Signs of a Minor League Trade?

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If my counting is correct, the Cubs 40 man roster now stands at 39. This is significant, because with an open slot on the 40 man roster, the Cubs could select someone in the Rule 5 draft that takes place at the winter meetings, but at the same time there is arguably a name missing from the 40 man roster. This could mean a couple things, but I think we may see a minor league trade prior to the draft.

The Rule 5 Draft takes place annually during the Winter Meetings in December. The goal of this draft is shuffle players who blocked in one teams minor league system into someone else’s where that player will have a chance to reach the majors. For instance, for years any first baseman in the Cubs system was effectively blocked by Mark Grace. If the Cubs developed a first baseman, that player would almost certainly have to be traded to get a shot to play in the big leagues. The Rule 5 draft allows that player another way out of a log jam like that. At the same time it helps keep the big money teams from hoarding talent in their minors just to keep their opponents from having it.

In order select a player in the Rule 5 draft, a team has to have at least one open slot on their 40 man roster. Any player taken must remain in the majors the entire season, or else be sent back to the original team, or the two teams must work out a trade. In most years, the Rule 5 is not much of a story. But with recent successes like Hamilton coming through that process, it can’t be ignored. Any player that has been in minor for four years (if signed older than 19) or five years (signed younger than 18) can be selected, unless he is on his team’s 40 man roster.

I fully expect the Cubs to keep an open slot on their 40 man roster so they have the option of drafting someone. However, with the roster currently full at 39, Marquez Smith is left off, and Smith is eligible to be selected by another team. Smith was the third baseman in Iowa this year, and he had a nice year. Arguably, he had too nice of a year to be left exposed for the Rule 5 draft. And that’s why I think the Cubs will be dealing before draft day.

Also on the Cubs 40 man is Sam Fuld, a nice defensive player whose best hope of reaching Wrigley is to earn a fifth outfielder slot in the spring. In other words, trade bait. Smith, I think, is more valuable than Fuld, and Fuld could have some value.

Looking at catcher, the Cubs are carrying both Wellington Castillo and Robinson Chirinos, and that’s in addition to their two major league catchers. It could make sense to trade one of the two catchers, but it is not clear which one, and neither should be given away. Both have value, and it looks like the Cubs are higher on Castillo, while Chirinos may project with more power. But four catchers on the 40 man roster seems excessive when the major league job is pretty much locked up by Soto.

The guess here is that the Cubs would love to trade Fuld for a lower level fringe prospect to free up the roster slot, add Smith to the 40 man roster, and then look for a good player in the Rule 5 draft. However, both Castillo and Chirinos would be attractive to the Rangers or the Padres, and there is time for a deal.

Or maybe the Cubs deal Smith, thereby getting something in return. Either way, we’ll be seeing a deal of some kind. Keep an eye on the minor league transactions as we come out of Thanksgiving. I think something is likely to happen.