In recent years, the Cubs have been among the most active sellers at the trade deadline. Arodys Vizcaino, Kyle Hendricks, Christian Villanueva, Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Ivan Pineyro, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez, Corey Black, Dan Straily, Billy McKinney, Addison Russell, Jonathan Martinez, and Victor Caratini were all acquired in summertime deals from 2012-14 that sent veteran talent off of the Cubs roster. Hendricks and Arrieta are key cogs in the starting rotation, Strop, Grimm, and Ramirez are big pieces in the bullpen, and Russell is holding down the second base job as a rookie. Vizcaino and Straily were subsequently traded in deals that netted the Cubs backup infield Tommy La Stella and leadoff man Dexter Fowler. Further, the Cubs' top prospect list is littered with names listed above. Three summers of selling played an important role in yielding the current roster we all enjoy watching.
But now the time has come to flip roles. To be clear: despite the team's contention, I fully expect that the Cubs front office would sell off a key piece if an otherworldly deal presented itself. If, to punch a dead horse that was kicked after it was beaten, the Mets offered up Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom for Starlin Castro, I have no doubt that the braintrust would pull the trigger. Or if the Astros offered up Carlos Correa to get Fowler back for the stretch run, Team Theo would say yes and figure out the centerfield problem some other way.
Since we live in the real world (unless Sandy Alderson or Jeff Lunhow would like to fulfill one of my fantasies listed above), neither of those deals are happening, so the Cubs are much more likely to upgrade their roster this summer.
The front office has an enviable war chest with premium talent in the lower minors such as shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Eloy Jimenez, tons of talent in the mid-minors in the form of the entire Myrtle Beach starting rotation (Jen-Ho Tseng, Duane Underwood, Daury Torrez, Paul Blackburn, Tyler Skulina, and the aforementioned Martinez), McKinney, Dan Vogelbach, and Mark Zagunis. The club also has plenty of big-armed relief prospects to sweeten any deal including Armando Rivero, Corey Black, Starling Peralta, Juan Paniagua, and Matt Brazis.
That list obviously omits the two super-premium chips that the Cubs can dangle to acquire a big fish: last year's fourth overall pick in the Rule 4 Draft, Kyle Schwarber, and the odd man out in the shortstop trifecta of Russell, Javier Baez, and Castro.
It should go without saying that the Cubs have sufficient ammunition to put together a package to acquire any player in the game. Will they? Almost certainly not. But with the ammunition set forth, let's take a general look at the big pieces expected to be available this summer. We'll keep an eye on those who seem to fit the club's biggest needs -- by my estimation, they are the bullpen, fifth starter/swingman, left field, and a bench bat -- but also recognizing that the front office may elect to move pieces around to form the perfect cocktail. We'll also focus on players from non-contending teams while appreciating the possibility of a contender moving a piece as well.
Every trade deadline features a handful of elite players available due their proximity to free agency, their team's lackluster results, or a combination thereof. This summer will feature an abnormally high number of tradable stars who fit the bill.
We'll start with the starting pitching where three ace-level arms figure to be available. Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija are all in their prime and would inject a jolt into any starting rotation, Tsuyoshi Wada's promising two-game start notwithstanding.
Generally speaking, I prefer to avoid listing relief pitchers among the elite players in the game regardless of their effectiveness, but I'll make an exception for the most terrifying arm in the game today: Aroldis Chapman. Rumors have spread that the Reds would deal Chapman in the right deal, so he's a big name on which to keep an eye. Obviously Chapman and Anthony Rizzo would have to resolve their differences.
As for the position players, as many as six premium talents could be available. Almost certainly staying put is Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a player who would command a king's ransom but who would also create an uncomfortable situation with Miguel Montero, who is enjoying arguably the best rebound season in baseball this year. Milwaukee's general unwillingness to move Lucroy makes such a deal highly unlikely.
I'd also be surprised if the Cubs made a play for Justin Upton, primarily given his horrendous defensive reputation in the outfield's easiest spot and his likely astronomical price tag from the disappointing Padres. Upton could be the best available bat if San Diego doesn't turn things around.
That leaves four intriguing players with an additional year of control beyond 2015. The first, Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez, has been among the best in the game for the past couple of years and comes on a cheap deal that pays him just $9 million in 2016. However, Gomez comes with an aggressive personality that could be abrasive in the clubhouse and his walk rate has tumbled in Castro-esque fashion this year to a career-low 3.4%. Still, there's enough talent that Gomez would represent a major acquisition, kicking Fowler to left field and significantly improving the outfield defense and the lineup.
Next, Oakland right fielder Josh Reddick has emerged as one of the most explosive bats in the game and comes with the defensive pedigree of a centerfield prospect. Reddick is controllable in 2016 for what figures to be approximately $9 million in arbitration. However, Reddick's power explosion in 2015 is a relatively new phenomenon and he's a strict platoon corner outfielder. While that may drive down his price, it obviously hampers the utility of his overall package as well.
Finally, we get to a pair of cornerstones from north of the border. Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion are two of the elite power bats in the game controllable in 2016 on below-market club options. While it would have been inconceivable that either would be dealt as of two months ago, the Blue Jays continue to scuffle and both players are getting old, 35 and 32 respectively. Neither offers any value with the glove and Encarnacion would have to prove capable of playing left field for the Cubs, but the bats would both represent big boosts, even with Bautista's shoulder issues.
Dozens of additional players make sense for the Cubs in their various capacities, most of whom may be available but some of who might not be. In order of impact -- beginning with the most impactful -- the starting pitching market figures to include Scott Kazmir, Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, Hisashi Iwakuma, Doug Fister, J.A. Happ, Mat Latos, Aaron Harang, Dan Haren, Kyle Lohse, and Mike Leake.
The relief pitching market realistically includes every reliever from every non-contender, but particularly big names who figure to be up for sale include Jonathan Papelbon, Tyler Clippard, Jason Grilli, and Edward Mujica. Joaquin Benoit, Jonathan Broxton, and Brad Ziegler will also be available, though all three come with unpleasant buyouts of onerous 2016 options.
Finally, four position players of note could be useful additions are relatively minimal cost. First, A's everyman Ben Zobrist would have required a premium package from the Cubs a few months ago, but after a dreadful start to the season and a knee injury that cost him a month in his walk year, the price has certainly come down. Second, Brewers outfielder Gerardo Parra is enjoying an offensive resurgence that has saved his career, despite continual puzzlingly poor defensive ratings for the former elite glove man. Third, personal favorite Kelly Johnson has turned back the clock to his early career days thanks to his strong power reemerging in a reserve capacity for the Braves. Finally, former MVP Ryan Howard has rebuilt his value to the point that he could be a nice addition to a contender's bench for the stretch run. While Howard would never occupy an everyday role for the Cubs, the team is currently carrying Mike Baxter, so with the Phillies throwing in approximately $48 million of the roughly $52.747 million left on Howard's deal, the Cubs could strike for the slugger.
While it's early to anticipate a blockbuster deal adding a huge piece to the 2015 Cubs, the summer trading season is rapidly approaching and the Cubs figure to be buyers for the first time in seven years. We can only imagine which permutation will win out. If you've got a favorite idea, let's hear it.