Chicago Cubs: Surplus of big-league talent is crowding someone out

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 19: Addison Russell
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 19: Addison Russell /

With an abundance of major league positional talent on the Chicago Cubs and even fewer everyday spots, we ponder the inevitable of who could be dealt.

Before the season, I considered a select few from the Chicago Cubs‘ impeccable depth to be virtually safe from trade potential.

The likes of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo aside, Addison Russell was among those considered, at least for me, a long-term fixture. A sparkling gem at shortstop, the defensive element has been the crown jewel of Russell’s arsenal.

His 19 defensive runs saved in 2016 tied with Brandon Crawford for the most in the league, and speaks to his Gold Glove upside. He also provided flair with the bat. Specifically, his perfectly-timed World Series Game 6 grand slam made the infamous seventh game a reality.

However, that was last season.

With the trade deadline nearing, and the potential of a Cubs position player being moved — perhaps not now with the José Quintana news, but at some point — when you think about it, Russell actually represents a possible choice that could be moved.

Let’s dig in.

Odd man out?

Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javier Baez make up the interchangeable Cubs’ lineup, while simultaneously bandied about in ever-constant trade scenarios.

Still, I maintain: Schwarber is not going anywhere.

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Even as Theo Epstein went all in last season to acquire that premier closer in Aroldis Chapman, he was able to do so without trading an injured Schwarber and denying any notion that came his way.

Albert Almora Jr. remains an intriguing chip. Epstein may opt to build around him as another defensive-minded outfielder. Or, in hopes of adding quality pitching, he may deal the youngster.

Though he doesn’t offer a lot offensively, right now, he makes up for that with his defensive presence. However, that defensive element may be what ultimately proves his worth to the Cubs. Almora represents a better defensive outfield alignment with Jason Heyward while Happ and Schwarber continue to evolve.

Happ-y days

Through 51 games Happ ranks third on the team with a .870 OPS. Only Bryant and Rizzo are higher.

Since his May call-up, Happ has provided big hits, showcased defensive versatility and, so far, proves he can overcome typical rookie struggles as he continues to adjust at the major league level.

Baez’s name has come up in trade rumors for some time now.

After making his debut in 2014, Baez saw Addison Russell supplant him at shortstop. Now, Cubs fans, somehow, see him as the most expendable Cubs player. At the very least, it sure feels that way.

Not that the Cubs ever thought that.

Now, even sharing NLCS MVP honors with Jon Lester, and representing a highlight montage of terrific defensive flip plays at second base for FOX during last year’s postseason, he’s shown to be quite the defensive marvel himself.

Baez also provides that ever-so-valuable versatility.

Though he has the propensity to expand his strike zone and swing at junk, he can also swing a hot stick. When he’s hot, it’s all eyes for the fences because that’s where baseballs land.

If you compare his first-half from last season to now, you’ll see nearly identical numbers across the board. Baez has played nine more games to this point, but has almost the same total for home runs, RBI, and walks,

His ISO of .194, which is great according to FanGraphs, is up from last season (.181) through the same first-half comparison.

Musical chairs

Baez, with the hot hand, has taken more of Russell’s at-bats at shortstop. Sometimes Baez will take Happ’s AB’s at second base if Happ isn’t in the outfield, which is rare because the rookie has basically become a lineup regular.

The wait-and-see approach is always vital with regards to young players.

While that’s the approach I take with Happ, and even still with Baez, it’s harder to consider moving those two based on their ability and versatility, but primarily with how well both have played this season.

Again, wait-and-see approach. But for now, both seem safe. For whatever that’s worth.

A hot bat will garner more at-bats for Russell, but the question of who goes remains? Maybe a change of scenery, and especially, consistent playing time will get him going. That also begs the question of potential messiness affecting trade talks with his ongoing domestic violence investigation.

Next: José Quintana acquired from White Sox in crosstown blockbuster

While the Cubs got their man in Quintana without dipping into the major league talent core, the inevitable remains. Yes, the Chicago Cubs have an abundance of major leaguers.

That’s a problem 29 other teams will take.