The Cubs are mired in a stretch of baseball more ashen than the Chicago air, though I’d like to avoid further commentary on the specifics of their lifeless play. The fact remains that they should be buying at the deadline, or at least not selling off everything that isn’t nailed down, as a means by which to improve over the long term. Though ubiquitous rebuilds have led to fans becoming unshakeably enamored with picking up prospects, that’s far from a surefire path to contention.
Even if it works, you’re typically waiting a while for the resultant impact at the big league level, and the Cubs are not at a point where they can keep looking past tomorrow in favor of next week. I hope the nature of that metaphor was not lost and that you all realize the timeframe in question is not to scale. Moving on then…
Consider the Yu Darvish trade prior to the 2021 season that netted the Cubs Owen Caissie, Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana, and Ismael Mena. Caissie is the only one of the four who looks like a dude, what with his prodigious power leading to a 132 wRC+ and 13 homers as a 20-year-old in Double-A. The 35% strikeout rate remains a concern, but the pop balances it out for now.
Preciado is batting .160 with a 28 wRC+ for Low-A Myrtle Beach while Mena is quite a bit better with an 88 wRC+ for the same squad. Santana, on the other hand, was just released. Preciado just turned 20 in May and Mena won’t be 21 until November, so it’s far too early to determine what kind of players they may eventually be. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine either getting so much as a cup of coffee prior to 2025.
My point here is that it’s not quite as easy as inserting Tab A into Slot B when it comes to trading Cody Bellinger or Marcus Stroman. The latter would be a particularly valuable piece given his ace status and stated desire to remain in Chicago, though 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine indicated the righty could be looking for something in the neighborhood of five years and $150 million.
While I think that number may have been hypothetical rather than sourced info, I do agree that it’s too much for Stroman given some of the factors involved. However, I disagree vehemently with Levine’s assertion that the Cubs need to sell solely because they aren’t at the .500 mark right now. That’s an antiquated line of thinking that doesn’t take into consideration the weak division or ownership’s need to promote both a sportsbook and Marquee’s DTC streaming launch.
All that said, there is a way for the Cubs to soft-sell at the deadline while also doing a little buying combined with internal promotions to make the team better and more exciting. For instance, Bellinger was never going to be around for more than this season and could net the Cubs a decent return while being exceedingly easy to replace. Wait, hasn’t he been really good?
Yes, he was very good…through April. After batting .297 with a 159 wRC+ over his first 105 plate appearances, Bellinger is batting .225 with a 49 wRC+ over his last 98 trips to the plate. He’s still got loads of defensive value at multiple positions and his running doesn’t appear to have been impacted by that knee injury, but it’s starting to look like the Cubs may want to think about moving him while his value is still high.
Mike Tauchman is right there — just like the parking garage adjacent to the Chicago Dogs’ Impact Field — as a replacement, but how about giving Pete Crow-Armstrong a chance to prove himself at the highest level. Even if this can be seen as a contradiction of my earlier point, PCA has developed at a faster rate than even the most bullish prospect perverts imagined when he came to the Cubs in exchange for Javier Báez and Trevor Williams.
Crow-Armstrong was just named to his second straight Futures Game on the strength of an 80-grade glove in center and an improving offensive output. He’s handling Double-A pitching better than he did at High-A last year, jacking nine homers in 255 plate appearances while walking more and striking out less. It’s not a stretch to think the Cubs could trade Bellinger during the All-Star break like they did Joc Pederson in ’21, then promote PCA for the start of the second half.
Now, that could end up being one of those reward promotions in which a player ticketed for Triple-A makes a pit stop with the big club to get a little taste. We’ve seen that several times in the past, with Miguel Amaya being the most recent example. It’s even possible that Crow-Armstrong could force the organization to keep him up or that, like Amaya, he makes a strong enough impression to earn another shot later in the season.
If the Cubs do happen to trade Stroman or if Jameson Taillon develops some sort of ailment that forces him from the rotation for a while, the replacement could be lefty Jordan Wicks. The 2021 first-round pick absolutely carved at Double-A Tennessee and will be making his first start for the Iowa Cubs on Friday. He has an excellent changeup that helps him to put righties away, though he may need to improve the slider to attack lefties at the next level.
Since I already argued against myself once, I may as well add that Ben Brown could likewise get the call for a spot start or something more should the Cubs have an open spot in the rotation. Acquired from the Phillies in the David Robertson trade last year, the big righty earned a quick promotion to Triple-A after four starts in Tennessee and has flashed lights-out stuff over 10 starts with Iowa.
He’ll probably need to develop his changeup in order to be really effective in the bigs, though control is a bigger issue. Only one of those I-Cubs starts has featured fewer than two free passes, though he also struck out 11 in that game. Wicks is simply more polished at this point and would be the more likely choice at this point to get a starting role for more than one turn if needed.
Wow, I’m guessing that was way more than anyone really wanted or expected to read. That’s what you get when someone didn’t write much of anything for a week while traipsing around England and Iceland. I highly recommend Reykjavik, which is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I’ve ever been. The Cubs have been anything but lately, though I think we’ll get a good deal of excitement one way or the other over the next month.