In a not-so-stunning move, the Cubs have flipped back-up catcher Martin Maldonado for recently DFA’d Houston utility man Tony Kemp. At first blush this trade makes perfect sense for both squads, given Houston’s pursuit of Maldonado (for the second straight year!) before the Cubs landed him, and the Cubs’ need for a capable bat at second base.
Kemp’s defensive versatility is a nice addition, as is his better-than-average speed (he’s swiped four bags in just 186 plate appearances). There are causes for concern, however. His bat is hardly fail-proof, so while his 94 wRC+ pans out to about league average his triple slash (.227/.308/.417) isn’t exactly inspiring. Further, his presence doesn’t provide Javier Baez with backup support at short, something I brought up in a piece yesterday that the Cubs sorely need.
Money and Roster Spots are Not a Factor
If there’s good news to be had in addition to buttressing bench depth it’s that Kemp is under team control through 2022, making close to the league minimum this season at ~$583,600. Maldonado is both making more than Kemp’s yearly salary for the rest of this season alone (~$800,000 left) while also becoming a free agent at season’s end.
Basically, the Cubs are saving a few bucks while adding a potential depth piece for a few more seasons. Kemp will also slot right into Maldonado’s roster spot, leaving no consequential roster moves to complete the transaction. And given that Maldonado was, at best, an insurance policy against Willson Contreras‘ short-lived injury, we’re basically looking at a deal where the Cubs used Mike Montgomery to upgrade position player depth.
All in all, the trade is a fair one for both teams, even if it does little to move the needle.
Is this it for Cubs’ Deadline Acquisitions?
Quick analysis of this trade suggests nothing to be upset about, but equally so, Kemp is not going to be the catalyst that makes this sputtering offense a consistent force — even as he helps to combat some of the team’s struggles. While it’s quite encouraging that Kemp strikes out well below league average (15.6 percent) and fared quite well in his first taste of the playoffs last season (.286/.474/.571 in 19 plate appearances) it remains to be seen how often and where Joe Maddon deploys his new, versatile bench piece. Kemp has seen plenty of action at multiple positions this season (20 starts at the keystone, 9 in center, seven in left field), so his skill set defensively matches well with the skipper’s ever-evolving lineups.
Unfortunately, this move continues the trend that informed fans have broadly concluded: the Cubs aren’t going to be making any high-impact moves at the deadline. Theo and Jed appear to be taking the approach that with limited remaining payroll flexibility and a core of position players they still want to believe in, they’re going to lay in this bed they’ve made and hope for the best.
Whether or not the Cubs make the playoffs, and if they do, muster the strength for a healthy World Series push, the concluding factor with regard to 2019 appears to be “let’s see what happens”, making only ancillary moves as convenient.
Come the off-season this roster might very well be blown up. For now, we’ll have to hope there’s enough left in this roster to make it to October.
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