In recent weeks, trade rumors have connected the Chicago Cubs to an array of left-handed relievers, including Kansas City Royals hurler Jake Diekman.
At this point in the season, it’s a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ when it comes to the Chicago Cubs making some moves. It’s full-blown trade rumors season – and Joe Maddon‘s first-place club has several weak spots if it hopes to contend for another World Series title come October.
Chicago continues trotting out Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff hitter – which is a bit of a head-scratcher given his performance out of that spot (.236 average, .320 on-base percentage), so adding someone to fill that void might be in the cards.
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But if the Cubs continue to insist the former first-rounder really is the answer atop the lineup, Theo Epstein’s attention should then shift to the bullpen, where Kyle Ryan has served as the only remotely reliable left-handed option through the team’s first 93 contests.
While names like Brad Hand, Felipe Vazquez or Will Smith are catchy and pack a good amount of punch, given the team’s inherent payroll limitations, the next-level arms might be a more likely target for the Cubs. That includes Kansas City southpaw Jake Diekman, who has turned in an interesting start to the 2019 campaign.
Now, if you do nothing aside from taking a quick glance as Diekman’s numbers, you’ll probably be irate I’m even mentioning him as a potential deadline target. He’s pitched to a -0.1 WAR and carries a 5.06 ERA in 43 appearances this year. That doesn’t exactly scream ‘shutdown lefty’ – which is what the Cubs’ pen desperately needs.
That being said, he’s clearly got swing-and-miss stuff – evidenced by his career-best 13 punchouts per nine and 6.8 hits per nine. Despite his bloated earned run average, he’s pitched to a 3.69 FIP/xFIP on the year, whiffing nearly a third of the hitters he’s faced.
He’s definitely got the velocity the front office is looking for, averaging north of 96 MPH on his fastball this season, according to Fangraphs. Diekman has been particularly tough on lefties (.182/.345/.227) – something that stands out considering MVP candidates Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger could be potential big outs come October.
Circling back to the money, Diekman is owed less than half of the $2.75 million left on his deal for this year. If the Cubs were to pull off a deal, which shouldn’t cost much if anything in terms of big league-ready talent, they’d still be able to stay under the final luxury tax threshold (at least in theory).
There’s little doubt the Cubs will be connected to pretty much every left-handed reliever in the coming weeks. Trade rumors are going to run rampant – and while a sexy, big-time addition would be nice, Chicago already went out and got Craig Kimbrel. Who knows if Epstein will bring out the big guns to add a high-caliber lefty, as well, or rely on a guy with the stuff to succeed like Diekman.