The City of Broad Shoulders’ Adam Levy and Josh Frydman team up for another COBS Podcast, dissecting the Cubs deadline deals, including the Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano trades, and what other moves might be coming.
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Another year, another starting pitcher fire sale on the north side. For the second consecutive July, the Cubs have managed to trade away two of their best starting pitchers to a contender looking to beef up its rotation in the midst of a pennant race: Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm last season, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza this season.
As evidenced over the past two years, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have a clearcut plan for how they want to rebuild this franchise, and it’s simple: take low-risk, mediocre-reward fliers on decent free agent starters by signing them to one year deals with the hope that Chris Bosio can help turn around their careers before trading them for prospects at the deadline (Maholm and Feldman); trade top of the rotation pitchers with expiring contracts for as much as they can possibly get (Dempster, Garza); trade shitty contracts, compliments of Jim Hendry, for a bag of cracker jacks (Carlos Zambrano, Geovany Soto, Carlos Marmol and hopefully Alfonso Soriano); draft hard-working players with superior leadership qualities and great character (Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who counts here because Jed Hoyer has brought him to all three organizations he has worked for); and stay active in the international market by adding to their loads of bonus money via trades and acquiring top-notch talent (Jorge Soler, Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez).
Of course, sticking to such a rebuild plan isn’t as easy as it sounds; it takes an extraordinary amount of time, patience and baseball intelligence before the dividends begin to pay off. Fortunately, Epstein and Hoyer possess all three (time by ownership’s standards), and they have yet to be fooled by anyone (except maybe Edwin Jackson). The Garza trade is yet another example of their major rebuild plan coming to fruition, and Cubs fans are finally starting to gain some excitement as they’ve begun to spot that small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Who have the Cubs acquired from Texas in exchange for Garza’s services, you ask? Let’s find out.
Mike Olt, 3B
Once upon a time (like last winter), Mike Olt was one of the top prospects in all of baseball (#16 in MLB’s prospect rankings before the 2012 season, #22 in Baseball America’s prospect rankings before this season). The soon-to-be 25-year-old third baseman out of the University of Connecticut has unbelievable raw power (“probably grade-70 on the 20-80 scouting scale,” according to ESPN’s Keith Law) from the right side of the plate. He finished his 2012 Double-A campaign with 28 homers, 17 doubles and 82 RBIs in 354 at-bats (that’s one homer every 12.6 at-bats) before getting called up to the big leagues and struggling mightily. He is also an exceptional, MLB-ready infielder who could provide steady defense at the hot corner – he just never really got a real chance with Adrian Beltre holding the fort down in Texas. Although there’s a whole lot to like about Olt, there’s also a whole lot to be skeptical about.
For starters, Olt has had recurring vision issues since sustaining a concussion during the Dominican Winter League in November. It’s easy to say that any rest and treatment he received should help bring him back to full health soon enough, but with concussions, you just never know. Justin Morneau won AL MVP in 2006 and was consistently one of the top hitters in baseball for years – until he got hit in the head and missed the entire second half of the 2010 season. Since then, Morneau has been on and off the DL a number of times with post-concussion symptoms and vision issues, and he’s nowhere near a shell of his old self. One can only pray that the same doesn’t happen to Olt.
In addition, Olt strikes out a lot. He struck out 101 times in 354 at-bats and led the Rangers Double-A squad in K% last season (24.0%), and he led their Triple-A squad with 89 strikeouts before being traded Monday. The latter may have more to do with the visionary issues he was experiencing early on in the season than anything else, but with Rizzo, Castro and Soriano (plus Javier Baez down on the farm) all continuing to strike out at high rates, there are only so many strikeouts a man of my patience can withstand.
