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Cubs mock trade negotiations: Oakland Athletics

How might the negotiations for Sonny Gray go down?

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

A couple of days ago, we chatted with Bless You Boys to assess Cubs-Tigers trade ideas.

Today, it’s the good folks over at Athletics Nation representing the floundering A’s. Let’s get right to it, even though after the Cubs made the deal with the Tigers for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, they’re not likely in the market for a starting pitcher.

Editor’s note: This discussion began before the deal that sent Jeimer Candelario to the Tigers as part of the Wilson/Avila happened, so an entire section that had Candelario as a potential trade piece for Manaea has been eliminated.

JH: Hey David, it's Jed Hoyer with the Chicago Cubs...


TE: Just kidding: it's Theo.

As you won't be surprised to hear, I'm checking in with you about Sonny. You must be ecstatic that he's put last year's struggles behind him with a lovely season thus far.

Of course, we don't love that he spent most of April nursing that lat strain. Nobody likes to see that. But the results since then speak for themselves, so we'd like to see what kind of price tag you have in mind for us to bring him to Chicago for the next 2.4 seasons.

I was planning to ask you about Sean Doolittle during this conversation as well. Never mind that.

If we want to make this interesting, you can also let me know what kind of package it'd take to pry Sean Manaea loose. We sure do love that guy.

DF: Hi Theo, it's David!


BP: Just kidding, it's Brad.


BB: OK fine, it's Billy.

How's it going, Theo? Must be nice to be this decade's most respected executive. Here's a word of advice - enjoy it while it lasts, and don't let anyone make a movie about you, because you will never live it down.

As far as Sonny goes, he is very clearly the top arm remaining on the market, thanks to your cross-town trade for Quintana. Thus, we've gotten tons of hits on him, and we have high demands and expectations for him. We are looking for a similar package to what you gave up for Quintana — three or four prospects, two of which should be top notch. I'm unsure if your minor league system has the firepower remaining to replicate a deal like that, so to be competitive for Sonny, you may need to deal a young piece or two from your Major League roster.

As far as Manaea goes, we would have to be blown away. He is a huge part of our future, and is more or less Sonny's replacement as our ace. However, almost everyone on our roster is available for the right price. Let me know if you see a fit anywhere, or have an offer.

TE: Wait, does "Fever Pitch" not count?

Sonny is definitely the consensus top arm left on the market...if you don't count two or three other guys anyway.

In all seriousness, we've had our conversations on him in the past and it's great to see him rebound so well this year. More than anything, it's just nice to see him healthy again.

I realize you're probably about to be inundated with offers, so I'll try to make this simple for you. We like Sonny, even with his history of arm injuries. We're willing to pay more for Manaea, even with the possibility that his hip labrum might pop.

Double-A starter RHP Adbert Alzolay is our breakout star this year, working in the mid-90s with a two-plane heater and a couple of 50+ offspeed pitches. He's two months from being a top-50 prospect and he's going to be in our rotation next year. He could come into play in various permutations.

This won't surprise you: I'm not particularly inclined to move pieces off of my Major League roster since the whole point of acquiring another arm is to beef up our playoff roster.

BB: With Matt Chapman looking like a young Josh Donaldson, and Ryon Healy, Matt Olson, and Renato Nunez covering first base long term, we’re pretty much covered at the corners.

One player we do quite like is Ian Happ. I've noticed your Cubs are sort of middle-of-the-pack this year in the home run category. Would you like to add 40 per year to your roster? Khris Davis is available, and he has some of the easiest power you'll ever see. You can slot him into left field, and let Schwarber take a little more time in the minors to get his head back into it. Something along the lines of Gray and Davis for Happ and a couple other pieces could work for us.

TE: I'm not surprised you like Happ. We like him too! There's a reason he made it to the Majors in about as many minor league plate appearances (978) as Nunez has had a Triple-A (941 and counting).

Davis doesn't do much for us. If we had a DH, it'd be a different story.

I think we're going to have one big issue here: after acquiring Quintana, I'm not desperate for a starter like some other times might be in their pursuit of Gray, so it's tough for me to justify putting Happ on the table here. I know Manaea comes with that hip injury risk in addition to recent shoulder, abdominal, and groin injuries on top of whatever other risk we all ascribe to people who throw for a living. I also get that Happ is a miniature Ben Zobrist in the making and that nothing would make Joe happier than having a Swiss Army knife for the rest of his career.

