As the Winter Meetings came to an end last week, all eyes were fixated on Jason Heyward and where he would play baseball in 2016. It was rumored early Friday that the decision was down to the the Nationals, Cardinals, and Cubs.
As we all know by now, Heyward is coming to Wrigleyville!
We have been all over the Jason Heyward signing bandwagon since the get-go here at CubsChat. Signing him was one of our 3 big predictions for the Winter Meetings, and bringing in Jason Heyward almost completes a perfect offseason for the Chicago Cubs in my book. Almost.
I say almost because the Chicago Cubs are also seeking out a potential front-line, cost-controlled starting pitcher. Shelby Miller was heavily rumored to be on the radar, but the egregious asking price of the Braves was never going to be met by the Cubs front office, thankfully.
Another option for the Chicago Cubs that has been the topic of water-cooler conversation has been the Cleveland Indians controllable starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. We have examined potential trade options between the Cubs and Indians here, and we still think that may be the direction the Cubs go. One option that has not been discussed many places is the match between the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies for the services of Jonathan Gray.
For anyone who doesn’t remember, the Cubs were rumored to covet Jonathan Gray during the draft selection process in 2013. More than a few analysts believed that Gray may go to the Chicago Cubs with their 2nd overall selection assuming that the recently traded Mark Appel was drafted first. As we know, Appel went first overall to the Astros and the Cubs would select the slugging 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant with the 2nd overall selection.
It wasn’t a surprise to Cubs fans that understands our front office’s views on how they value draft picks.(the best collegiate hitter being the safest selections when available) However, for people who were not looped into the organization, they questioned if the Cubs should have selected Jonathan Gray instead.
One pick later the Colorado Rockies selected the flame-throwing righty Jonathan Gray with the 3rd overall selection. Similar to Bryant’s trajectory, Gray was able to earn his way to the big-league club last season and started 9 games for the Rockies. As a rookie, he delivered 8.85 K’s per 9, 3.16 BB/9 and a 3.63 FIP to go with a 3.84 xFIP. All very nice numbers, especially for a rookie playing in Coors Field.
The Rockies also made a move midseason that unloaded shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays. In that move the Rockies received Jose Reyes and 3 pitching prospects: Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, and Jesus Tinoco. Both Hoffman and Castro rank as top 10 prospects in the Rockies organization.
That midseason trade last year that seemed inconsequential to the Cubs at the time may now present a unique opportunity for Chicago. With what has become a surplus of pitching in the Rockies organization, Jonathan Gray may be available as a trade acquisition target as Jeff Bridich indicated he would be open to moving anyone in the right deal, stating “I am open to anything, I mean it”.
The Rockies have SS Brendan Rodgers as their number 3 overall prospect after being selected in last seasons MLB draft, so SS is not necessarily a position they are needing to fill with controllable talent.(though one could argue you can never have enough middle-infield prospects). Where the Rockies system and team could use a little more help at is corner-outfield and 1st base controllable-hitting talent.
The Rockies number 2 prospect David Dahl, has battled a couple injuries on his ascent to the big leagues, and still has plenty to work on with his approach before truly being viewed as a viable candidate to take over the regular role at the corner outfield spot in Coors Field.
Fortunately for the Cubs, I think we may have some players that fit in nicely for the Rockies.
Here’s a trade that may make sense both ways:
Rockies acquire: Dan Vogelbach, Billy McKinney, Justin Steele
Cubs acquire: Jonathan Gray
In this move the Rockies acquire a player in Vogelbach that very likely could be the team’s first baseman by July of 2016. At AA-Tennessee, Vogelbach showed his elite approach with a OBP of .403 while walking over 18% of his at bats. His power didn’t play up as well as some had hoped, however I have little doubt his power stroke to right will play nicely in Coors Field. He could likely play an incremental role at 1st base for the Rockies over the next 6 seasons.
They also acquire near-ready top 100 prospect Billy McKinney . McKinney reached AA at just 20 years old last season and provides the Rockies with a likely corner outfielder from the left-side of the plate which could help the Rockies then move OF Carlos Gonzalez in a deal to bring back a potential replacement for Gray. McKinney doesn’t have the same type of power like as Gonzalez, but like Vogelbach, he has one of the top approaches in all of the minor leagues.
Between two High-A ball and AA last year, McKinney had a terrific contact rate while only striking out 12.8% of the time to go along with a walk rate of 11.2%. Coors Field is a place that can help boost McKinney’s power numbers a bit, and at 21 he both he and Dan Vogelbach would help improve the approach for a team that was middle of the road last season in OBP, ranking 8th in the NL.
Justin Steele was one of the Cubs overslot picks in the 2014 draft. He had a solid season last year as he struck out nearly 8.5 per 9 innings and walking only 3.3 per 9. At 20, the lefty could make take a big leap this season in high-A ball and projects to be a mid-rotation starter. Steele is a solid prospect as indicated by his ratings pictured below:
This is a sizable package for Gray and provides both quantity and quality back to the Rockies. Make no mistake, however, Jonathan Gray would be worth it.
The 28th overall ranked prospect, Gray has now proven he has the ability to get major league hitters out.
Additionally, Gray also comes with 6 years of control. This gives the Cubs 2 seasons with both Arrieta and Gray in the rotation before Arrieta is up for free agency which would allow Gray to grow into the frontline starter to take over for Arrieta should the Cubs and Arrieta not come to an extension.
With a rotation of Arrieta, Lester, Lackey, Gray and either Hendricks or Hammel, the Cubs are not just set up for a World Series run this season, but set up for the long term as well as Gray projects to be a frontline starter as he continues to hone his elite skill set.
The Cubs are seeking out a cost-controlled, potential frontline starter as they try to hedge against a likely mammoth contract Arrieta will be staring at after 2017. With Jonathan Gray, they may have a rare opportunity to acquire one without letting go of any current Major League players.