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Here’s why teams trade for players like Conor Lillis-White

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A bit more detail on the PTBNL the Cubs received from the Angels and why this matters.

Conor Lillis-White
Asay Photography/Salt Lake Bees

Al noted on Thursday that the Cubs received Conor Lillis-White in exchange from the Angels as the player-to-be-named for Tommy La Stella. As the comments rolled in, I saw a bit of an addition to the article that might help explain the return.

Lillis-White sounds to be the type of lefty who tops out in the very low 90’s, and relies on breaking stuff. Which might not sit well with some of you who’d want “something more exciting.” The starting point on the entire trade is that La Stella, regardless your opinions of him, was likely past-tense, anyway. A decent chunk of La Stella’s value was in the Cubs possession of two starting shortstops. As long as the team had two starters at that position, it was entirely plausible to retain a spare bat for pinch-hitting.

With Addison Russell in limbo at best, the Cubs no longer have two starting shortstops, and La Stella is less useful. He was good enough to keep around, but wasn’t good enough defensively to be a true utility player. As such, despite his popularity, he was likely to be dealt.

When a player is going to be traded anyway, the goal is to find “the best return.” For many, the best return necessarily involves an MLB player. While that may be the case on occasion, few teams were going to trade a value-neutral player for La Stella. Perhaps he could have fetched a “bad contract guy,” or a reliever with ugly MLB numbers. However, those aren’t usually steps along the desired path.

Sometimes, a minor league player is the better option. (Of course, I have no idea who was being discussed. However, if Lillis-White was the selection, that tells a tale.) An early preference in this sort of case would be a recent draft selection. As the World Series is complete, 2018 selections are fair game. Obtaining a recent draft pick would allow the Cubs extra time to develop the player, whoever he is. However, with Lillis-White as the return, La Stella might not have had much perceived open-market value.

Lillis-White is 26 years old, which will rankle some, as well. The reality is, when boxed into a corner, a team is looking for a player who can get an out in a key game. Or, possibly, get on a roll, and be useful for three months. He’s 26, not 50. No, it isn’t very likely he’ll be a leverage reliever through his cost-controlled years. The hope is that he can be a useful reliever for a couple seasons.

As the prior article noted, he’s a 32nd-round draft choice. That puts a bit of a limit on expectations. However, the 2013 pick hasn’t been called up to MLB yet. As such, he slides into the group of Des Moines relievers who could possibly be of use in 2019 or beyond. And, a few Angels fans somewhat miss him.

Here is a good place to note that a decade ago, the Cubs were so desperate for MLB-quality relievers that they not only selected David Patton in the Rule 5 Draft, but he survived the season, albeit with some injury time. Now, Lillis-White is likely about sixth or seventh in the Triple-A bullpen pecking order, despite being more similar to Patton than different. None of us have any idea how Lillis-White’s career with the Cubs will play out. Watch, learn, and be supportive.

If, in that 7-in-100 shot that he’s useful with he parent club, the Cubs will have his rights until he’s in his mid-thirties. While neither of us are fans of those odds, they’re better than the unlikelihood of La Stella getting significant at-bats in 2019 with the Cubs.

The trade is probably “meh.” However, would you have preferred the Cubs added a player like this, or instead, added a cash sum to afford two waiver wire additions? When you trade a popular player, sometimes, other teams won’t cough up much in value.

I’m good with the Cubs and Angels being frequent trade partners. The Halos have an improving system, and the teams see each other often in Arizona. Lillis-White will probably be an afterthought in a few seasons. However, when seeking value in a “surrender value” trade, a live body beats a moderate cash sum, usually. A few Twitter users on the Angels side were happy he avoided selection in the Rule 5 proceedings. The goal is to be better tomorrow than today. The Cubs are a better organization with Lillis-White than without.