But I like Manaea, doggone it. So what's the general thought on a framework of Manaea+ for Happ? I'd offer to take on some bad money deals of yours, but you've done a nice job purging those from your books.

BB: Adding to Manaea to get Happ doesn’t make much sense for me.

Our main focus is moving Sonny. Is there anything we could add to him to get to Happ and a secondary piece? The only players really bolted down are Manaea, Puk, Chapman, and Barreto.

TE: It probably doesn't make much sense for us to push forward on a Manaea-Happ framework.

So, turning our attention to a deal featuring Gray and Happ, you and I are in a bit of pickle, Bill. See, I can add Verlander if I take on a bunch of cash. Sonny is pitching better than Verlander this year, to be sure, but Verlander (i) costs less, (ii) comes without the lengthy injury history, and (iii) has a much higher floor. Nine months ago, Sonny was coming off of an injury-riddled year with an ERA of 5.69. Gross.

If we're talking a deal with Happ and Gray as the principals, I'd be looking for someone like Jesus Luzardo to come over with Sonny while I'd be willing to throw in a bit part to make it a two-for-two that you can sell to your fan base.

BB: I would think about Luzardo, but I'd rather not move him if I don't have to. Don't get me wrong at all, of course I understand Happ's value - that's why I want to trade for him!

Secondary pieces I like include Isaac Paredes, Mark Zagunis, Aramis Ademan, and Victor Caratini. I'd probably be willing to throw in a bit more if one of the latter two were headed my way.

TE: I have lots of ideas percolating in my brain. Here are some of them:

- Caratini is an MLB-ready catcher with a plus offensive game, including eight homers in half a season at Triple-A. There are maybe, what, one or two of those? Baseball is devoid of quality hitting catching right now and even if Caratini's defensive game is rough around the edges (to be expected with a converted infielder), that makes him a unicorn.

- If we're talking Happ and Caratini on my end, we're talking Manaea (and not Gray) on your end as the principal.

- Ademan has us seriously excited. We knew the glove and athleticism were strong, but he's hitting for good average, good power, and stealing bags while walking a bit and avoiding strikeouts. And he’s 18. He's our #2 prospect right now. Paredes isn't as high, but 18-year-old bats producing in full-season ball are awfully rare.

- One name that I didn't mention earlier should be mentioned now: Double-A 3B Jason Vosler, who could be fine in an outfield corner. You like homers? He's got 15 of 'em this year. You like walks? A 10.6% walk rate. You like lefties without platoon splits? His OPS is a bit higher against southpaws. You like guys who succeed without inflated BABIPs? His is .305. He's really emerged. He's exactly the type of player that would be really exciting for just about any organization...provided that said organization wasn't committed to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Jason Heyward at their corner positions into the next decade. I just don't have a job for the kid despite his gorgeous .269/.370/.466 line.

Here's what I'm thinking, Billy: If I send you Happ and Caratini and Vosler, you send me Manaea, Luzardo, and something else you haven't told me about yet.

This is a bigger trade than either of us probably thought we'd be getting into, but I like Manaea and Luzardo and you need some regulars for next year. This sure seems to make sense.

BB: For us, Caratini would be more luxury than necessity. We really like what Bruce Maxwell has done for us behind the plate. Caratini is going to be an above average regular somewhere, but I'm just not sure we need him.

I think you guys have something special in Ademan. I was hoping we'd be able to snipe him, but it seems as if you (fairly) love him as much as we do. Vosler does interest me, however.

That offer of yours is probably a fair return for Manaea, but I am just incredibly hesitant to move him, as he would be extremely difficult for me to replace. I'd still like to center talks around Gray, and I have a counter-offer.

