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Should The Cubs Trade Javier Baez Or Jorge Soler?

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The Cubs are looking at free agent pitching. Should they deal some surplus young hitters instead?

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are at least "exploring" the possibility of trading infielder Javier Baez or outfielder Jorge Soler. The thinking behind this is that the Cubs front office is getting several inquiries on both players from other teams and well, let's let Rosenthal explain:

Moving one of those hitters only would make sense if the return was a pitcher of similar age, service and talent. The risk for the Cubs in addressing their pitching needs solely through the free-agent market is that they could end up with an old rotation quickly.

Starlin Castro would not bring back the same type of young pitcher as Baez or Soler, but he batted .295 with a .783 OPS in the second half. Playing second base seemed to relax him, and he still will only be 26 next season.

So the Cubs will at least consider moving one of their young sluggers. But would doing so be a good idea?

The Case For Trading Baez Or Soler

The biggest reason to trade either Baez or Soler is that assuming the Cubs can't move Castro, they have too many infielders. Trading Baez would solve that problem directly and trading Soler would allow Kris Bryant to move to right field and slot Baez in at third base.

Baez has proven himself to be a much better fielder than advertised and dealing Soler would strengthen the Cubs infield defense immensely and probably the outfield defense as well. We can't know how good Bryant would be in right field until he gets some time in out there, but Soler was a pretty terrible right fielder last season, although I do expect him to improve. But an infield of Baez, Russell, Castro and Rizzo would be among the best defensive infields in the game. Even with Bryant there, it's pretty strong.

Both Baez and Soler have huge upsides. Current Cubs scout Jason Parks once famously described Baez's upside as "a unicorn" and Soler isn't far behind that. But they both have some pretty serious downsides. We're all familiar with Baez's issues making contact. Baez cut his K% down from an unmanageable 41.5% in 2014 to a still pretty high but at least reasonable 30% in 2015. That's about what Bryant's K rate is. Baez also struck out less in Iowa this past season. But there are still sample size issues and we've all seen Baez still take a mighty rip at a pitch in the dirt with two strikes on him. It's entirely possible that Baez never solves his strikeout issues and ends up as a sub-.300 OBP guy who never hits more than 25 home runs in a season because he can't make contact often enough.

With Soler, the issue is that he's never really been able to stay healthy. Even in the minor leagues, he missed large amounts of time with hamstring issues every season. On top of that, as I noted above, he was an abysmal fielder in 2015. I'm not sure why that is because he has all the tools to be a good right fielder. But time and again he got bad reads off the bat and took bad routes in the outfield. That sounds like something that should be correctable, but what if it isn't? The Cubs already have Schwarber likely locked in left field. Can they afford to carry Soler in right?

Finally, the reason to trade one of them is to get back young pitching. Jon Lester will be 32 on opening day. Jake Arrieta will be 30. Jason Hammel is 33. Only Kyle Hendricks is on the right side of 30 and while he's a good pitcher, Hendricks is not the type of guy you want to carry your team if the old guys get hurt. Getting a young No. 2 pitcher for one of these players would alleviate the need grab another pitcher past 30 in the free agent market. Or even better, compliment one. Other than maybe Duane Underwood, there isn't any starting pitching likely to come through the Cubs farm system in the next year or two.

The Case Against Trading Baez Or Soler

The biggest reason that the Cubs would be hesitant to part with either Soler or Baez is that they both still have some pretty amazing upside. Soler could end up as a younger, maybe even better version of Nelson Cruz. Baez could still end up as a unicorn. (For those of you who don't know what a unicorn looks like, think Gary Sheffield with better defense.) Soler is the much safer play and he's got a much higher floor than Baez and a better chance of reaching his upside. But Baez is still a unicorn.

The other issue against trading Baez or Soler for pitching is who would come back in return. Forget about Sonny Gray, Noah Syndergaard, Chris Archer (ouch) or Jose Fernandez. The Cubs aren't getting any of those guys for Baez or Soler. Maybe for both if they toss in Underwood and Gleyber Torres. Teams just don't trade those young pitchers with years of team control for anything short of a robbery. Replacing those guys on the free agent market is too expensive and replacing them through the trade market is close to impossible.

Also, all those potential weaknesses that I mentioned about Baez and Soler? Other teams know about them too. Oakland would likely send Gray to the North Side if the Cubs sent them Addison Russell. But who would be foolish enough to trade Addison Russell?

Might Baez or Soler bring back a pitcher like Danny Salazar, Steven Matz or Jose Quintana? Maybe. It's always hard to figure out the trade market until a deal gets made, but that sounds about right for the market for those players. The Cubs might have to sweeten the pot with a prospect, but they have the minor league depth to do so. But it's hard to judge the market until a trade is made. I'm sure the Cubs could land a high-upside, high-risk pitcher like Kevin Gausman or Trevor Bauer for their high-upside, high-risk position players, but I think the Cubs would want a little more than that in return. Baez and Soler may be high-risk, but there's no risk like a high-risk starting pitcher.

Verdict

It's always impossible to know whether to trade a player without knowing what their market is. It only takes one team to really love a player to get the deal done. That's why I don't put too much stock in the Cubs front office "exploring" deals for Soler and Baez. I'm sure they are trying to judge the market for these players and they'll make a deal that makes sense. But that's a long way from actively shopping a player.

In the end, I'm not even sure if those second-tier starting pitchers are available. I'm betting most teams are calling Theo and Jed trying to buy low on both Baez and Soler. If that's the case, they should just say "no, thank you" and move on. But if a solid, young, cost-controlled pitcher gets offered, it would be hard to not pull the trigger. I just pray the Cubs front office can figure out which one of the two to keep and which one to deal.