This series is off and rolling. But we're changing things up a bit: instead of going player-by-player as we have thus far, it's time to look at the team that is an alarmingly ideal match for basically all of the Cubs' roster needs: the Oakland Athletics.
A's-Cubs Trading History
We all know that the Cubs and A's have lined up twice on midsummer deals over the past decade. The more recent is still fresh in our minds and involved the current front offices, new Dodgers general manager and former A's assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi excluded. Last summer's blockbuster shocker netted the Cubs current second baseman Addison Russell and Baseball America's No. 30 overall prospect outfielder Billy McKinney. While I'm much more bearish on McKinney than Baseball America, I was completely floored by the return in that deal, as was much of the baseball world. I think that much of the criticism of the A's is unfounded -- without that deal, they almost certainly would have missed the playoffs altogether as they only sneaked ahead of the Mariners by one game -- but I also think that the Cubs won the trade in a big way. Funny how that works out.
The other deal brought injury-riddled top arm Rich Harden and swingman Chad Gaudin to the Cubs in the summer of 2008, the last time the Cubs dominated baseball during the regular season over the past 70 years. In exchange, the Cubs shipped out promising righty Sean Gallagher, scuffling outfielder Matt Murton, intriguing speedster Eric Patterson, and a converted catching prospect named Josh Donaldson. Harden pitched marvelously for the Cubs, though I'm quite certain that every team in baseball would love to have Donaldson.
(Sidebar: I'm loving the 2015 season and the state of the franchise...but it does hurt to see Donaldson on track to battle Mike Trout for the AL MVP in the same season where Chris Archer is the midseason favorite to win the AL Cy Young)
All of that to say: would anyone be surprised to see Billy Beane and Theo Epstein strike another big deal? I sure wouldn't.
The A's have too many attractive pieces. The most likely to be moved are:
2B/OF/UTIL Ben Zobrist
From 2008 through Tuesday, Zobrist ranks fifth in baseball among position players with a WAR of 37.4, trailing only the mediocre group of Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, and Andrew McCutchen. Zobrist doesn't have the same bat as McCutchen or Cabrera, but his glovework and running skills render him a star. At 34 and in his walk year, Zobrist got off to a poor start with a .240/.304/.400 line in April, though the peripheral statistics and some bad BABIP luck suggested he'd get better. Instead, he got hurt, missing a month after injuring his left knee on a slide. Since his return, he has been Ben Zobrist again: .269/.363/.455 with a remarkable 13.4 BB% compared to a 10.2 K%. The switch-hitting Zorilla has an unreal 121 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a 122 wRC+ against righties. He can play everywhere on the field except for catcher.
Obviously Zobrist's history with Joe Maddon is well known. He will cost a pretty penny to acquire, though with only three months of control up for sale, even Zobrist likely can't command an elite youngster.
SP Scott Kazmir
Yet another impending free agent in his 30s, Kazmir has enjoyed one of the most interesting careers during my lifetime. For those who haven't followed his story, Kazmir was the Mets' top pick in 2002, was infamously dealt to the then-Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano at the 2004 trade deadline, emerged as one of the best starters in all of baseball in the mid-2000s, completely fell apart after a trade to the Angels as his mechanics and confidence floundered, spent 2012 out of affiliated baseball entirely, returned with the Indians in 2013, and he has now reestablished himself as a strong #3 starter for the last-two-and-a-half years. Pfew! In fact, although driven somewhat by BABIP luck, Kazmir's 2.56 ERA ranks 13th in all of baseball so far this year. He has always issued a few more walks than one would like and his strikeout rates have fluctuated somewhat, but Kazmir's velocity is back in a healthy range on all of his five pitches. While he is primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, Kazmir added a cutter in 2013 and has thrown the pitch with increasing regularity over the years. [somewhere Chris Bosio's ears perk up] Also in his walk year, Kazmir is eying a final payday as he will turn 32 this winter.
Kazmir did leave last night's start with tightness in his left triceps, but he stated almost immediately after leaving that he expected to make his next start in spite of the injury. I'll take him at his word for purposes of this piece while noting that there's a little extra risk with Kazmir now. The fact that he participated in the team's morning throw today certainly suggests that there's nothing serious going on here.
It bears noting that although they are a small-market team, the A's would almost certainly offer both Zobrist and Kazmir qualifying offers at the end of the year, necessitating the return in any trade to exceed the combined value of the expected compensation draft picks and the value the pair would provide to the A's as they attempt to stay in the race over the second half of the season. Although Oakland is as far from the playoffs as the Cubs are from the Cardinals (7.5 games back), their Pythagorean record of 49-37 is among the best in baseball, a far cry from their 39-47 actual mark. They remarkably lost their first 13 one-run games this year and are still just 6-21 in such contests. It remains to be seen if they actually sell, but if they do, Zobrist and Kazmir are incredibly attractive.
But that's not all! There's another piece that would be incredibly attractive to the Cubs who could be for sale...
