Cubs: Is a top 100 prospect return enough in a Willson Contreras trade?

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Sooner rather than later, the rumor mill will start picking up speed and, as far as the Cubs are concerned, nobody is off-limits when it comes to trade talks.

Last summer, Jed Hoyer and the front office nabbed a ton of low-level prospects in trades that decimated the big league roster and sent several expiring contracts out the door, while clearing millions from the books in the process. Thinking about who could be on the move this time around, Hoyer needs to focus on quality over quantity and set his sights on top 100 prospect rankings.

It’s no secret. Willson Contreras is not only the Cubs’ most valuable trade asset, but one of the more valuable in all baseball. Right-handed veteran David Robertson figures to be a hot commodity, as well, and is guaranteed to be traded given his age and where the Cubs find themselves heading into the summer months.

I mention these two specifically because if the Cubs want to make a serious splash, one that can pay off in a big way down the road, they need to look to package some guys to maximize their return.

Cubs, Astros make sense as a fit for Willson Contreras, David Robertson

Obviously, this is just speculation on my part. But in this scenario, the Cubs land MLB Pipeline‘s #96 prospect, Hunter Brown. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, the 23-year-old right-hander sports himself an eye-popping 2.39 ERA over the course of 49 innings pitched. Along with that, he has fanned 69 batters over the course of eight starts (12.6 K/9). His biggest issue thus far has been command issues as he’s allowed 22 free passed (4.3 BB/9).

For the first time in years, Chicago has a number of up-and-coming pitching prospects in the system – and adding Brown would further improve their depth in the farm system in the form of a guy whose stuff is unquestionably good.

"While there’s no question about Brown’s pure stuff, he’s still working on his feel for pitching. He doesn’t fully trust his changeup or repeat his delivery consistently, though his control did improve during his two months in Triple-A. The Astros love his work ethic, citing the gains he made while pitching off a homemade mound in his backyard during the 2020 layoff."

Make no mistake. Hoyer and the Cubs knocked just about every trade out of the park last summer, replenishing the system with an immediate influx of high-risk, high-upside talent. The only issue being how young most of these guys are, meaning they won’t be in a position to impact the big league team for some time.

Unless we’re in for a lengthy multi-year rebuild, that makes landing a prospect knocking on the door to the big leagues is essential this time around. The Cubs add a guy who could get a look as soon as next year, while Houston gets badly-needed offense from the catcher position and a proven bullpen piece on a one-year, team-friendly deal.

At 37-23, Houston is already 8 1/2 games up in the AL West. Fangraphs gives them a 98.6 percent chance of making the postseason this year. Despite his standing in the clubhouse and his game-calling abilities, Martin Maldonado leaves plenty to be desired at the dish, evidenced by a .153 average and back-up catcher Jason Castro is somehow even worse, with a .091 mark on the year.

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Given Contreras’ offensive production this season and history of solid defense, he is an immediate boost to an otherwise stacked Houston lineup that already features Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. As far as Robertson’s concerned, you can’t ever have too much bullpen depth in today’s game. Adding these two could bolster the Astros’ chances for another American League pennant, while giving the Cubs another power arm for the future.