In our first installment, we looked at the Blue Jays farm system as a means of getting a feel for what Toronto might offer in a trade for Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel. Today, we're moving eastward to Boston to see what the defending champions might offer in a similar deal.
A quick glance at the Red Sox shows the team near the top of the MLB leaderboard in terms of starting pitching WAR, but that figure is highly misleading. Jon Lester and John Lackey have been superb while Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, and Felix Doubront have given the Red Sox just 0.8 WAR over 36 starts. Rubby De La Rosa and Brandon Workman have both been solid in limited action, but Boston is not a team to take a lost season lying down, especially not when a controllable starter is there for the taking and the American League playoff picture remains muddled at this time.
Given that the core members of the Cubs front office held the reins in Boston for nearly a decade, it should encourage you to know that the Red Sox boast a strong farm system with many pieces of interest to the Cubs.
As a disclosure, Jackie Bradley Jr. will not make this list. I absolutely think that the Red Sox would move him in the right deal; I just have no interest in Bradley whatsoever. Some scouts see a solid hitter with a mature approach; I see an empty bat likely to post batting averages in the .250 to .270 range with no power and only average on-base ability. It's a shame too because a genuine leadoff-hitting centerfielder would significantly improve the Cubs' short-, medium-, and long-term outlook. Alas, Bradley simply is not that player.
Moving to the rest of the system, my favorite prospect -- Xander Bogaerts doesn't count -- is catcher Blake Swihart. A 2011 first-round-pick out of a New Mexico high school, Swihart is a switch-hitter with a hitch in his load but a very quick, smooth swing that is geared toward generating consistent line-drive contact. His swing is remarkably similar from both sides of the plate. He is yet to show a strong platoon split in 2014 with both his contact and power abilities showing up in games from both sides. Defensively, he lacks an elite arm to control the running game even though it is an above-average tool, but his glove is plenty strong leaving little doubt that he has a defensive home at catcher as an average or better defender. He has spent all of 2014 at Double-A and should be ready for a major-league job at some point in 2015.
Not far behind Swihart is a fellow 2011 draftee, supplemental-first-round-pick left-handed starting pitcher Henry Owens. At 6-6, 205-pounds Owens sports a rather lanky frame with room to add additional weight, although he is not skinny. Owens lacks a truly excellent pitch, but what he lacks in flashiness he makes up for in diversity as his fastball-curveball-changeup combination is among the steadiest in the minor leagues. His fastball works around 90 with the ability for a bit more, his 1-7 curveball moves plenty, and his tumbling changeup is likely his best pitch. Owens presently lacks the command to help his solid pitches play up, but that hasn't stopped him from dominating Double-A hitters this year. His methodical delivery creates timing issues for batters. Any pitcher allowing just 54 hits and three home runs over his first 86 innings in a season must be pitching well; when such pitcher is a 21-year-old in the Eastern League, alarm bells should be going off. Owens appears to be more results than stuff right now, yet his stuff offers plenty to dream on and the results have been consistent across the minor leagues. He's probably a third starter for a strong team with enough to be a second starter if the command ticks upward.
At 6-4, 205-pounds and as the 19th overall pick in the 2011 draft, starter Matt Barnes has the physique and the pedigree of an important piece in a contending rotation. Thus far, his results have been solid if unspectacular. His curveball and changeup currently lag behind his explosive fastball, and while his mid-90s heater can overpower opposing hitters, his changeup might not make it. If he ends up in the bullpen, he should be a nice piece, but obviously his upside is much lower as a fastball-curveball reliever.
One additional player merits a longer look: second baseman/center fielder Mookie Betts. Betts is just 5-9, 156-pounds. Let that sink in for a moment. At the same time, Betts is just 21 and he has already blown through the minor leagues en route to a superb first month at Triple-A. Betts has speed to burn and he uses it well; his batting average has been consistently strong, and legitimate extra-base power showed up last year. As a professional, he has more walks than strikeouts at every level except for Triple-A, and even there he is very close. The numbers tell me that I should believe in Betts, but the amateur scout in me screams "No!" How could this swing possibly generate usable power?
Now for some quick hits:
Garin Cecchini, first base/third base/outfield: Many folks love Cecchini, but I see a defensive liability anywhere but first base without the power to justify the position. There's no challenging Cecchini's minor-league on-base production, but major-league pitchers won't be afraid to attack his bat given his lack of power. The list of impact players with poor speed, average gloves, and no power is exceptionally small; I'd rather grab a more projectable piece than hope that Cecchini turns into the next Tony Gwynn.
Allen Webster, relief pitcher: Webster has the velocity and movement on three pitches to stick as a strong starting option, but his overall command just isn't good enough to justify the position. As such, he's a reliever and of significantly less value.
Trey Ball, starting pitcher: The seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft, Ball has been unsurprisingly hammered in full-season ball as he learns how to pitch. Although he is just 185-pounds, at 6-6 he offers the kind of projection that earns patience. Ball is going to be a while coming along, but he could reward the team that allows him to develop with a solid three-pitch mix.
Simon Mercedes, relief pitcher: Mercedes is a big boy at 6-4, 200-pounds, and he has the arm strength to back it up. His fastball absolutely explodes and can work in the mid-90s, giving him the potential for a 70+ heater. Unfortunately, even though he is 22 and spent the first half pitching in full-season ball, Mercedes has had injury concerns and his secondary pitches are basically non-existent at this point, though his curveball has shown some signs of life. His backstory is similar to that of Cubs prospect Juan Paniagua in that Mercedes signed a deal under false pretenses and was banned by Major League Baseball, costing him important development time.
Proposal #1: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jeff Samardzija to Boston for C Blake Swihart, SP Henry Owens, and SP Trey Ball
Proposal #2: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jeff Samardzija to Boston for SP Matt Barnes, 3B/OF Garin Cecchini, and 2B/CF Mookie Betts
Proposal #3: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jason Hammel to Boston for C Blake Swihart and RP Simon Mercedes
Proposal #4: Chicago Cubs trade SP Jason Hammel to Boston for RP Allen Webster and SP Trey Ball
To be clear: I do not expect the Cubs to trade Hammel to Boston, but it remains a possibility given Boston's need for better rotation depth and Hammel's lower cost.
What do you think? Do these packages make sense? Are the Cubs getting a deal or coming up short?