It’s difficult to say right now whether or not Olt will turn out to be the guy that everyone expected him to be at the Major League level, which is a 25-30 homer guy. Since coming off the DL in Triple-A, he’s hitting .247/.353/.506, with 57 strikeouts in 186 plate appearances, a decent preview of what most scouts expect to see in the majors, only with a bit more contact as his vision (hopefully) nears 100%. If he can get healthy (and stay healthy) and begin to show off the power that scouts had grown accustomed to seeing, there’s no reason to think Olt won’t be wearing Cubbie blue in September; if not, then my previously negative feelings towards him will revert back, and the future of this significantly older prospect will begin to look murky.
C.J. Edwards, RHP
The wild card. A former 48th round pick, the 21-year-old Edwards has been absolutely killing it at Class-A Hickory this season. “The String Bean Slinger” was, quite incredibly, first discovered by a then-future Rangers scout who happened to see him pitch several years ago for a predominantly African-American league comprising adults from communities in the part of the state in which he lived (Prosperity, S.C.).
All Edwards has done since receiving a $50,000 signing bonus from the Rangers is completely dominate. In the 2012 Arizona Fall League, he threw 20 scoreless innings while striking out 25, walking six and giving up just six hits. In the 2012 Northwest League (Spokane), during short-season A-ball, he posted a 2.11 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 47 innings. In low-class Hickory this year, he has put up a 1.83 ERA while fanning an outrageous 122 batters in 93.1 innings (11.8 K/9). He also has yet to allow a single home run during his professional career. The track record may be limited, but Edwards has very high upside as a potential top- or middle-of-the rotation starter. Here is a breakdown of his arsenal, via Keith Law:
He has easy plus velocity, 90-96, with an above-average to plus curveball with good depth and 12-to-6 break, and a developing changeup that projects as average to slightly above… He’s aggressive and throws strikes, with a little life on the fastball, and probably could go to high-A at this point given how well he’s dominated low-A.
Law goes on to point out that, amongst all these positive traits, lies the issue that, at 6-foot-2, 155 pounds, Edwards’ slight build could very easily lead to durability problems. He’ll need to put on some weight as he progresses up the minor league ladder. For now, though, Edwards is the guy Cubs fans should be most intrigued by.
Justin Grimm, RHP
Since being called up to the Majors last season, Grimm has been nothing but horrendous (outside of this past April, when he posted a 1.59 ERA in 17 IP). He has a career 6.73 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in 19 starts (and 22 appearances) across 103 innings. Grimm had some very good minor league stints, but due to his very weak change-up, his two-pitch repertoire (fastball and curveball) has been a serious problem for him. Grimm’s ceiling is as a mid-rotation guy, but some project him as a swingman or middle reliever, unless he can improve upon that repertoire (a more in-depth scouting report can be found here). He should be in line to get some starts for the Cubs this season, so we’ll see how he fares during the next two and a half months against National League lineups.
Two Players to be Named
Would it kill the front offices to let us know who these players are already? Throw me a friggin’ bone here.
Some may be disappointed in this package; others may be ecstatic. It really all depends on one’s feelings about Olt. After years and years of heartbreak and fallen hope, the pessimistic Cub fan in me was a bit disappointed in this trade solely because of my fear for Olt’s inability to get healthy and eventually become the player he once was. He has incredible potential; if he pans out, this trade will one day be looked at as a turning point in the Cubs’ rebuild, as a future roster of Rizzo (1B), Javier Baez (INF), Starlin Castro (INF), Olt (3B), Bryant (LF), Almora (CF), Soler (RF) and Junior Lake (somewhere) is a realistic possibility. If he doesn’t, then mostly everything will ride on the very young, very raw C.J. Edwards to maximize the value of this trade package. Regardless, whatever our feelings are now will have no impact on whatever happens in the future; this was undoubtedly the best return the Cubs were going to get for Garza. All we should do is look towards that future optimistically and hope the annual July fire sale on the north side will finally come to a halt sooner rather than later.
The White Sox have lost a lot of baseball games this season. They rank in the bottom half of the league in every facet of the game: offense (29th in MLB), defense (22nd), and starting pitching (18th). While this year has been largely unwatchable sans every Chris Sale start, the most exciting part of the season is approaching: the trade deadline.
