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A Cubs trade thought exercise: Pedro Strop

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Would you trade one of the Cubs’ more reliable relievers to help bolster the farm system?

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

A few weeks back, I started an article about fear. It started well, but never was completed. Baseball fans tend to fear the unknown. In baseball, the unknown can be frightening, but the familiar is okay. Pedro Strop is the centerpiece of my fake trade rumor.

Strop is the Cubs‘ all-time post-season pitching appearance leader with 19. He’s been largely solid in his appearances as a Cub, both in the regular season and in October. My primary gripe with him was when he wrecked his car in the Dominican Republic shortly after Oscar Taveras had done the same. Despite his value to the Cubs through the years, his success gets disregarded by some. In part, because he wears his hat crooked. No, this trade idea won’t be popular.

The starting point for this exercise is that relievers are notoriously streaky and fluky. A reliever is of value, until he hits a cold spell. My best 2018 case for that has been Wilmer Font. He went from “going to replace Kenley Jansen as the Dodgers closer” to “DFA’d twice” in a month and a half.

As Strop approaches 300 total innings for the club, he’s having his best season. His yearly ERA for the Cubs has been obscenely regular. Never higher than 2.91 or lower than 2.21 in a complete season. His 2018 ERA currently stands at 1.35.

If the success would continue forever, Strop would be a Cubs reliever until he was 80. Or, at least, until his contract lapses after 2019. Which is where the discussion goes next.

***

The Cubs bullpen for 2019 could, if players stay healthy, look similar to this year’s version. Brandon Morrow, Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards, Steve Cishek, and Mike Montgomery figure to be back. Justin Wilson’s contract lapses, and nobody’s sure what’s up with Eddie Butler’s health.

Trading Strop wouldn’t be remotely welcomed. He’s a popular guy in the clubhouse, and has been very successful. All are reasons to retain the 6-1 righthander from San Cristobal. As much sense as it makes to keep him, that is what makes him an appealing trade piece, as well.

Next year’s pitching staff figures to add Drew Smyly in some form or fashion. Other than that, it figures to be similar in the rotation as well, be that good or bad. Relievers can often be added at low-cost in the off-season. Anything here can be quickly cast aside if injuries mount. However, the Cubs offensive pipeline depth is nowhere near as desired. A solid looking outfielder or third baseman would perk up the pipeline nicely.

***

My backstory on this trade is a fake trade idea I had last season. The metrics aligned with what eventually happened, rather nicely. The Cubs were struggling well into July, Over the All-Star Break, they added Jose Quintana, and had a Maddon-traditional strong August and September. However, in July, the club was teetering.

My idea was to trade Wade Davis to the Washington Nationals. The Nats needed relief help, and had two rather interesting outfield prospects in Juan Soto and Victor Robles. My thought was, if the Cubs could shake either outfielder with an and-one, trading Davis made sense. Once the Cubs added Quintana and started playing well, the logic for the trade went away, and Robles was called up. (This week, Soto homered in his first MLB start.)

If the Cubs were to have traded Davis in a swap to obtain either outfielder, their pipeline would look better than it does now. And, they likely wouldn’t have reached the 2017 post-season.

However, they would have a cost-controlled asset into the future. Both Soto and Robles would figure to be valued on the field or as trade assets. Once fans got over their fear of the unknown.

***

Trading Strop, like in my Davis example, wouldn’t be a dump. To trade him, I would expect the Cubs to get proper value in return. Of course, my thought of “proper value” and others will greatly differ.

Strop as far as a “Wins Above” value the next two seasons wouldn’t figure to exceed 2 WAR, combined. If retained through the entirety, he could possibly add another 10 or 11 postseason relief appearances, depending upon club success, which he would or could add to. However, as with any reliever, he could turn into a pumpkin at any moment.

