So the Winter meetings are over and the Diamondbacks, Cubs and the Red Sox have made the biggest moves. We’ve talked about it before, but it may need to be stressed even more now. You don’t win a championship during the Winter. It’s why we play the games. The Winter is the time to build a roster.
So many fans were upset with just the suggestion of putting Soler, Castro and Baez on the rumored trade target list. Castro’s minions were out in full force after the trade was completed for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan. Fans sometimes get blinded to what the plan is when it comes to their favorite player. They just can’t see the forest through the trees.
The signing of Jason Heyward changed the game. The plan is really coming into focus. Not only are fans starting to accept the Castro trade, but they are becoming more accepting in a trade of either Baez or Soler if the right package can be acquired. This may have been the largest shift in fan sentiment for a Cubs fan in history. We are becoming less and less the “lovable losers” and more a team with a target on our back.
The Cubs front office went into the winter with a plan that they shared with everyone. It’s really hard to argue that the team assembled is somehow worse because of trading Castro or signing those aging veterans in Lackey or Zobrist. In fact, the only reason the Cubs could make such moves is because of their depth in the organization. What’s more impressive is that not one of those “core” prospects were dealt and we still have a minor league system rated in the top 10!
The Cubs could very easily stand pat now and wait for Spring Training to begin. Some would prefer that very thing. But word has it that the team isn’t finished yet. They still covet that impact cost controlled arm. They want a guy that may be considered a #3 type right now but has the upside of a #1 over the next few seasons. It gives them much more flexibility as the Arrieta contract comes to an end in 2 years. It also puts less pressure on your farm system to produce it’s very own ace.
If you only look at the 2016 season, then standing pat is obvious. But the Cubs are going for it and have that lead foot slammed down on the gas pedal. In a larger sense it makes sense that they would trade Soler next in a package to get their ace in waiting. This puts Heyward in RF, where his skillset is maximized. It also opens the door for Almora, who many consider the Cubs best defensive outfielder, to take over the CF duties.
The only issue that arises is when you have to consider that Almora probably won’t start the 2016 season in Wrigley. So what are the options? We need to first look at the 40-man roster for an answer. After signing Heyward, the Cubs now have five outfielders. If Soler gets traded and Heyward moved over to RF, we have three possibilities. Matt Szczur would have to top that list simply because he has the most major league experience in CF.
Outside of that the Cubs would need to get creative. The next choice would be the forgotten man Arismendy Alcántara. We still hold out high hopes for him but this may be a case where Alcantara got his big shot in 2015 and it just didn’t pan out. Realistically, his upside now grades out to be a utility guy with some pop off the bench.
The wildcard right now is Javier Baez. We have been told that he will be playing SOME CF this winter n Puerto Rico. Baez is a baseball rat and could probably do a fine job out there, but do you really want to see guys learning the outfield in both LF and CF at the same time? How was this really improving the outfield defense?
After looking at the 40-man roster, you then possibly turn to guys on the roster at Iowa or Tennessee for help. Iowa doesn’t offer you much help. At Tennessee we have Almora that we have already mentioned. Then we see Jacob Hannemann. Hannemann is an intriguing guy but less equipped than Almora is to take over the duties of CF.
So it would seem the next obvious choice would need to come from outside the organization. The two paths would the obvious choice of just signing a free agent or the less obvious choice of making a trade. The free agents that have been linked to the Cubs still on the board are Fowler, Jackson, Span or Parra. All have positives and negatives. The biggest negative is that none are probably willing to sign a one or two year contract. If you have any thoughts of Albert Almora taking over the CF job, all we really need is a stop gap.
If you’re think of a trade candidate, you have two ways to go. You could look for another trade outside of the Soler package and land yourself a more pure CF. A guy like Charlie Blackmon from the Rockies would be ideal. He is said to be on the block. He would be under control through the 2018 season but is start to go through the arbitration process and would he be considered a better defensive CF’er over a guy like Almora?
Just about everybody and their Uncle that follow the Cubs have mentioned the name of Kevin Kiermaier of Tampa Bay. What’s not to love about this kid? He has all the tools! But we seriously doubt Tampa is ready to move him. So let’s just move on.
This leaves us with another choice. We package Soler with other prospects for that impact cost controlled arm AND a stop gap CF. This again points to Tampa as a prime candidate! They have the starting pitching, the rumored closers the Cubs seek and a guy named Mikie Mahtook.
The Cubs could package Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Jacob Hannemann for Jake Odorizzi, Jake McGee and Mikie Mahtook. Losing Soler would hurt but in the bigger plan, you get a better defensive OF, that cost controlled arm you seek as well as a lefty closer or lights out 8th inning set up guy. Mahtook can be your stop gap until Almora is ready and then becomes part of your strong bench in 2017.
Next we have those Cleveland Indians that covet Jorge Soler as much as anybody. With Brantley down, you would think they would be more open to a deal that saw them lose either Salazar (our choice) or Carrasco. To date, this just doesn’t seem to be the case (at least publicly). They seem to really value the staff they have in place. If the Cubs were able to pry away one of those pitchers, they would still need a solution for CF. Worst case scenario, we may see Szczur finally get a fair shot to hold down the fort.
Lastly, another thought about the Heyward signing. I hear many folks more than content to see Heyward just play CF. The thought about how well he would perform out there are mixed. The best words we have heard are that he will be adequate to slightly above average. So we ask you, do you give a guy a contract that is the largest in team history to be adequate? He’s not getting that big money because he has a huge bat. If it’s not his bat, then you give a guy that kind of money because he is one of the most elite defensive players at a given position. That position is RF!
And would the Cubs have even entertained the idea of trading Castro if they didn’t want to keep hope alive that they could land Heyward? We think not. Save all the money and just resign Fowler. Go win your 97 games and “HOPE” for better luck this time in the 2016 playoffs. There has to be a reason the FO felt the 2015 team just had to many holes in order to compete for the ultimate prize.
So there you have it. It’s as clear as mud. One thing is for sure. The Cubs are going for it in 2016 and still retain all their flexibility for the future. We are not ready to crown the Cubs as the next World Series champ but we do like our chances. And that’s all you can really ask for each year. It sure beats the alternative that Cubs fans have spewed for years. “Wait ’till next year.”
Hammer down and slam the gas!!