At this point, it looks like the Cubs are more likely to compete for better positioning in next year’s draft than any postseason play. The team is 27th in the league in runs scored and 23rd in runs allowed, and only the Padres have a worse record. Inevitably, talk has turned to trade rumors. Bob Nightengale reports for USAToday:
The Cubs are letting teams know that nearly everyone but starter Jeff Samardzija is available, two high-ranking team officials told USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because of competitive reasons.
Obviously some players are more available than others. Alfonso Soriano has about $51 million left on his contract, and though he still has some power, his plate discipline and slightly reduced power levels have left him closer to an average player than he was at the beginning of the contract. Carlos Marmol just signed for three years and $20 million before last season (he has about $14.5 million left), and is now healthy, but has lost the swinging strike rate that made his bad control palatable. Even with a nice stretch of play between now and a possible trade, the Cubs might have to eat as much as 80% of those contracts to get anything of value back.
More interesting to the other teams might be the fact that the same source told Nightengale that there are really no untouchables on the roster past The Shark. Bryan LaHair is 29, doesn’t always make the most contact, and is in the midst of coming back to earth, but he’s got years of control left, seems to have legitimate patience and pop, and might make for an offensive infusion for the right team. Matt Garza has a year of control left and seems to have improved his strikeout rate in Chicago, at least partly thanks to a change in his pitching mix. Spending $9+ million and a lower-level prospect on Ryan Dempster for the rest of the season might make sense for the right team.
Trading this group would net the team some pieces with a shot at contributing to the next competitive Cubs team, but there was one more available piece that could bring back impact prospects — and he could be attainable, too, according to Nightengale’s sources. Starlin Castro.
The subject of some unflattering statistical oddities, Starlin Castro is an interesting character. The fact that he is possibly on the block might surprise some, particularly those that love fantasy baseball — his high batting averages and decent stolen base speed look nice in the box scores. But that isn’t to say he doesn’t have faults. A terrible walk rate and below-average power have kept him from being worth more than 10% better than league average with the stick, and his defense has divided those into pro- and anti-Castro camps.
Then again, the positives are obvious. His bat may only be around 10% above league average, but that’s 21% above the wRC+ of your average qualified shortstop this year. He’s a 22-year-old shortstop that can handle the position (at least in the short term) no matter what you think of his glove. Since he’s young, his batting components — power and patience in particular — should improve even if his glove doesn’t. And, most importantly perhaps, without any improvement, he’s a three-to-four win shortstop that’s under team control until 2016. He should bring in an impressive haul.
Do the Cubs work around the edges and bring in some smaller pieces with a lesser chance of making an impact on the major league roster while hoping to strengthen their system primarily through the draft? Or do they take their main piece and cash him in for higher-quality pieces in order to overhaul the system in one fell swoop? Unfortunately for Cubs fans, that’s the main speculation they get to enjoy for the rest of the season.