Our first potential trade partner is baseball's lone Canadian team. The Blue Jays have long been mentioned as a possible trade partner for Jeff Samardzija for two obvious reasons: (1) they have the need for one more strong starting pitcher, and (2) even after a pair of massive trades, they have plenty of enticing young pieces to offer in a possible trade.
Entering the season, the Toronto farm was fronted by two big-time pitching prospects. The first, diminutive right-hander Marcus Stroman, has entrenched himself in the Blue Jays rotation over the past month as a rookie despite his 5-9 frame. The team's 2012 first-round pick, Stroman figures to be unavailable in trade talks.
The second, 6-4 righthander Aaron Sanchez, figures to be the centerpiece to any deal for Samardzija although it is difficult to imagine him coming to the Cubs in a Jason Hammel deal. Sanchez has an explosive fastball with tremendous two-plane action that works in the low-to-mid 90s. His command of the offering is intermittent as he sometimes paints the corners beautifully and other times cannot locate the offering within two feet of the zone. His power curveball in the low 80s is his marquee pitch despite a strong fastball. The curve features pounding 11-5 movement, and Sanchez commands it very well. The changeup has good movement, but the command of the offering is basically non-existent at this point. He turns 22 next week and was recently promoted to Triple-A after an up-and-down half-season at Double-A, so he finds himself solidly on the big prospect timeline despite serious problems with issuing walks. I can comfortably slap a 60 grade on Sanchez with a 60 fastball, 70 curveball, and a 40 changeup. His mechanics do cause some concern as he loses momentum, placing unnecessary strain on his shoulder to generate velocity. Nonetheless, if either the fastball or changeup command takes a jump, Sanchez has the ability to be a #2 starter for a contender.
Beyond the Stroman-Sanchez duo, the Blue Jays system features strong depth. The next most interesting prospect is left-hander Daniel Norris, a pitcher who stands a bit above the next bunch of prospects in my eyes. Norris has had an interesting professional career to date. After being a second-round-pick in 2011 out of a Tennessee high school, Norris was among the worst professional pitchers in 2012, allowing 58 hits in 42.2 innings en route to an 8.44 ERA despite pitching only in short-season leagues. However, professional baseball has since been much kinder to Norris, who pitched a strong 2013 year primarily in the Midwest League before overwhelming Florida State League batters through the first half of 2014 prior to a recent promotion to Double-A. At 6-2, 180, Norris has plenty of size to stick as a starting pitcher and the stuff is there. While some scouting reports suggest a little tail on his fastball, I don't see it. But Norris doesn't need it as, in the low-to-mid-90s, he has exceptional velocity for a lefty. His low-80s slider is probably an even better pitch, and while his changeup lags behind the top two offerings, it has all the makings of a useful major-league pitch. In spite of his horrendous 2012 showing, I'd also give Norris a 60 grade with a 60 fastball, 60 slider, and a 50 changeup. He lacks Sanchez's ceiling, but Norris has an arsenal that should play just fine at the top level with a strong record of strikeouts at every level and greatly improving command that helps the pitches to play up.
To me, once we move beyond Stroman, Sanchez, and Norris, the Toronto system gets a lot murkier with some interesting high-ceiling/low-floor prospects and a gaggle of projectable arms. We'll look at this section of their system in a series of quick hits followed by some trade proposals for Samardzija and Hammel:
SP Sean Nolin: A 2010 sixth-round-pick, Nolin is the type that should be in the conversation to headline a deal: 6-4, 230-pound lefties are a rare commodity and those with a legitimate four-pitch mix are even rarer. Unfortunately, Nolin gets knocked down a few pegs due to a very limited ceiling. His fastball works in the high 80s, neither his loopy curveball or biting slider project as plus pitches, and while his mechanics do not create unneeded stress, they also result is a clear sightline for the batter. It's very difficult to see Nolin as an impact player at the MLB level, especially given increased walks at Triple-A as the competition has stiffened, although he also seems likely for a rather lengthy MLB career.
SS Franklin Barreto: Barreto is tiny at 5-9, 174, but he packs a solid punch from this frame. He is extremely raw, an unsurprising status report for the 18-year-old who signed for $1.45 million in 2012. Barreto has a plus hit tool with the chance for average power and enough athleticism for shortstop or center field if the glove doesn't develop. He's got a long way to go, so he also won't be headlining any trades in the near future. Cubs scouts have likely gotten a look at him in the Northwest League over the past two weeks.
CF D.J. Davis: Davis is a favorite of mine, an all-tools/no-game prospect at this time. Despite horrendous production thus far in 2014 (.219/.277/.333 in the Midwest League), Davis has game-changing speed, a true 80 tool. He projects as a plus defensive centerfielder. With Davis, it's all about the bat. It's possible to see a slap-hitter in the mold of Juan Pierre or a sneaky smooth stroke with some power in the mold of Luis Castillo. Right now, he's a bad hitter in the low-minors. If the scouts can buy into the bat, he's a low-minors Billy Hamilton right now with a chance to plug a major hole atop the lineup for the Cubs in the future.
SP Deck McGuire: McGuire feels like the type of prospect that the Cubs like to grab. The 11th overall selection in the 2010 draft, McGuire reached Double-A in late 2011... then only reached Triple-A last month. The 6-6, 235-pound right-hander lacks strong athleticism -- he is very soft -- and none of his pitches truly excite. He has a low-90s two-seam fastball with solid two-plane movement, a low-80s slider with below-average bite, and a 12-6 curveball. He's just a lottery ticket.
SP Roberto Osuna: Osuna was loved by many prospect watchers, but Tommy John surgery in 2014 has spooked many of them. Like McGuire, he has lots of extra weight on his frame. Unlike McGuire, he is still a teenager who won't turn 20 until February 2015. At 6-2, 230, Osuna is certainly big enough to start, yet poor mechanics resulted in a violent delivery that led to the injury. Despite the chance for three plus pitches, an excellent command profile, and 10 Midwest League starts in 2013, Osuna has a very long way to go as his mechanics need to be reworked and he needs to improve his conditioning.
For this and every entry in the series, I will propose two deals for each Cubs starter. Obviously the return for Samardzija figures to be higher.
Proposal #1: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jeff Samardzija to Toronto for SP Aaron Sanchez, SP Daniel Norris, and SP Deck McGuire
Proposal #2: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jeff Samardzija to Toronto for SP Daniel Norris, SS Franklin Barreto, and SP Roberto Osuna
Proposal #3: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jason Hammel to Toronto for SP Daniel Norris and SP Deck McGuire
Proposal #4: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jason Hammel to Toronto for SP Sean Nolin, CF D.J. Davis, and SP Roberto Osuna
Timing is everything. Proposal #4 may have been the most attractive offer one year ago, but with Nolin's development stalled, Davis's bat anemic, and Osuna injured, it has become the extreme risk package. Proposal #2 is the most interesting to me as it features two mid-to-high-end arms with a projectable infield or center field bat.
What do you think? Does one of these packages strike you as too rich? Does one seem too poor? Would you actually complete any of these transactions?