Sonny Gray, either Jesse Hahn or Dainel Coulombe, and either Dakota Chalmers or Heath Fillmyer for Ian Happ, Jason Vosler and Ryan Williams

You know all about Gray. Righty Jesse Hahn probably won't excite you just by numbers alone, but he has great stuff and solid control. His fastball gets up to 96 with great movement, and his curveball is something special. Starting simply hasn't seemed to work for him, though. He could become a devastating bullpen piece, however, and sharing a bullpen with Wade Davis could certainly help that happen. Daniel Coulombe is a solid bullpen lefty with a silly curveball and a delivery that looks very similar to that of his former teammate Clayton Kershaw. Dakota Chalmers, drafted in the third round in 2015, has incredible stuff as well and could be fantastic if he ever learns to command it. Teaching him that won't be easy, but it would be more than worth it. Fillmyer is a sleeper prospect that some guys like a lot. He's a good makeup guy, with three pitches that project to be at least average, along with average command. Perfect back-end type.

I know you prefer Manaea, and I do too, but it would probably take more than you're willing to give up for him.

TE: Re Maxwell: it's good to dream, right? He does get on base and throw well. No comment re power/age/framing.

Just so Jed and I can have a fun lunch convo tomorrow, what would it take to do Manaea?

BB: If we're moving Manaea, a possibly return to get us thinking would start with Happ, and then something like Adbert Alzolay, Aramis Ademan, and we can haggle a bit from there.

TE: OK, we can get off the Manaea train. That's far too rich for our taste.

BB: I was assuming it would be, which is probably best for both sides long-term.

TE: I mean, what's best for me is you giving me Manaea for $1. That's not happening (right?).

OK, here goes on your Sonny offer:

Gray: we know what he is

Hahn: are you really trying to sell me a guy you just optioned to Triple-A right before his 28th birthday?

Coulombe: he's not bad, but he's not good either - he wouldn't have a Major League job for us right now

Chalmers: are you really trying to sell me a guy who quit two months ago?

Fillmyer: Fillmyer is interesting (and I've got a thing for converts), but I don't love the backup in results at Double-A this year (I'm sure you don't either)

Too bed Daulton Jefferies can’t keep his arm attached.

So here's where we are: we'd do Happ/Vosler/Williams for one of the two packages below. You tell me which one works for you.

Package 1: Gray, Fillmyer, and RHP Grant Holmes

Package 2: Gray, RHP Blake Treinen, and RHP Frankie Montas

We’d like to be the fifth team to try to get Montas to throw strikes without allowing homers.

BB: No, unfortunately we aren't that hard-pressed for cash.

Those deals are both close to alright for me, but I'd rather hang onto both Holmes and Treinen for the time being. My counter:

Gray, Fillmyer, and Montas for Happ, Vosler, and Williams

TE: Close but not quite enough. If you do Gray, Montas, and one of Holmes/Treinen, I'll eat that Axford deal. If you'd rather unload Casilla (rough week for him, eh?), we can talk.

BB: My order of preference, from greatest to least, of those four: Holmes, Treinen, Montas, Fillmyer. I’m fine eating Axford’s money post-DFA since he's only under contract for the remainder of this year, but I would like to move J̶a̶i̶r̶o̶ Santiago Casilla if possible.

TE: I can get behind Gray/Treinen/Montas and I eat Casilla's salary.

BB: That deal might work for me. I would like one or two throw-ins, just veteran relievers you may have taking up space in Triple-A. They don't need to be any good, I just need warm bodies to fill in my bullpen for the rest of this season, before I re-make it in the offseason.

TE: How about David Rollins (Triple-A, threw a couple of innings for the Mariners last year)? That leaves us with the below:

A's Get

2B/OF Ian Happ
3B Jason Vosler
RHP Ryan Williams
LHP David Rollins

Cubs Get

RHP Sonny Gray
RHP Blake Treinen
RHP Santiago Casilla
RHP Frankie Montas

Thank you sir.

BB: Yes.

Full disclosure: I’m not certain that I’d make that deal. I really disliked the pick of Happ in the draft two summers ago, but he has won me over in a big way. I appreciate that the Cubs have more starting-caliber position players than positions, but they have six more years of Happ control. He’s immensely valuable.

Nevertheless, I do think that this is fair value for the Cubs and fills a number of needs, especially considering that both Casilla and Treinen can step right into the bullpen.

So what do you think? Would you make the deal? And even if you wouldn’t, do you agree that it represents fair value?