Recently, the Sox shipped out Matt Thornton to Boston in return for Brandon Jacobs. Thornton, who had been one of the premier set-up men over the past few seasons, has regressed into nothing more than a lefty specialist these days. Jacobs, who is described by many as “toolsy,” has seen his production fall off the past couple seasons in the minors (here is a more in-depth write-up for those interested). Jacobs has potential and is essentially a boom-or-bust type of prospect that the White Sox can afford to take a risk on.
Despite being almost 20 games under .500, the Sox still have numerous pieces that contending teams will be looking to get. New General Manager Rick Hahn recently discussed his satisfaction with the team’s pitching, but noted the team has a lack of run-producers. Years of ignoring the development of a minor league system in hopes of contending has really begun to rear its ugly head. The White Sox are devoid of any top-notch talent to the point that they were one of only two teams to not register a top 50 prospect on Baseball America’s mid-season report.
While Hahn may be hesitant to deal some of the pitching, there’s no glaring reason why he shouldn’t at least listen to trade offers for every player on the team, with the exception of Chris Sale – although an argument can be made for him as well. Contending teams are always searching for pitching, and the Sox should take advantage of their one “strength” by trying to re-tool the farm with higher-end talent.
ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that the White Sox have been scouting Arizona Diamondbacks games recently. The Diamondbacks have numerous young pitching prospects such as Randall Delgado, Tyler Skaggs, and Archie Bradley. Skaggs and Bradley are likely off-limits, but if the Sox are able to send Peavy and net Delgado in return, the Sox would get a young pitcher with a lot of potential and someone Don Cooper would love to work with.
Beyond Matt Garza, who appears to be the premier starting pitcher on the market, Jake Peavy is the next best option. The Sox will likely activate Peavy from the DL after the All-Star break, and teams like the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, or the San Francisco Giants, who might end up balking at the steep price of Garza, will probably turn around and place a call to Hahn about Peavy.
The other major trade chip the White Sox have is Alex Rios. Rios is making $12.5 million this season, and will make $12.5 next season, with a club option for $13.5 million the following year that comes with a $1 million buyout option. In return, Olney reports the Sox are looking for “major-league ready or near-ready prospects.”
The Texas Rangers have had internal discussions regarding Rios, and possess one of the deepest minor league systems in the league. A few prospects that make sense in a Rios trade would be third baseman Mike Olt. He is one of the more advanced bats in the minor leagues, but with Adrian Beltre firmly entrenched in Texas, he could be a great solution at a position the Sox have struggled to fill since Joe Crede’s departure. The Rangers also have another third base prospect, Joey Gallo, who has one of the strongest power tools in the minors, grading out as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Beyond these two hitters, the Rangers have numerous other prospects that could intrigue the Sox.
Beyond the Rangers, the Pirates finally look like a team that can sustain their winning ways and will likely go all-in this season to try to contend. Rios would be a perfect fit in left field, as the current platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider has hit a paltry five home runs and holds a combined slash line of .259/.324/.381. If the Sox were to package Rios and Gordon Beckham to upgrade another hole at second base, they could potentially net a top-level prospect like outfielder Gregory Polanco, or two mid-level guys like shortstop Alen Hanson, right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, or outfielder Josh Bell.
As October nears, a bullpen’s struggles and successes begin to magnify significantly. Contending teams looking for bullpen help will likely target Jesse Crain and, to a lesser extent, Matt Lindstrom. While Crain is currently on the DL, he is having the best year of his career, and was named to his first All-Star team. The Detroit Tigers could desperately use bullpen help, but it’s doubtful that Hahn will trade anyone within the division. The Diamondbacks, mentioned above, have one of the worst bullpens in the league, having blown 19 saves this season, and they will likely be one of the most aggressive teams in the bullpen market. Other teams in search of bullpen help are the Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The White Sox are in a great position to improve their minor league system, to an extent, over the next couple of weeks. With a bevy of motivated trading partners stocked with deep minor league systems, the Sox should jump at this golden opportunity to get both younger and deeper.