I enjoy putting together fake trade ideas. It forces me to assess other organizations, and their potential assets. If I’m doing my homework properly, I’m executing an idea that’s logical for both sides, not one that’s a slam-dunk for the Cubs. I try to assess needs and mindsets on both sides, and if I come relatively close, you might learn something for coming along for the ride. If the Cubs are trading from the MLB roster this off-season, trading from strength makes the most sense.
Regardless what the Cubs’ needs are, their strength seems to be “developing relief pitchers.” Many of the relievers summoned from Triple-A Iowa did rather well in 2021, especially if the back end of the bullpen was locked down, as was the case through most of July. In August and September, it was audition time, like at a community theater. Plugging in Codi Heuer as a leverage guy late was hit-or-miss, but being a useful piece in the future doesn’t require him being a late-inning guy.
Heuer and Rowan Wick probably represent the most-likely trade assets from the off-season bullpen. Some contending teams had ghastly bullpens. For today, my first question is rather simple. Would Rowan Wick upgrade the Phillies bullpen? No, he wouldn’t eliminate the 32 blown saves Phillies fans endured as they faded from contention. He would help, as a great many of the Philadelphia relievers chipped in on the incompetence.
If the Phillies aggressively spend, or make a move, to acquire Craig Kimbrel, this largely goes by the boards. A decent chunk of this article hinges on Kimbrel wanting to return to the friendly environs of Tommy Hottovy, David Ross, and Craig Breslow. If that doesn’t happen, for one reason or another, this trade idea seems less likely/logical. However, if the White Sox decline Kimbrel’s option, and he has interest in returning to the North Side, this seems at least somewhat plausible.
Among Phillies relievers, closer Hector Neris is a free agent. So is Archie Bradley. So is Ian Kennedy. Their returning relievers with over 30 innings of work and an ERA in 2021 of under five are Jose Alvarado, Sam Coonrod, and Connor Brogdon. Whether they add a top-end closer or not, their bullpen looks problematic, especially for an alleged contender.
Rowan Wick would provide the Phillies longer-term cost control than some other options. He has injury flags, whether red or yellow. The Cubs wouldn’t be able to exact a huge return for Wick, but if the Cubs current development strength is going to be relievers, trading relievers it should be. Trading away relievers, with more ready to be sprung soon, is a strategy that might be useful. Depending, of course, on the return. Trading Wick before the November/December deadlines would also create a roster spot on the 40-man roster for another player to be retained, potentially another reliever, who could be temporarily housed in Des Moines in April and May.
And, yes, I’ve heard you howling. Per Fangraphs, the Phillies have the 27th-best pipeline. As such, their available pieces are fewer and possibly not as good as other teams’. Their gaping bullpen wounds seem critical enough to explore, regardless their ranking. Especially if developing a bullpen is possible in an offseason. (I imagine Jed Hoyer has the cell numbers of Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera, as well.)
Now, to the Phillies Fangraphs list. As Wick is a non-elite reliever, I ignore the top seven names on principle. Rowan Wick isn’t fetching a major piece from any pipeline. (Tepera didn’t haul a major piece from the White Sox in July, either.) He’s not bringing back Bryson Stott or Andrew Painter, nor should he. I cruise well down the list looking for help in the Cubs most glaring pipeline concern, starting pitching. Particularly recently-signed starting pitcher options, as the Cubs received (in the Tepera swap) from the Sox in Bailey Horn. Whoever I settle on will be a newish name to me, which is part of the joy of the process. I immediately minimize, for this article’s purpose, anyone signed in 2019 or before.
The first name that intrigues me is 2020 infield prospect Casey Martin. While I strongly doubt “Martin for Wick” is the trade, he’d serve as a very reasonable stand-in. If the Cubs aren’t getting someone in the 40+ (per Fangraphs) range, there’s no point in trading Wick in the first place. Martin, who I’m familiar with as an offense-first infielder (and has struggled, a bit as a pro, early) with speed from my draft looks, he’s a starting point. But an unlikely ending point.
“No. Not Martin,” would be the response I’d expect. Nonetheless, haggling in that range is rather important. “Something in the range of Martin, but not specifically Martin” is a tolerable and expected response. Since Martin-ish, but not Martin is somewhat the premise, who would be tolerable, if not Martin?
Yhoswar Garcia is a 2020 internationally signed outfielder who reached Low-A in 2021. He scuffled some, missing much of the season due to injury. He was well below league average age. Garcia, with years to go before Rule 5 Draft consideration, would be possible.
Micah Ottenbreit is where the real negotiating kicks in. A fourth-round pick from Trenton, Michigan High School in 2021, the 6-4 right-hander is exactly the type of arm the Cubs ought to be looking for. At best, if he’s the guy, he gets plugged into a relatively young Myrtle Beach rotation. If not, he provides depth in Mesa, as the Cubs try to roster-manipulate into a second team in the 2022 Arizona Compound League. A low-90s guy already, with a change/curve mix, Ottenbreit is exactly the type of return the Cubs ought to be looking for, if trading a reliever. A cold-weather potential starting pitcher, with years of low-rent development seems apt.
Dominican League outfielder Yemal Flores struggled a bit in his first go-around in the DSL, but his OPS was close (.623) to the league OPS average (.682). Flores can run a bit (7/8 in steals), has some power (two homers) and isn’t allergic to walks (21 walks to 50 strikeouts). The Phillies streamed some late DSL games, so watching him on video is possible. Flores is far from ideal, but he’s on the list.
The last name I’ll mention here is purely because the player’s name and position. Dominick Pipkin was a 2018 Phillies draft choice from Pinole Valley High School in California. Rule 5 Draft eligible in December 2022, the Cubs would have at least 12 more months to develop him. He could fit in somewhere in the South Bend/Tennessee range, with the Advanced-A stop making sense early.
Not only does Pipkin fill a bigger system need than Wick might if the burgeoning bullpen development continues, he also reminded me of my favorite “one-hit wonder” musician. Tony Burrows had four ranking hits on the US charts with four different groups in 1970. He was with Edison Lighthouse (Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes), White Plains (My Baby Loves Lovin’), The Brotherhood of Man (United We Stand), and The Pipkins (Gimme Dat Ding) at, essentially, the same time. The studio singer bounced back in the mid-1970s with “Beach Baby,” while singing with First Class. When I saw Pipkin on the Phillies list, he had to be included in the trade discussion.
What is your favorite Tony Burrows hit?
This poll is closed
Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)
Gimme Dat Ding
United We Stand
My Baby Loves Lovin’
They’re all as bad as the trade proposal (Ought to win the poll.)
My hunch is, Wick for Ottenbreit plus a piece would be reasonable. Some Cubs fans might insist on Mick Abel or something absurd, but we’re talking Rowan Wick. If the Cubs have a top-end reliever returning in his stead, trading Wick makes sense. Having a strength to trade from is useful for continuing success. If the Cubs are going to develop relievers well, trading some before their career is completed (or they get exposed) is one way to improve off of said strength.
Many might want something more MLB-ready, and I get it, much as some might expect a $185 million spending limit for Hoyer from ownership. If the Cubs are trading quality from their bullpen, Wick seems the most logical. The Phillies represent a team that might want a moderate reliever. Ottenbreit-plus for Wick seems in the right range. Dispute this trade idea, or discuss Tony Burrows music below.