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The Cubs made some ‘lowest common denominator’ trades last month

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What does that phrase mean? Come inside, dear reader, and I will explain.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a language guy. Many writers are, I suppose. However, getting the nuance of language includes a bit of desire for some of me to “invent” terms, and have them take hold. After all, many situational circumstances don’t have an acceptable term. With that as a backdrop, today, I attempt to coin a term. Today’s topic is Lowest Common Denominator trades.

Baseball is a bit renowned for its trades. Most fans seem to have a “general manger’s hat.” They think they can out-think people paid to make decisions on a daily basis. As I’ve seen a few trades through the years that made very little sense, perhaps a few season-ticket holders are better at deal-making the executives.

Most trades are about the pursuing team having “a specific player” they want.

First GM: “I’m asking about Richardson. Is he available?”
Second GM: “What are you offering?”
First GM: “Williams, Santana, and Gregory.”
Second GM: “So, a guy with an astronomical ERA, a guy that can’t stay healthy, and a guy with a bad contract? I’d rather have Mitchell and Nolan instead.”
First GM: “But, Mitchell’s our best prospect. And.......”

And someone hangs up. Later they try again. Something happens, eventually. Or it doesn’t.

***

I coined a term in 2016 regarding the Aroldis Chapman trade. When the Cubs sent Gleyber Torres and three others for the left-handed reliever in 2016, I called it an “uber trade.” Wins above values wouldn’t have anything to do with long-term assessments.

If the Cubs were to hoist the big trophy in 2016, as they did, the Chapman trade would be considered a rousing success. Anything else? Not so much.

Since the Cubs won, Torres can be a third-time-around Hall of Famer, and Cubs fans will claim victory on the trade. However, if the Indians score in the ninth before the rain? Different.

***

Lowest common denominator trades are different. They’re probably a useful tool if they are being used “in isolation.” (Yeah, I’ll explain that. In a bit.)

Much of the talk of the last ten months or so revolves around how “bad” the Cubs pipeline is. As if calling it “bad” proves a point, or fixes something. It does neither. Nor is it a necessarily accurate statement. The Cubs pipeline is not very top-heavy. Miguel Amaya and Alex Lange likely are the main pieces front offices are asking about. As Theo Epstein likely got tired of fielding questions about them, he created a new wheel.

My sense is that he made a list. In effect, “These are 40 prospects I would be willing to trade.” No Amaya. No Lange or Matt Swarmer. Other players. Lesser lights. And, this July, it seemed to work.

***

Another problem with rolling with terms like “good” or “bad” systems is that all systems have quality. This is about unavoidable. The level of baseball being played in college across the country is quite good. Every team gets a pick in the top 33 or so, every year now. The draft is generally wired through the first four rounds, and the falloff after the top four rounds seems to get smaller every year.

Kids at colleges and universities have coaches who are normally good at recruiting, development, or both. Pitching coaches are sought qualities. If you were to track a minor league team (pick a level) for a few weeks, you’d probably come away with a favorite or five from any affiliate. Pro coaches are very good, as well. To presume that a full season squad in any pipeline is void of talent is about inconceivable.

That doesn’t mean every player in every affiliate is a feature piece. Which is where LCD trading comes in.

A few people were saying: “The Cubs should trade for Chris Archer.” Putting aside the player and his value, the Rays have a very deep system. No, deeper than that. When I say that the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays affiliate) tend to smoke the Cubs, it likely means nothing to you. Which is cool. The same happens in the Double-A level with the Montgomery Biscuits.

Quite simply, the Rays system has little reason to think that Ricky Tyler Thomas (who was the player that brought over Jesse Chavez) would have upgraded their system very much. On the other hand, the Rangers thought that Thomas would make the Hickory Crawdads a better squad. The key to LCD trading is matching the pieces in the pipeline you’d be willing to forfeit, with a teams considering that player an upgrade.

***

This July, the relievers were about 16 deep for trading, give or take. The top few were going to be similar on a list for any pursuer. However, arms six through twelve were awfully alike. The same with numbers 13 through 16, or whatever.

As the trades bogged down a week before the deadline, the Cubs likely assessed which teams likely had relievers they’d really like to trade. And what they’d be willing to surrender to get those names. Instead of parting with players being counted on heavily in future years, they likely put together a list, and ran the names by execs looking to acquire talent before the deadline. The Rangers’ Jon Daniels bit.

Perhaps he could have waited until the last minute, and in doing so, gotten more for Chavez. However, Thomas worked for him, and the trade was finalized. Meanwhile, other teams were trading “top ten talent” for rentals. Which is adorable, if it works. Which it might. But, likely, not.

With the names already discussed, the Hamels trade was even easier to accomplish. The Rangers already had an interest in Rollie Lacy, and likely knew he might be avail;able.

The Brandon Kintzler-for-Jhon Romero trade was a gift. Romero had a spectacular season in and below South Bend last season. He ran into some turbulence this time in Myrtle Beach, but was lights out against the Potomac Nationals in two tries. Again, a piece added without adjusting the Top 30 Prospects list.

***

The LCD trade worked quite well for the Cubs in July 2018. In all likelihood, because nobody else was trolling with those types of trades. The Cubs system isn’t bad. It’s rather deep, but it lacks top-side. That’s what gets a pipeline appreciation.

By adding Nico Hoerner, Cole Roederer, Jimmy Herron and others, the offensive vacuum will soon be fixed. Those are the players teams will want next July, if they perform well. Other executives, seeing he success the Cubs had with lowest common denominator trades this season, might try them out next season more. Which will make them less effective, if everyone is running the same gimmick. It’s nice to be in front of the curve.

Do you buy the premise of the LCD trade? Do you have a better term? Do you have a favorite trade of the three, accounting for the return received, and lack of high-end quality surrendered? Like it or not, you’ve now learned a term I will refer to later. If nobody else takes up lowest common denominator trades, they will work well into the future. If they are mimicked, they must have been a decent idea.

Poll

Which LCD trade did you prefer?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Thomas for Chavez
    (40 votes)
  • 36%
    Lacy/Butler for Hamels
    (177 votes)
  • 9%
    Romero for Kintzler
    (45 votes)
  • 1%
    They were all bad
    (9 votes)
  • 42%
    They were all good
    (202 votes)
  • 1%
    They weren’t LCD trades
    (7 votes)
480 votes total Vote Now