EDITOR'S NOTE: Please welcome Alex Van Zante (previous user name: alexvz) to the front-page staff. He'll be writing about trade scenarios and possibilities as we approach the trading deadline.==========================================================================
Much has been made about the recent struggles of the bullpen, and rightfully so. In the Cubs' first 49 games in which they held a lead, their record was 44-5. In the last 19 games in which the Cubs have held a lead, they are 9-10. There have been a number of factors that have caused the Cubs bullpen to decline; Justin Grimm has substantially regressed from last year, Clayton Richard has underwhelmed (though he has been subject to a bit of bad luck), and Adam Warren, who got off to a great start, has an ERA of 7.66 since the beginning of May.
Joe Nathan, who is attempting to return from his second Tommy John surgery, is currently rehabbing at Double-A Tennessee. While Nathan is a 6-time All-Star, his last full season saw him produce an ERA of 4.81. What makes matters even worse, is the fact that his last full season was almost two years ago, while also occurring before the second Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for almost the entirety of the 2015 season. The Cubs front office likes the strategy of low-risk, high-reward veteran relievers as we've seen with Fernando Rodney, Rafael Soriano, Joel Peralta and presumably in the near future, with Nathan. While the verdict is still out on Nathan, the Joel Peralta and Rafael Soriano experiments ended with both relievers being released. Even thought won't take a whole lot for Nathan to perform better than Peralta, the Cubs simply can't rely on a 41-year-old reliever who is coming off a second TJS to be the answer to their bullpen woes.
While Travis Wood has been solid out of the bullpen this year, I don't think he has the talent to be the primary LOOGY (Lefty-One-Out-GuY) on a World Series contending team. Wood is a solid middle inning guy that can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that should be his primary role on this Cubs team. Instead of relying on Wood to retire Bryce Harper or Brandon Belt type players in the playoffs, the Cubs front office needs to acquire a reliable lefty to be the primary LOOGY on this team.
Proposal #1: Brewers trade LHP Will Smith to the Cubs in exchange for 3B Jeimer Candelario and LHP Carson Sands
While Smith's K/9 numbers are down this year, his H/9 and BB/9 are considerably lower than they were last year. Smith boasts a .148/.148/.222 line against lefties this year and he also comes with three more years of control after 2016, which would make him a valuable member in the Cubs bullpen for the foreseeable future. While Smith is only an incremental upgrade over Travis Wood, he would be a much better bullpen piece than Clayton Richard. In Candelario, the Brewers would get a 3B who could immediately start at the big league level for a team that just traded their starting third-baseman. Sands would provide a lottery ticket arm for the Brewers, but wouldn't see the big league club for at least another couple years.
Proposal #2: Twins trade Fernando Abad to the Cubs in exchange for OF Mark Zagunis and LHP Rob Zastryzny
In Abad, the Cubs get a veteran lefty who is having a solid rebound year from last season, and who owns a .171/.205/.268 line against lefties thanks to a decrease in H/9 and HR/9. Abad comes with a year of control after 2016, which will make acquiring a tad more expensive in terms of prospects. The Twins would get a near Major League ready OF who knows how to get on base, while adding outfield depth to a pitching heavy farm system. Zastryzny gives the Twins a starter that eats innings, and could provide some relief from the bullpen.
Proposal #3: A's trade LHP Sean Doolittle to the Cubs in exchange for 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Ryan Williams
Once Doolittle is reinstated from the DL, he will be one of the most sought-after players on the trade market. Doolittle comes with considerable control, as his current contract runs through 2018, with inexpensive team options for 2019 and 2020. Doolitle owns a .152/.170/.304 line paired with an insane 17:1 K/BB against lefties. Doolittle would immediately become one of the top bullpen members for the Cubs, and would instantly be the Cubs premier lefty out of the bullpen. I made the case for keeping Vogelbach in this FanPost, however, his value hasn't been higher at any point in his career, and the Cubs could capitalize on his first half performance by trading him for an impactful reliever. Vogelbach, who has destroyed AAA pitching to the tune of .312/.426/.547 to go along with 15 HRs, is the prototypical American League DH, and would perform well in that role for the A's. Ryan Williams also gives the A's an MLB-ready pitcher who isn't flashy, but knows how to get guys out. Vogelbach and Williams would be a steep price to pay for Doolittle, but Vogelbach doesn't have a spot on the Cubs roster with Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base, and Ryan Williams is a solid prospect, but one who is expendable in a deep Cubs system.
Proposal #4: Yankees trade LHP Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in exchange for 1B Dan Vogelbach and OF Billy McKinney
Like Doolittle, Chapman will be a hot commodity if the Yankees decide to sell. Chapman is not only one of the best lefties in the game, but he is one of the most dominant closers in the game. If we remove an inning in which Chapman allowed the only two home runs he has surrendered this year, his ERA falls to 1.86. (With that inning, it's 2.49.) This year, Chapman is walking two batters less than his career average, and while opposing managers try to avoid the left-on-left matchup with Chapman (only 11 ABs against lefties, vs. 82 ABs against righties), left-handed batters are 2-11 against him, with both of those hits being singles. Chapman's familiarity with the NL Central would be a plus for the Cubs, as he has a track record of performing well against the NL Central as a former member of the Reds. As stated above, Vogelbach would be best suited as a DH for an American League team, and I believe he would mash at Yankee Stadium with the short porch in right. While McKinney has hit for less power than he did last year, he's still a former first round pick with an above average hit tool. McKinney has shown an improved ability to get on base this year, and would profile as a little less speedy version of Brett Gardner in LF. McKinney and Vogelbach sounds expensive for Chapman, but if the Yankees decide that they want to keep Chapman, they can extend a qualifying offer to him, giving the Yankees a compensatory pick after the first round if Chapman leaves.
Proposal #5: Yankees trade LHP Andrew Miller to the Cubs in exchange for OF Jorge Soler, 1B Dan Vogelbach, and RHP Duane Underwood
Man, just typing the names that the Cubs would have to give to acquire Miller hurt. The Cubs have repeatedly stated that Kyle Schwarber won't be traded, nor should he, especially for a relief pitcher. Assuming that Javier Baez and Willson Contreras are out of the picture too, that leaves Jorge Soler as the centerpiece of an Andrew Miller deal. While Soler has shows glimpses of the player that he can become, we have yet to see that player in 2016. Soler hasn't been as good as the Cubs had hoped for this year, but he still holds considerable value. While only 24 and signed through 2021, Soler would be able to take over for Carlos Beltran in RF if he departs via free agency, or he could split time with Brett Gardner in LF and serve as DH for the often injured Alex Rodriguez. Again, Vogelbach profiles well in Yankee Stadium, and you could make a case that Duane Underwood would be the Yankees top pitching prospect if they were to acquire him, even with his recent struggles. This move makes a lot of sense for the Yankees, as it gives them a young cost-controlled power hitter in Soler, a future replacement at DH/1B with Vogelbach, and a potential top of the rotation guy in Underwood. From the Cubs side of things, there may not be a better reliever in baseball than Miller. Miller dominates both righties and lefties, and can be effectively used for more than one inning. Miller's K/9 of 15.8, BB/9 of 1.4, and K/BB of 11.5 would all be career bests, and he comes with two more years of a team-friendly contract that pays him through his age 33 season. Miller sports an ERA of 1.37, a WHIP of .712, and has struck-out more than half of the batters that he's faced. Adding Miller to the Cubs bullpen would obviously be a huge boost for a struggling bullpen, but is he worth the price that it would cost to acquire him?