Cubs trade deadline: Breaking down potential fits, needs, best targets, trade chips
Let's put the reigning NL Central champs under the deadline microscope
The Cubs have claimed back-to-back NL Central titles, and in most quarters they're the favorites to make it three in a row in 2018. The Brewers, though, figure to have something to say about that, and if the Cubs are going to fend them off and position themselves for a deep playoff run then they may need to be aggressive buyers leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Now let's take a closer look:
It's all about starting pitching for the Cubs. Yu Darvish has ongoing health concerns, and at this point it seems unwise to bank on meaningful contributions from him in the near-term. As well, Tyler Chatwood thanks to his complete lack of command and control hs proved to be an unworthy member of the rotation. At the very least, the Cubs need a rotation depth piece, and they perhaps need a co-ace alongside Jon Lester.
As for the Manny Machado rumors, he's not a good fit on the north side of Chicago. Kris Bryant, once he's healthy, is an MVP candidate entrenched at third base. At shortstop, Addison Russell is enjoying a quality season at the plate, and he's defensively superior to Machado at that particular position. No, starting pitching should be the focus for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Sure, picking up the odd reliever is always on the radar of any contending team. In the Cubs' case, though, adding a starter would allow Mike Montgomery to stick in bullpen, and there's also good relief depth at Triple-A Iowa. On another level, Hoyer recently indicated that a stand-pat approach is possible. It all means the Cubs could be one of the most compelling teams to watch as we head toward the deadline.
Best trade targets
He's a former Cub farmhand, so there's that. He's also perpetually the subject of trade rumors. Archer hasn't pitched at an ace level on an extended basis since 2015, but the stuff and upside is there. He's also signed to a contract that's team-friendly in the extreme (and assuming both club options are exercised, he's locked up through the 2021 season). While the streak's in danger thanks to an abdominal injury, Archer's also notched three straight seasons of at least 200 innings.
He's the prize, assuming the Mets' interim high command decides to deal him. DeGrom's been among the very best starting pitchers in baseball this season, and he's got a strong track record when healthy. Also of note is that he's not eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season, so he fits the Cubs' window for contention. The big question -- beyond whether he'll be dealt -- is whether the diminished Cubs system can come up with a compelling enough offer.
Fulmer's a persistent target of trade rumors, and he's still just 25. He's also not slated for free agency until the offseason of 2022-23. While he's been trending a bit downward since his Rookie of the Year season of 2016, he still throws four pitches for strikes with plus velocity.
At age 34, the lefty Hamels is in decline, but he's still capable of above-average run prevention. He's also shown improved strikeout numbers thus far in 2018. His contract includes a team option for 2018. He's more of a mid-rotation sort at this stage of his career.
The 35-year-old Happ is one of the most heavily rumored named on the market. He's running the best K/BB ratio of his career at present, and he's mostly been on another level since spending time with sinker sensei Ray Searage in Pittsburgh back in 2015. He's in his walk year, so he might come at a prospect price the Cubs can afford.
Lynn would obviously be a depth play as opposed to a peer for Lester at the front end. If the Cubs believe he's ripe for a rebound -- i.e., a return to his long-established pre-2018 form -- then he could be a worthy target. His expiring contract plus his uncharacteristic struggles should lower the asking price.
This would of course be a home run swing and one the Cubs might not be able to pull off. As well, it's not certain to what extent the Mets will be selling off over the next three weeks or so. Syndergaard's been out since late May with an injured finger ligament, and he's no stranger to health woes. That said, he's got perhaps the best stuff of any starting pitcher in the game today, and when healthy he's purveyed ace results. He's also just 25 years of age and under team control through the 2021 season.
Here's where things get tricky. Trades throughout their run of contention have seen the Cubs part ways with the likes of Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Paredes, and Dylan Cease. That plus the graduation of other leading prospects to the big-league roster leave them with one of the weaker farm systems in the game right now. As well, Adbert Alzolay -- who typically might be the center of a trade package -- is out for the remainder of the season with a lat injury, and No. 3 prospect right-hander Oscar De La Cruz was recently hit with an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a masking agent. So the Cubs might need to build offers around a pile of prospects rather than one or two high-profile names. Guys like Jen-Ho Tseng, Alec Mills, Thomas Hatch, D.J. Wilson, and Alex Lange could be in play.
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