I admit my initial reaction to this deal was unkind. I was pretty sure Scott Effross was being set up to close for the Cubs after they dealt David Robertson and Mychal Givens, so when Jeff Passan dropped this bomb I was confused, to say the least:
The New York Yankees are finalizing a deal to acquire right-handed reliever Scott Effross from the Chicago Cubs, sources tell ESPN. Effross, 28, is a rookie with five more years of club control and has been fantastic this season. @JackCurryYES was on it.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 1, 2022
As Al noted in his earlier write up, the return is Hayden Wesneski, who has ties to Cubs assistant pitching coach, Daniel Moskos:
From the department of baseball connections, Hayden Wesneski, who @Ken_Rosenthal says the Yankees are sending to Chicago for Scott Effross, had Cubs assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos as a pitching coach at Double A Somerset last year.— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) August 1, 2022
So let's take a closer look at Effross and Wesneski to see what the Cubs are thinking with this deal. I'll forgive you if you, like me, initially saw the Cubs as the Pirates here in a perpetual rebuild here.
I love how the Cubs have decided they are the Pirates now. Just perpetually rebuilding for some day two, maybe three years from now when they might think about competing.— Sara Sanchez (@BCB_Sara) August 1, 2022
Make no mistake, the Yankees are getting a very good reliever for a long time, but at the end of the day, Scott Effross' ceiling is "potential closer." He's 28 years old with five more years of team control. Closers are certainly nice and I wouldn't have hated watching Effross get a tryout for that position over the last two months of 2022, but he's never thrown more than 79⅓ innings (at High-A, in 2017). He has a four-pitch mix and a funky delivery he partially modeled off of former Cubs reliever Steve Cishek, according to The Athletic:
Effross was once in that position of reaching out to pitchers he only knew by name, trying to figure out the best path to success with his new delivery. Effross recalled reaching out to his former Indiana University teammate, Kyle Schwarber, hoping he could help him connect with Steve Cishek, a veteran side-arming reliever working out of the Cubs bullpen at the time.
“(Cishek) told me to call him and he was super generous with his time,” Effross said. “I picked his brain a little bit and got a foundation for what I wanted to do as a pitcher, at least mentally.”
He's been remarkably effective at limiting hard contact in 2022 despite not generating a ton of whiffs, as you can see from his Statcast card:
And while that profile is compelling, it's also possible that it could fall apart at some point in the next five years. Relievers are generally in the bullpen because they haven't generated the same consistency as their starting counterparts.
The return for Effross is 24-year-old Hayden Wesneski, who FanGraphs listed as the #19 prospect in the Yankees system coming into the 2022 season:
The Yankees either target or seem to know how to develop players with incredible scapular mobility. Wesneski, who was an awkward, low-slot slinger at Sam Houston State, has remade his physique and now has something more akin to a typical starter’s delivery. His upper back almost folds together behind him like a properly-held slice of pizza as his arm circles back, a trait many Yankees pitchers share. Along with the physical transformation has come more velocity. Formerly just a kitchen sink righty, Wesneski is now a kitchen sink righty with a 92-95 mph fastball, and he can peak above that with his four-seamer (he throws the two-seamer more often). He has a firmer, mid-80s breaking ball (we have listed as a cutter) and a slower, low-80s version (slider) that tend to run together in terms of their movement, but both are plus when they’re finishing glove-side. He also has a nearly average changeup. Hitters don’t seem to offer at it consistently, but it has plenty of arm-side movement. The ascendant Wesneski looks like a fifth starter right now, but he’s perhaps in the midst of a continuous upward trend.
Turning a 28-year-old reliever into a 24-year-old potential No. 4 or No. 5 starter is a no-brainer for the Cubs, and I bet you'd like to take a closer look at that 60 grade slider? Me too. It's filthy:
Hayden Wesneski, Sick 82mph Frisbee Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 18, 2022
22" of horizontal break. pic.twitter.com/2hTbO0E9xG
Look, don't get me wrong. Effross has been a nice pitcher for the Cubs. I was more than a little stunned to see him traded at all. But Effross' ceiling looks like it could be Wesneski's floor. Wesneski threw 130⅓ innings between Advanced-A, Double-A and Triple-A in 2021. While he struggled a bit when he initially moved to Double-A, the pace of movement through the Yankees system is impressive. He also seems to have worked out some of those kinks in 2022. He's made 19 starts in 2022 throwing 89⅔ innings to a tune of a 3.51 ERA (although his 4.00 FIP indicates there is some regression coming there). He posted a 22.4 percent strikeout rate and a 7.5 percent walk rate in 2022.
At least one scout described Wesneski as the Yankees' top pitching prospect:
Scout who is assigned to the Yankees' farm on Hayden Wesneski, whom they just traded to Cubs, said he thought Wesneski was their best pitching prospect and a legit starter. Said he might be less risky than Ken Waldichuk.— Brendan Kuty (@BrendanKutyNJ) August 1, 2022
Welcome to the North Side of Chicago, Hayden Wesneski. While I'm sad to see Effross go to the Bronx Bombers, turning a 28-year-old backend reliever into a 24-year-old potential backend starter is a move I love from the Cubs. I don't plan on praising Jed Hoyer a lot over the next few days, but credit where it's due, this is a savvy move by the Cubs front office.