The latest Cubs’ rumor to sweep the internet, and probably one that is being exaggerated a bit, is the possibility that the Cubs could trade Matt Garza, easily the most valuable pitcher on their roster. At they very least, the Cubs are listening. And according to some reports, the Cubs do indeed have teams willing to make them listen. Given the scarcity of elite free agent pitching on the market this winter, it comes as no surprise that Garza is already being discussed as a potential acquisition for a number of teams.
But would it make sense for the Cubs? If you were following Cubbies Crib last off season, you not only remember the trade with Tampa that landed Matt Garza, but that I think the Cubs did pretty well in that trade. I still think that way, but despite that I am not opposed to moving Garza for the right package. The question is, what could the Cubs expect to get in return?
Garza would still be under team control for another two seasons, and if he is in fact on the market he might just be the best pitcher on the market this winter. The Cubs would definitely get a significant return. In order to land Garza the Cubs gave up four of their Top 20 prospects, including two MiLB Top 100s. If the Cubs were to move him this winter, I think we could expect a similar return. I’d expect the deal to include at least one very highly regarded, nearly major league ready prospect, one very highly regarded but low in the minors prospect, and probably a third guy not as well thought of but close to the majors and who could help the Cubs in the short term. From the Cubs system, think of someone like Brett Jackson for the first player, Matthew Szczur for the second player, and maybe a Steve Clevenger for the third one. I think it is likely that least one of those players would be a pitcher, but it may not be necessary.
Looking around baseball for teams who might want to trade for Garza, two names immediately come to mind: Texas and Kansas City. So let me first deal with the Yankees, since they would seem like the most obvious contender. While there is no doubt that the Yankees would love to have Garza, they also have a serious but under appreciated problem on their hands that could get in the way. The Yankees are, to put it bluntly, getting old. They are by far the oldest team on average in the American League. As their core continues to age, they are not going to find making the playoffs out of the AL East getting any easier. At some point, they will have to reload. To me, this does not look like the time for the Yankees to unload two high caliber young players in exchange for a guy like Garza. I have no doubt they’ll call up the Cubs, but the timing just is not right for the Yankees to get involved. They need youth more than they need Garza, and as a result I think they sit this auction out.
Texas has been to two consecutive World Series, and twice have come up short. Their offense is a beast, but their starting pitching lacks depth. They are clearly in the mood to win now, and to invest heavily to do it. Garza is exactly the kind of guy they need to land, particularly if C.J. Wilson walks away.
Kansas City has their young core in place and are seriously looking to upgrade their pitching staff. The Royals are poised for a breakout season and could be the dark horse contender in the AL Central in 2012. They badly need to upgrade their rotation if that is going to happen. With their typical budget constraints, a cost controlled ace like Garza should be an attractive commodity, if they think they can make the playoffs in 2012 or 2013.
So who might the Cubs get? Looking at the Texas farm system and keeping in mind my ballpark evaluation of (A) a top notch, major league ready player, (B) a top notch, low minors player, and (C) a mid level, major league ready player, I think the Rangers package might look like this. Keep in mind that we can’t just pick the top three prospects and call it a day. Any deal has to work for both teams, and that means the Cubs will almost certainly not be getting Martin Perez or Jurickson Profar no matter how much they ask.
A – Mike Olt, 3B. At first glance it may seem odd that I am listing a guy who has never played above High-A as a nearly major-league ready talent, but I think he could break into the big leagues no later than 2013. Olt came out of college and features a good glove and plenty of power to go with his high OBP. The downside is that he isn’t much of a contact hitter, but his power and his patience largely make up for it. If you imagine him as a younger Carlos Pena on the other side of the infield, you probably won’t be too far off the mark.
B – Miguel De Los Santos, LHP. De Los Santos has been in the minors for awhile, and has only reached High-A. He also put up a K/BB of 3.46 and a K/9 of 13.7, and he’s a lefty, and he’s only 22. Any other questions? He could hit a major league bullpen sooner rather than later, but as a starter I’d pencil him in for late 2013.
C – Robert Ross, LHP. I think I am shooting way too high with this choice. If the Rangers see Ross as a starting pitcher, there is no way he makes it into the deal. If they see him a reliever, he might. At 5’11″ I’m guessing he will be moved into relief, so I’ll go ahead and list him. Where ever he pitches, he’s a solid left handed pitching prospect who doesn’t give up many hits or walks. As a reliever, I strongly suspect he could break camp with the Cubs. If he continues to start, he’d probably report to Tennessee for half a season.
Kansas City has so many quality guys in their farm system it is hard to know where to start looking. One possibility might be this package.
A – Mike Montgomery, LHP. Montgomery is one of the premier left handed starters in all of minor league baseball, and as such the Royals might prefer to keep him in their own rotation. If they are willing to let him go, he would a cornerstone of the Cubs rotation for years to come. No matter where he plays, he should be in the majors in 2012.
B – Christian Colon, SS/2B. I’m breaking from my own rules here because Colon just makes too much sense for the Cubs. He is just about major league ready now, and he would likely be the Cubs starting second baseman within a year or so.
C – Clint Robinson, 1B. Since my B player was closer to the majors (and thus more valuable), I decided to reach a bit for the third member of this package. Robinson is a first baseman who is not thought to be all that great defensively. He hits well, and always has, but there are some questions about his ability to keep that up in the majors. In other words, he might be a slightly younger Bryan LaHair. With a powerful left handed swing, that might not be such a bad gamble for the Cubs.
Needless to say, even if Garza does get dealt to the Royals or the Rangers, odds are that the exact package will not look anything like either of these lists. I think that the overall value the Cubs can expect from a Garza trade should be about at this level, though. The Cubs stand to do very well from dealing Garza, but it won’t be as simple as just taking the top two or three prospects from their trade partner. Still, with the right players at the right positions coming back to the Cubs, it could be a deal worth making.