As July continues, I’m resurrecting an article I had already started. Perhaps, it was very close to completion. However, I recycled it into something else. The time wasn’t correct to talk about “standing pat.” Now is the time to talk about standing pat. A number of circumstances have conspired to make rolling with what the Cubs currently have (with minor tinkers) as the best option.
The reasons run the gamut. To start with, the Brewers and Cardinals seem entirely resigned to the Cubs winning the division. Neither club has pulled off a trade to improve itself, though not because they haven’t tried. Will the Brewers flip one of their (for instance) five best prospects to get into a play-in game?
The Brewers bullpen had been a strength, early. Now, it’s about three arms deep. That doesn’t figure to help make up ground. They visit the Dodgers before the trade deadline. Perhaps the Pirates are the best foe in the division. They’re still at least a week out of first place, themselves.
In some seasons, having a lead is a reason to get aggressive in the trade market. However, the Cubs don’t have many top-end pieces to trade. In a recent 20/80 prospect update, the only Cubs prospect listed was Miguel Amaya. Which doesn’t mean the pipeline is barren. That means it isn’t very top-heavy. Teams often like to trade for top-heavy prospects.
In some circumstances, trading Amaya (or pitching prospect Alex Lange) might make sense. However, the prospects available and being peddled aren’t that much. The Padres coaxed Francisco Mejia from Cleveland. However, that trade had extenuating circumstances both ways. Mejia, a touted catching prospect, had lost a bit of luster in the eyes of some scouts. Also, the Indians received two cost-controlled relievers for Mejia.
Aroldis Chapman isn’t available. Not is Pedro Martinez circa 1999.
Another nut to crack is the Cubs roster situation. Their 40-man roster sits at 39 as of Monday morning. Eddie Butler’s rehab stint concludes in about a week. After that, he has to be placed on the 25-man roster, or released. Regardless how you shuffle the tiles, the 25- and 40-man rosters are both getting mildly congested.
Which is where the upcoming trade is likely to come from. And, yes, there will be a trade. If the Cubs were to trade two of Cory Mazzoni, Rob Zastryzny, and Mark Zagunis, they could clear two 40-man spots. Which would temporarily make space for Butler, who would also make a degree of sense as a trade piece.
Part of the difficulty in making a trade this time around is the very legitimate chance that the incoming rental might not perform as well as the waiver wire addition-type he replaces. People like to think that an addition of a Zach Britton would guarantee the numbers that Britton has provided with the Orioles. It doesn’t work that way.
My thought is this: Theo Epstein already knows who he wants to trade. More importantly, he likely has a list of about 50 names he won’t trade. If a team is willing to flip a better than average player for a minor league player not on the list of 50, the trade becomes easy.
The Cubs system has depth. Epstein knows that he’ll have a better idea on the future value of a Cory Abbott or Keegan Thompson in twelve months. He’d likely rather wait that long to part with a Top 20 system prospect. However, if a team is willing to trade current value for a Brian Glowicki or a Christian Donahue, fire up the fax machine.
Another option is this. If the Cubs trade someone (Zagunis or Mazzoni, perhaps) on the 40-man for an “unusual return” (minor league prospect or international spending space, for instance), they can create a roster spot. That makes room for Butler, and allows wiggle room for another trade this month. After all, is there a valid reason to part with James Norwood, Dillon Maples, or Duane Underwood Jr.? The latter makes sense as a September starter.
A final data point is Kyle Ryan. The former Tigers reliever is doing well in Iowa, and needs to be rostered by shortly after the season ends to retain him. A lefthander, he might be better than any lefty reliever the Cubs could add between now and the end of August. Plugging Ryan onto the 25-man in late August allows him to live-audition, and saves his “option season” until 2019.
The Cubs will make some changes between now and September 1. One figures to be to add a pinch-runner type, which is often in vogue down the stretch. The pitchers from Des Moines have done well enough to cast a shadow of doubt if the one to be eventually purged isn’t better than the player he creates room for, by leaving.
The Cubs are in good shape, despite what we know. Few teams have rotations going seven or eight solid innings every night. Bullpens are all being worked rather heavily. If the Cubs can grasp the top record in the league, they likely miss a so-called ace in Game 1 come October.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, minor adjustments make the most sense this week. If a minor trade adds an improvement for the pitching staff, that would be tough to argue against. However, the lack of “impact” pieces being shopped makes a major transaction unlikely. And undesirable.
Welcome to Team Stand Pat. It’s not an ideal argument. However, considering the available options, it might be better than trading more than necessary for a piece that isn’t that much of an improvement, anyway.