As the Rizzo trade rumors continue to swirl, let’s take a minute to explore the potential ramifications on the Cubs if they did manage to make the trade. At first glance, there do not seem to be many, but when we look a little deeper, things get a lot more complex.
First of all, let’s assume that the Cubs will be dealing Garza and not a package of other prospects. Let’s also make the assumption that Ian Stewart is the everyday answer at third base. That locks up the Cubs corner infield slots with left handed sluggers for the next couple of years. But it also raises a few questions: where is the balance in the line up, what happens to Junior Lake, is Josh Vitters moving to left, and what is the next trade?
Let’s take these questions in order.
Where is the balance?
When Brett Jackson is called up mid-summer, he will likely be inserted somewhere near the top of the lineup. That would give the Cubs a lineup that could include four left handed hitters in the first five or six slots. That could be a good thing, but a long run of lefties in the heart of an order could easily backfire. Good teams can bring in their lefty specialist and mow through the heart of the Cubs order late in games. Other than Castro, there does not appear to be a right handed hitter that will appear in the first four slots of the Cubs lineup. Only Alfonso Soriano projects as high as five, but if he isn’t traded his defense may reduce him to a part time player. The Cubs could really use a good right handed bat to bat fourth or fifth every day. Who will it be?
One possible answer is Yoennis Cespedes. If he signs with the Cubs, he would likely become the everyday center or left fielder and would probably hit in the heart of the line up.
What Happens To Junior Lake?
One part of most Rizzo trade scenario is the acquisition of Orlando Hudson to play second for the Cubs. That eliminates the possibility of Ian Stewart moving to second, and creates a bit of a problem for the Cubs and for Junior Lake. Lake is blocked at short by Castro. If he becomes blocked at third by Stewart as a result of acquiring Hudson, where does he go? He is probably a year away from the majors, but he has that blend of power and speed that scouts love to see and is often hard to find on the infield. He is a valuable guy… but he may not have a job.
Does Josh Vitters Move To Left
Another apparently jobless player is Vitters. If the Cubs stay with Stewart at third, Vitters could go to first. He could even platoon there with LaHair as soon as the second half of 2012… unless Rizzo is occupying first. That forces Vitters to left field. His bat should work in left, and he certainly has the arm to play outfield. Other than that, we’ll just have to see how he does. Of course, he can’t play left if Soriano is not traded or Cespedes is signed. Vitters is not likely to beat Cespedes, Jackson, or a DeJesus out for a starting job. So maybe we should be asking ‘What happens to Vitters?’
What Is The Next Trade?
And that leads to my final question – what will be the next trade? By acquiring Stewart and possibly acquiring Rizzo, the Cubs will have essentially blocked two of their most promising prospects, particularly if Cespedes does come to Chicago. That suggests quite strongly that the Cubs would be in a position to make another trade, one in which they acquire another piece to their puzzle. With a first baseman and, likely, a second baseman acquired, that extra piece would almost certainly be a starting pitcher.
So let’s say the Cubs trade Matt Garza away for a package that includes another young starting pitcher, Rizzo, and Hudson. And then they sign Cespedes. And then trade Lake or Vitters in a deal for another mid-rotation starter. Suddenly the Cubs will not only have better team defense than they enjoyed in 2011, but they will have arguably a deeper and more balanced lineup to go with a deeper, higher average quality starting rotation. Seen in that light, trading Garza could counter-intuitively be the first step to making the Cubs competitive sooner rather than later.
Until we know the details of a deal, or if a deal is even going to happen, this remains largely speculation. But just remember that this deal should not be viewed as a final move for the Cubs. It will create opportunities for move trades and more opportunities to improve the team both in short term and down the road. The reloading of the Cubs is an ongoing process, and this is only one stage in that process.