentially including October. Given that, any team acquiring him this summer will likely be contending in 2014 as such team figures to get two cracks at playoff reuns with Samardzija in tow. With that, we eliminate Houston, Texas, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, the New York Mets, San Diego, and former suitor Arizona from contention. The Mets could hang around, but they'd be a big surprise.
II. Teams Without a Significant Need
Everyone needs pitching but some teams need it much more than others. Washington, Detroit, Anaheim (they don't pay me to pretend they're in LA), St. Louis, Atlanta, and Cleveland all get off the train at this point. The Braves' name has been kicked around, but with Jason Heyward and Justin Upton both free agents after 2015, they'd likely have to flip Samardzija again this winter. For a system needing depth, such a move is unlikely.
III. Outside the M.O.
The A's just don't make this kind of splashy acquisition when the big buyers of the market are hunting, and the Marlins don't make trades to acquire marquee players. No Oakland or Miami.
IV. Non-Favorites but Hanging Around
Ten teams should at least be in the conversation, but for one reason or another, I don't see them as favorites. As the teams go on, the likelihood increases:
San Francisco: The Giants have only started Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Yusmeiro Petit this year. They're going to let Cain or Lincecum rebound before they spend big via trade.
Cincinnati: The Reds do need better starting pitching, but they'll give Tony Cingrani time to improve. Intra-divisional trades are less likely.
Pittsburgh: Another intra-divisional option, Pirates starters are 29th in WAR and they've already punted on Wandy Rodriguez. Samardzija would be ideal for the Bucs and they've got the war chest to get him, but if the Cubs hope to contend in 2015, sending their ace to a rival doesn't fit the plan. Hammel could happen though.
Colorado: The Rockies slide makes a deal less likely. They're looking up at the Dodgers and Giants realizing that they need Jon Gray and Eddie Butler; one isn't ready and one isn't healthy. No dice.
Milwaukee: Like Pittsburgh, the Brewers have the need and intra-divisional status. Unfortunately for the Brewers, their prospects stink. Hammel could happen here as well.
Chicago White Sox: The AL Central is wide open and the Sox would get a massive bump from Samardzija. However, their prospects are shaky and Chicago-Chicago deals are exceedingly rare.
Baltimore: Strangely, none of their starters have been particularly bad, but none of them have been particularly good. They're tough to read.
New York Yankees: They're the Yankees. They're in play, even if the need isn't there.
Kansas City: Similar to the White Sox but with a much better farm, the Royals make plenty of sense. They could make a run with Shields and Samardzija, and they have a desperate GM. They're just outside the inner circle for me.
Los Angeles: They're always in play for an upgrade, and both Paul Maholm (ineffectiveness) and Chad Billingsley (elbow surgery) have proved non-options.
V. The Favorites
Minnesota: The Twins' recent skid has them in last place, but they're hanging around in the A.L. Central. Phil Hughes has been great, Kyle Gibson and Kevin Correia have been good, and Ricky Nolasco has held his own. Their fifth spot is a nightmare, and Samardzija could fit atop their rotation with Hughes as the Twins improve with a keen eye on 2015 when the Royals likely lose Shields and the Tigers reach a crossroads. The Twins are loaded with prospects too and could easily nab Samardzija while keeping Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.
Seattle: King Felix deserves his nickname and Hisashi Iwakuma is very good, but the rest of this rotation is a toss-up. Can Seattle really ride Roenis Elias and Chris Young to October? They're all-in for 2014-16, so punting on 2014 isn't an option for them. They're desperate. Unfortunately, outside of Taijuan Walker, their prospects aren't exhilarating and they lack a true centerpiece for Samardzija; Hammel could be an excellent fit in Seattle.
Boston: If this surprises you, it shouldn't. They often look to add a piece each year, and only Jon Lester and John Lackey have been reliable this season. Acquiring Samardzija gives them a boost for the stretch run and a crutch for 2015 in the event that Lester unexpectedly tests his market. They have tons of contracts coming off the books at the end of the season with Jake Peavy, Stephen Drew, Lester, A.J. Pierzynski, and Jonny Gomes counting $50.85 million in 2014; they also have a 2015 option on Lackey for $510,000, $14.75 million below his 2014 salary, bringing the expiring deals to effectively $65.6 million. They don't need Samardzija's cost savings in 2015, but they'd still like them.
Toronto: The Blue Jays continue to make the most sense as a rotation of Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, and a series of question marks has been wonderfully average. With his job almost certainly on the line, it's nearly impossible to imagine GM Alex Anthopolous sitting on his hands with a marquee target available.
As we move through this series, we'll take a look at each potential buyer and how they might line up with the Cubs. We'll start with the most likely acquirers and move down the list. Enjoy!
On Deck: Toronto