Chicago Cubs: Is there a case to trade ace pitcher Jake Arrieta?


Is any player ever untouchable?

Jake Arrieta may be about as untouchable as they come. In his late-20s, he’s coming off the best campaign of his career and the Chicago Cubs control him for several more years (through the 2018 season).

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But there is a flip side. The Cubs would like to sign Arrieta to a long-term deal, and given that Arrieta is a client of super-agent Scott Boras, signing a long-term deal before the 2016 season seems unlikely.

Boras generally encourages clients to try free agency before signing long-term contracts. In the end, the Cubs can’t be confident that Arrieta will stick around.

So let’s say the Cubs get a wild hare and decide that the best way they can get value out of Arrieta is to go ahead and trade him while stock his stock is high. What kind of package would actually make sense for the Cubs? Could a package actually be good enough to wrestle the Cubs ace away from the team?

We’ll start with acknowledging the Cubs current needs. The Cubs head into the 2016 offseason looking for more depth in the starting rotation and with questions about who will patrol centerfield. Trading Arrieta would create a deeper (super-deep!) hole in the rotation, so add that into the equation as well.

Any subsequent trade of Arrieta would need to address those key areas and probably include at least three players in order to actually benefit the Cubs.

Considering the number of players the Cubs would be asking in return, a team would have to have a vested interest in winning now in order to make an Arrieta-centered trade. In other words, they would need to be looking at Arrieta as a key player in their drive to win it all in 2016.

Is there any offer that could make the Cubs trade Jake Arrieta?

It’s a little early to make predictions about who is going to win in 2016, but we can assume that several teams are going to be in the hunt. We can also assume that some teams are not going to be willing to trade key pieces of their future to win now.

So let’s go ahead and exclude teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays–all teams likely unwilling to adopt a “win-now” attitude.

We’re going to need to throw out any rival National League Central teams, too — there’s no way the Cubs would trade Arrieta to a team they’ll play a bunch.

There are plenty of bubble teams: teams who may be in contention, or may not be. It is unlikely that these teams would mortgage their future in a sense in order to win now by trading several assests to obtain a singular assest from the Cubs.

So we’re going to throw out the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks. We need to throw out the Baltimore Orioles, too, because it’s far too insulting for them to trade for a player they cast off for spare parts a little over two years ago.

Of those teams left, who is in the market for a frontline starter? And who has the movable pieces that match the Cubs needs?

We know the Cubs would need a good centerfielder and a couple of exciting pitching prospects in return. One of those prospects would probably need to have shown some success on a major-league level.

There are three remaining teams who can offer a centerfielder the Cubs could use: the Toronto Blue Jays (Kevin Pillar), the Boston Red Sox (Mookie Betts) and the New York Yankees (Brett Gardner). (The Angels and Dodgers might have interest in Arrieta, but we can assume that they would be unwilling to part with Mike Trout or Joc Pederson, respectively).

So what kind of package could these three frontrunners put together?

Blue Jays: Pillar, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman

Red Sox: Betts, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens

Yankees: Gardner, Luis Severino, current starter, maybe Nathan Eovaldi

The Blue Jays package looks the strongest, as it offers two pitchers who have shown success in the majors already – both Sanchez and Stroman looked very promising in limited MLB action. But is it too high an asking price for them?

The thought of getting an arm like Severino is exciting too – as his upside could be as high as Arrieta’s.

The Red Sox  pitchers are untested, but Betts looks like the most exciting centerfielder of the bunch. In reality, asking for him in return could be too high of an asking price for the Red Sox.

In my opinion, these would be the only scenarios through which it makes any sense to trade Jake Arrieta. Would you take any of these trades? What other trades involving Jake Arrieta might be available that would make sense for the Cubs?