The trade deadline is approaching, and one of the teams most likely to make some deals are the Chicago Cubs. General manager Theo Epstein has pitching to offer and will be looking to grab good prospects. Ideally he’d like those close to major league ready, but he certainly wants to add to the farm system so that when the team is ready to compete they can field a good number of homegrown players as well as having some blue chip type trading assets.
While they probably won’t be trading much in the way of their youngsters, there is no doubt Epstein will be listening to all offers -- especially since the market looks to be rather weak in terms of available pitching talent. That might mean the Cubs would consider trading some of their arbitration-eligible arms like James Russell and Travis Wood, and provided the return is good, deals like that aren’t impossible.
So who are the big trade chips for the upcoming deadline?
The most movable asset is probably Matt Garza. The big right handed pitcher has a career 3.90 ERA and someone is going to want him for the pennant run. He’s already proven he can pitch in the American League against the toughest hitters in the game, so any contender could certainly use him. Odds are he won’t go cheap, but since he’s not signed past the end of 2013, he won’t be too expensive either. His recent injury history and his unimpressive numbers so far this year might factor against him, but someone will certainly take the gamble.
That said, the Cubs might well attempt to work out an extension with Garza. He’s got the potential to be staff ace and his price might not be that onerous because of his struggles since coming to Chicago.
No too far below Garza in the desirability column is Scott Feldman, a good but not exceptional pitcher who’s experienced a bit of a career renaissance since coming over to the National League. His 3.05 ERA so far this season will certainly entice someone, possibly an NL team, to at least make an offer. Again, that might make him even more interesting for Epstein, but it’s hard to imagine that based on Feldman’s current season, that his agent will not convince him to try for a big payday in the offseason, especially considering how thin the 2013-14 free agent class looks to be.
A bit less likely to be traded but certainly on the block is Carlos Villanueva. The right hander is signed through 2014 and has pitched well for the team, though the win-loss results may not speak to that. Still at just $5 million per, he’s apt to garner some attention. His 3.80 ERA and 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio make him an attractive option as does the fact he can start or relieve and has been fairly effective in both roles.
As mentioned above, Russell and Wood could also be on the board. However because they are cheap and have been good, Epstein won’t be trading these guys for peanuts. That said they are both highly desirable, especially Russell, as quality relievers are hard to find.
Because of that dearth of relief pitching, the Cubs will attempt to be dealing their most expendable relievers -- Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. Marmol will be hard to move as he’s been routinely dreadful and will cost about $5 million for the half season rental. Gregg on the other hand has been showcasing himself since he took over the closer role. He’s adequate in that role but hardly exciting and probably won’t bring much in terms or real talent back. Still he’s worth more now than he has been through most of his career.
In terms of offense, most of the talent the Cubs would be willing to deal would bring almost nothing in return. Still, Epstein might well want to explore moving Alfonso Soriano, but Soriano has a full no trade cause he’d have to waive in order for the club to trade him. He’s on the downward spiral of his career, but the power is still there and he might well relish the chance to one more time in his career play for a contender. To get anything worthwhile back the Cubs would probably have to eat quite a bit of his salary. Still if they’d do that he could yield a decent prospect or two.
Of course, if the Cubs do trade a lot of their pitching then 2014 might be a very long season for the Northsiders. It’s a trade off, because things could get a lot better not too long after that, especially with new prospects a year or two from being ready and that's one reason that Epstein will be at his phone ready to make a deal.