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Who is off-limits in the Cubs pipeline in 2020?

Which Cubs prospects should they not trade under any circumstances this year?

Miguel Amaya batting during an Arizona Fall League game, September 2019
Photo by Buck Davidson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

If baseball begins in 2020, a rather necessary question will need to be asked, eventually: Is the season likely to be played to a standard conclusion? That isn't a "wish" or "hope" sort of a question. That is a question with an answer likely in the percentage range. For instance, if the season gets going, and teams commence trade discussions, what will be the likelihood of the post-season running to a conclusion with a champion? Eighty percent? Thirty percent? All in all, it would become another piece in the debate of whether a team should execute a trade or not.

Prospects are potential future low-cost options. If you're still thinking owners are normally interested in spending on their team with no concern on money being spent, I wonder what headlines and articles you've been reading the last four months. Executives are constantly on the prowl for low-cost long-term assets, whether hitters or pitchers. If the season revs up, among the concepts that will intrigue me is if prospects are more or less likely than usual to get dealt.

The Cubs have four players that qualify as prospects that are in the "Top 100" range. We've all seen a bit of Nico Hoerner. Catcher Miguel Amaya was getting a bit of a look in Mesa. Left-handed pitcher Brailyn Marquez and outfielder Brennen Davis are somewhat less familiar. Any trade that would involve any of those four players for a short-term asset would be a bit controversial. All have potential long-term careers percolating.

Nonetheless, those four are where any Cubs trade for a quality rental would begin. Teams are after the best available return, and as the Cubs would seek high-end youth if trading any veterans, so would other teams. Davis, Marquez, Amaya, and Hoerner blend current value and future value as well as anyone on the taxi squad level, even with Hoerner likely to break camp.

A fictional math equation would put the "current value" of any incoming players on one side of the equation, with the future value of the prospects on the other side. Many of us are hindered on one side of said equation or the other. Complete knowledge of future value of prospects is hypothetical, as is complete knowledge of how a new player will respond in new environs. Nonetheless, that's what's being estimated when the important aspect of assessing a trade happens.

2020 adds the third level of uncertainty, guessing if the season will be completed. It's really difficult to imagine any payoff of any exchange being useful to the team receiving a rental for a quality prospect if the season is scrubbed two weeks later. Any win total seems rather meaningless if likely.useful future pieces are surrendered in a season with no post-season.

The Cubs coughed up Gleyber Torres for a (rather large) five percent likelihood increase (from 20 to 20 percent) of winning the World Series in 2016. Any acquisition that could bump a title chance by as little as two percent likely fetches quality in return. That return is unlikely to be refunded if the season doesn't reach completion.

One criticism I heard of the Cubs’ plan for this cycle was having only 50 players on a list that could have had 60 players. Since then, Hernan Perez has been added, making the list 51/60ths full. On the other extreme, the Mets lost reliever Jacob Rhame to the Angels when the New York side had to surrender a player on their 60-man roster when they added a name (Ryley Gilliam) to a previously full list. I'd have to be a bit more confident than I am to surrender talent for this (at best) partial season. No, Rhame isn't a likely major contributor, but I'd prefer the Cubs to remain a decent amount under 60, so as to limit the likelihood of losing future value for little or no value.

I've heard that any player "added in trade" will have to come from the 60-man list. Such to the extent that is accurate, it makes even more sense to stay well below the 60-man limit. Unless a team actually is playing absurdly good baseball out of the gate, taking advantage of the rules to add future talent seems a more useful strategy. I'm not interested in losing any of the Cubs Top 20 prospects unless they're leading the division, and COVID numbers are under control. 2021 will be a more normal season, hopefully.