With the 2023 MLB trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Chicago Cubs are still caught in limbo between buying and selling. After a Yan Gomes sac fly, followed by a booming Nico Hoerner grand slam that sent Wrigley Field into a frenzy on Wednesday night, the Cubs to control their own destiny, hanging on by mere threads in the NL Central race. The series win against the Washington Nationals was a must, and the Cubs exploded for 25 runs in the last two games at an absolutely critical point.
This stretch of baseball over the next week-and-a-half will determine the outlook for the team in 2023. With any prolonged scuffling, the team will be forced to sell for a third straight year, leaving a bitter taste in what was hoped to be a more gratifying season.
There are multiple ways the Cubs can work this year's deadline. The best scenario is winning and buying at the deadline to push for the postseason. The front office may also seek to trade players such as Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger for pieces that can come now and help the big league club as soon as next year. Hopefully we see some more big wins should the team sell, such as last summer's David Robertson trade - absolute fleecing of the Phillies that netted Ben Brown.
Instead of throwing darts and hoping players work out a couple years from now, the Cubs need to push their chips as sellers this time around. If it is inevitable that they are dealt, packaging both Stroman and Bellinger together is the best way the Cubs can get the most bang for their buck. This year's goal needs to be getting a top-tier prospect to help the big league club as soon as 2024.
A surging Orioles team makes for a perfect trade partner with the Cubs
With multiple buyers in line and fewer solid players available this year, Chicago will be the trade deadline's focal point after any decisions regarding Shohei Ohtani play out. One team currently in first place, with an elite farm system intact and plenty to spare for an aggressive push, is the Baltimore Orioles.
The #36 prospect in all of baseball (according to MLB Pipeline), Heston Kjerstad, is putting together another remarkable season in the minors. With a slash of .327/.415/.564 in 110 ABs, Kjerstad is tearing up Triple-A Norfolk. On the season, he is hitting .316/.396/.571/141 wRC+ with 16 HRs and 37 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A. Given that the Orioles have two other top 100 prospects that can play in the outfield, losing Kjerstad wouldn't be a critical blow for a team that now boasts the best farm in baseball, including a remarkable eight top 100 prospects.
Furthermore, the O's rank just 9th out of 15 in the American League for starting pitching ERA. Adding Stroman immediately jolts their rotation to help put them at the top in baseball's most competitive division. Meanwhile, Adding Bellinger to the outfield mix, along with Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays, adds another substantial bat to their lineup, along with a defensive upgrade over Aaron Hicks.
With an incredibly deep farm, the Orioles can afford to trade one of their better young prospects as they've been making a living churning out talent such as Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson seemingly every year of late. The Cubs, in return, get a lefty bat that may solve the issue at first base moving forward but also allows for flexibility in the outfield or DH should Matt Mervis still work out. Nevertheless, the Cubs need to target these types of trades if they are to be sellers this year. The kind that impacts the big league roster as soon as next year.
With the potential of Pete Crow-Armstrong coming soon, as well as Matt Mervis, Matt Shaw, etc., adding in Kjerstad helps make the team younger while still being surrounded by veterans Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki and Nico Hoerner. The more team-friendly contracts the club has on its main roster, the more funds they can allocate elsewhere on the higher end of free agency instead of filling multiple holes with guys in the league-average range.