There’s an intrigue to trade deadline speculation that’s impossible to resist. As teams evaluate their current playoff odds against future roster implications fans are eager to predict, critique, and imagine a variety of trade scenarios — however legitimate or fanatical they may be. More directly stated, the trade deadline creates excitement we get but once a year.
Let’s dive in.
What the Cubs shouldn’t do
With the completed trade of Manny Machado to the Dodgers, there’ll likely be several folks desiring the Cubs counter with a big splash of their own. While LA will certainly pose a massive threat come October, and though the Brewers and Cardinals might very well upgrade their respective offenses in pursuit of winning the division, it would be foolish for the Cubs to pursue any trade in response to moves by other teams. Theo Epstein has made this much clear, and there’s no reason to believe he’s pulling the wool over our eyes.
It’s hard to poke holes in this roster. Even with lackluster performances from the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Yu Darvish, and Tyler Chatwood the Cubs own a 2.5 game lead over the Brewers, and the momentum they carried into the All-Star Break feels sustainable. It’s logical to believe that our top performers of the first half (Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora) will continue to perform while the likes of Kris Bryant and Rizzo regain their form. And with a versatile and deep bench to boot, offensive upgrades already exist on the roster.
The same can be said of the starting rotation. Despite Thursday’s struggles, Kyle Hendricks is primed for a huge second half. Jose Quintana finished the first half strong, and it’s not absurd to think Jon Lester will continue to have a career year at age 34. Even with Yu Darvish‘s status still a bit up-in-the-air a return to the rotation could be on the horizon, forcing the front office to make a decision on Tyler Chatwood (should his struggles continue). All in all the rotation could become a great strength in the second half.
Yes, trading for deGrom could make this rotation prolific, but at what cost? Especially when a playoff rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Darvish, and Mike Montgomery isn’t just passable; it’s a formidable group that can compete for another championship.
Cubs’ biggest need
While the bullpen had a terrific first half there were many surprise performances that carry an unknown degree of sustainability. Brandon Morrow has impressed in the ninth but is once again on the DL with bicep tendinitis. Carl Edwards Jr. is back and poised for a big second half, Pedro Strop has continued his consistent ways, and Steve Cishek has proven to be one of the savviest signings of the off-season. Couple that with the pleasant surprise of Randy Rosario and a solid bounce-back campaign from Justin Wilson and you have a nice looking bullpen.
Questions certainly remain, however. Brian Duensing started the year solid but has since struggled mightily. And the Cubs have relied on a rotating cast of AAA guys (with options) to fill out the ‘pen while their most trusted swing-man, Montgomery, has transitioned to the rotation — quite possibly for good.
Without a doubt, the bullpen remains a strength. But come October, when every inning becomes high leverage, the front office will want to be certain Maddon has a bullpen flush with arms he trusts. A high-leverage lefty arm to augment the loss of Monty to the rotation and to spell Duensing’s struggles fits the bill quite nicely.
With one Cubs target no longer available — as Brad Hand was traded to Cleveland — the Cubs should home in on one name in particular: Zach Britton. They have been connected to him for a while, partially because contenders are oft-rumored to be seeking relief help but mostly because this move simply makes too much sense.
As a pure rental that’s coming back from injury Britton should command a decent-but-palatable trade package. His arsenal is perfect for pitching at Wrigley, especially with the infield he’d have behind him. A comical 62.2 ground ball percentage, an uptick in his sinker velocity since returning from the DL, and a track record of being elite all make him the ideal trade target.
Even with the late-night acquisition of Jesse Chavez the Cubs are going to remain in the market for pitching depth. I remain incredulous that a blockbuster deal is made (sorry, we’re not getting Jacob deGrom) but it seems more-than-likely that rounding out the bullpen is a top priority. With Chavez the Cubs picked up a veteran with swing-man capabilities that is already well-liked in the clubhouse, providing a versatility that should prove beneficial. Grabbing a high-leverage reliever that can both complement and fill-in for Morrow should be the final piece to the puzzle.
Britton would fulfill that role without completely destroying (what’s left of) the farm system or causing a significant shakeup to the current major league roster. That other teams are in on him could muddle things, but if the Cubs can piece together a package they are comfortable with and that the Orioles sign off on there’s no reason to hesitate on pulling the trigger.
Follow Austin on Twitter: @TLS_Austin–Feature Photo Credit: USA Today Sports