OF Josh Reddick
Ah, Josh Reddick. Reddick got himself into some lukewarm water with comments he made about not starting against lefties last week -- specifically chastising Billy Beane's front office in the process -- but his .452 OPS against southpaws isn't helping him. His .918 mark against righties, however, would be a welcome sight in every lineup. The former 17th-round pick was developed as a centerfielder by the Boston Red Sox regime that drafted him. Reddick now plays almost exclusively in right field, but he has been a tremendous asset in that corner during his career. It remains to be seen if he could handle center on anything more than an emergency basis, though Dexter Fowler's production with the glove at Wrigley compared to the earlier stops in his career suggests that there might be something to the notion that center at Wrigley is just easier than it is elsewhere. Unlike Zobrist and Kazmir, Reddick wouldn't be a rental as he is controllable in 2016 in his final arbitration season with a salary that figures to come in around $8 million.
(Another sidebar: with Fowler himself an impending free agent, acquiring Reddick would have the benefit of paving the way to a centerfield solution for 2016: a Reddick/Matt Szczur platoon. Szczur has been tearing it up at Triple-A and his glove and speed would be great additions to the roster in a part-time capacity. On top of that, his splits scream platoon: Szczur's .162/.219/.206 line against righties in the Majors is unthinkably terrible, yet his .294/.315/.510 line against southpaws would play every day.)
The rest of the roster has pieces worth mentioning too. I'm sure that the A's would give away Coco Crisp or Cody Ross at this point. They also have closer Tyler Clippard heading for free agency, but Clippard doesn't move the needle much for me, especially not with his $10 million salary for 2015. If Sonny Gray came available, this conversation could get a whole lot different. Finally, Jesse Chavez has produced again this year, but 160-pound 31-year-old righties aren't terribly appealing to me either.
So there we have it: Zobrist, Kazmir, and Reddick.
Obviously with three targets, the possibilities are nearly endless. I've tried to limit myself (and failed), so let's test the waters, shall we?
Proposal #1: A's trade 2B/OF/UTIL Ben Zobrist to Cubs for OF Billy McKinney and 3B Christian Villanueva
How freakin' funny would this be? Beane recoups McKinney and gets to take a flier on Villanueva, who has recovered nicely from a disastrous 2014 to position himself as a possible second-division starter at the hot corner. Brett Lawrie moves to 2B to easily accommodate Villanueva.
Reminder: I don't like McKinney nearly as much as most scouting services -- I've watched him a bunch of times on MiLB.tv and seen him in person a couple, too -- so this may be selling too low on him...though it also may not be enough for Zobrist. Zobrist has a tough market to peg.
Proposal #2: A's trade SP Scott Kazmir to Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach and SP Justin Steele
Beane has shown a willingness to grab a bat and force him into the lineup. Vogelbach absolutely fits the bill there. Steele gives him a lottery ticket, too. Obviously Kazmir looks like a strong upgrade for the Cubs as he has mostly outrun his shaky past.
Proposal #3: A's trade OF Josh Reddick to Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach, 3B Christian Villanueva, and OF Mark Zagunis
Vogelbach headlines yet another deal, but Villanueva and Zagunis got to Oakland to add in the additional value needed to get Reddick. Zagunis screams Beane-esque -- he might be a right-handed Sam Fuld-type player -- and the merits of Vogelbach and Villanueva are explained above.
Proposal #4: A's trade SP Scott Kazmir and OF Josh Reddick to Cubs for C/OF Kyle Schwarber and SP Tyler Skulina
If you just threw up a little bit, don't worry: I did too! Trading Schwarber is a truly painful idea, but the return here is big. Really big. This would seem to be the only way the Cubs could get multiple pieces from Oakland without giving up volume. Of course, they could give up volume instead of quality, which bring us to...
Proposal #5: A's trade SP Scott Kazmir and OF Josh Reddick to Cubs for SP Duane Underwood, OF Eloy Jimenez, SS Gleyber Torres, and RP Corey Black
This is probably the most realistic proposal in that it's the one that I struggled with the most. Underwood, Jimenez, and Torres all have long developmental paths ahead of them and Black is likely a non-closing reliever. Still, there could be a No. 2 starter and a couple of key lineup cogs moving west in that deal. Yet Kazmir -- who could be extended by the Cubs -- and Reddick would be big additions to the 2015 and, in the case of Reddick, 2016 Cubs. It would be tough to turn this deal down, even being as obsessed with the prospects as I am.
I'd pull the trigger on any of the first three deals given that I'm lower than most on Vogelbach and McKinney. I wouldn't trade Schwarber unless a youngish, cheapish arm was on the table. I still don't think that Schwarber is a full-time catcher, but I fully admit to being impressed with his work when I've seen him. He could be more than an emergency catcher. While he's still not a great fit defensively for this roster going forward, his bat is a perfect fit for every roster.
I'll keep struggling with that fifth proposal. Kazmir and Reddick could add 3-4 wins to the 2015 Cubs, a number that could be monumentally important, in addition to adding that same number to next year's club when the wins might be even more impactful.
What do you think? And are you disappointed that I didn't propose a deal that would bring Zobrist, Kazmir, and Reddick to the Cubs? I can do so if the public demands it...