When dealing with trades, “present value” for “future value” is a tricky beast. Toss in the “familiarity component”, and trading a known quantity looks to be a semi-tank. However, getting value at a profit isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Acquired with Jake Arrieta in the Scott Feldman trade, Strop’s acquisition was among the best trades in club history. From my perspective, getting value from him as he leaves would be better than watching his numbers balloon while in a Cubs uniform. The key would be finding a couple of teams that might truly value his level of production.

Fortunately, I have two teams in mind. Both would have reasons to add Strop. Adding more options might increase the fake trade value, as well. Better matches may exist than my idea.

While fans like to talk about the Cubs “window of opportunity”, that concept is largely contrived. While the National League Central Division is a tough one, if the Cubs made decisions to that extent, they could remain competitive for 20 more seasons. The Cleveland Indians, however, have a valid competitive window. Francisco Lindor is a free agent in 2022, and the Tribe will have a very hard time rebuilding without him.

While Cleveland leads the American League Central, their bullpen has been hideous. Not just one or two pitchers, but many of them. Neil Ramirez is on their roster, and sports an ERA north of seven. Adding Strop would help Cleveland in 2018 and 2019. Presumably, if he doesn’t pumpkin. Which happens without a press briefing.

The Indians would very possibly surrender value to add Strop.

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The defending champs from Houston have had an occasionally leaky bullpen, as well. Their struggles aren’t to the same extent as Cleveland’s, but a team that could go back-to-back might be willing to cough up some long-term value, as well. Nonetheless, I will focus on Cleveland.

A look at the Top 30 prospects for the Indians shows two unlikely fits as at the top. Francisco Mejia figures to be their starting catcher soon, and Tristan McKenzie will be in their rotation at some point. Both are ranked too highly to be dealt for a set-up reliever.

Which is where the look really starts. The next two on the list are a pair of bats. Bobby Bradley is a lefty-hitting first baseman. His lead tool appears to be his power. He’s struggled in Double-A this year, but that isn’t the main concern. He’s limited to first base and left field, and doesn’t seem particularly adept at either.

Dropping to the fourth prospect, I see Nolan Jones. A second-round choice in 2016 out of high school in Philadelphia, he was off the board before the Cubs drafted that season. Jones has already reached full-season ball, and has a respectable .731 OPS in a pitcher’s league. He’s almost two years younger than the standard pitcher he’s facing.

Adding Jones would add a top-three hitting option to the pipeline, along with Miguel Amaya and Aramis Ademan. Quite a few fans would want a larger, more certain headliner than “a third baseman in A-Ball” for Strop, but Jones is the eighth-ranked third base prospect per MLB.com.

Even I don’t think Jones-for-Strop works straight-up. The Cubs should still get “a bit more” than Jones. The Cubs should get a realistic and-one in addition. Perhaps a lower-level prospect (upside over proximity to MLB) or a seven-figure international bonus signing amount. (Adding international money would necessarily postpone any trade until July 2.)

If nobody is willing to match with that level of quality, then the team should roll with Strop. However, as July looms and rolls, contending teams will want to upgrade their bullpens. Jones would serve as a possible replacement at third if Kris Bryant goes elsewhere eventually, and whatever the and-one would be could be a reasonably useful lottery ticket.

***

Strop will, eventually, be of limited further use. Whoever has him at that point gets no more benefit from him. With relievers being so very hot-and-cold historically, adding a potential starter in Jones seems a reasonable start. As a prospect, Jones is a question mark. Which breeds fear. However, as we now know, nothing much is a certainty in baseball.

The Cubs bullpen appears strong enough to withstand the trade of Strop, if the return seems appropriate. If the rotation continues to misfire, Strop won’t solve that problem. With the and-one of a viable lottery ticket piece or a seven-figure bump to international spending, the long-term value begins to outweigh the short-term concern for me.

I remain a “look to the future” type. The Cubs would likely benefit over a longer period of time by adding Jones-plus for Strop. When unfamiliar talent is added, baseball fans get afraid. When familiar players are added, many fans are usually pacified. Unless the players misfire. Which is when hostility reigns. Which also applies when a previously useful reliever goes rogue.