One of the more surprising trades of the winter came when the Chicago White Sox dealt closer Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for a mid-level pitching prospect. The White Sox, like their cross-town neighbors, were a team that did know what direction they were headed in for the 2012 season. General manager Kenny Williams clarified that picture when he admitted that the team was entering a rebuilding phase after announcing the Santos trade.
Much like the White Sox, the Cubs are another teams whose direction for the 2012 season is not known. With general manager Jed Hoyer, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein keeping their cards close to the vest, that has left many fans to speculate about the direction the Cubs were headed in for the short-term future. Then something happened on Wednesday. Even though the trade has yet to be officially announced, the Cubs have agreed to trade relief pitcher Sean Marshall to the Cincinnati Reds for 24 year old left handed starting pitcher Travis Wood and two minor league prospects.
The prospects being sent to Chicago in addition to Wood have yet to be disclosed. With such uncertainty, this has opened the door to endless speculations about the reason why the names of the prospects being sent to the Cubs have yet to be reported. The leading suggestion is that the Reds are trying to work out an extension with Marshall, which in turn would increase his trade value, meaning the prospects being sent to the Cubs along with Wood would have a higher ceiling than the prospects being sent to the Cubs knowing that the 29 year old Marshall is a free agent after the season.
As I mentioned, the ceiling of the prospects will likely be dependent on whether or not Marshall signs an extension with the Reds. While the Cubs would want more talented prospects for their own farm system, the front office could be operating under an ulterior motive. Remember that the Cubs remain interested in Padres’ first base prospect Anthony Rizzo. The Padres are seeking a package of prospects whose value is equal to that of Matt Garza‘s, but San Diego does not want Garza included in the package. Without giving up top prospect Brett Jackson, there is no way for the Cubs to satisfy the Padres’ demands. This would be why Epstein and Hoyer are hoping to receive higher promised prospects ine exchange for Marshall, as they would then flip those prospects as part of package to the Padres for Rizzo. It sounds like a complicated concept because it is complicated scenario that the new Cubs’ regime could be trying to pull off, but if successful, it would greatly improve the Cubs for the long-future.
There has been a lot talk over the course of the past 24 hours suggesting that the Marshall trade is an indication that the Cubs’ front office is in a full fledged “sell mode.” On the surface, it is logical for one to think that way. But the Marshall for Wood trade does not mean that the Epstein and Hoyer are operating under a sellers’ mentality. Marshall, while billed by some as the best left handed reliever in the game, was a 29 year old reliever who was facing free agency after the season. Given the inconsistencies of relief pitchers, it is reasonable to say that Marshall’s trade value this past season and this off-season was at the highest it will ever reach during his career. Rather than retaining Marshall and letting him walk after the season, the Cubs acquired a 24 year old left handed starting pitcher who showed promised in his rookie season with the Reds in 2010. Besides, nothing rules out the possibility that the Cubs attempt to sign Marshall next winter if he has not signed an extension with the Reds.