© 2024 ALLCITY Network Inc.
All rights reserved.
Even after bringing in Japanese southpaw Shōta Imanaga to bolster their rotation, the Cubs have very clear areas of need. If they are to build on their 83-win season in 2023, those areas absolutely needed to be addressed this winter.
On Thursday, the Cubs took another step in potentially filling those holes, as they acquired infielder Michael Busch and right-handed reliever Yency Almonte from the Dodgers for young prospects Jackson Ferris and Zyhir Hope.
Still considered a prospect after making his debut in 2023 for the Dodgers, Busch finished the season ranked 44th on MLB Pipeline’s top-100 prospect list. At the Triple-A level in 2023, the 31st-overall pick of the 2019 MLB Draft recorded a slash line of .323/.431/.618 and hit 27 home runs.
That level of success didn’t immediately translate in short stints in the majors last year — he slashed just .167/.247/.292 and had a 33.3 percent strikeout rate in 81 plate appearances — but he’d made it clear to the Dodgers’ front office that he didn’t belong in the minors any longer. Their president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, has said to the media that Busch “showed very clearly that he doesn’t belong in Triple A, that he’s a major-league player.”
Of course, the Dodgers’ loaded roster meant it’d be hard for the 26-year-old Busch to break through and get a long run of playing time. The vast majority of his time in that system has come either playing first base, second base or third base.
But a mix of established players — including multi-time All-Stars in Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and Max Muncy — figure to take most of the opportunities at those positions. The addition of Shohei Ohtani fills the designated hitter role, taking away another route for Busch to make an impact.
That’s the reason why the Dodgers felt comfortable trading one of their top prospects away — they have the depth both on the big league club and in the system to make up for parting ways with Busch.
As for his fit with the Cubs, there’s much more room to give him an extended run on the major league team.
Third base has featured a mix of Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom and Christopher Morel, but none of them has locked down the spot. First base is wide open. Busch should have plenty of opportunities to make it work in the big leagues.
Though he played more third base than any other position in 2023, various scouting reports still say he’s better suited to be a first baseman. He may start spring training and even the regular season as the expected Cubs first baseman, but how they fill out the rest of the roster for 2024 and beyond should also play a role in determining his positional future.
But the Cubs didn’t trade for Busch expecting Gold Glove defense. His bat is what they were after, especially with it coming from the left side.
Baseball America calls him “a potent offensive threat with elite strike-zone discipline, a controlled approach and a balanced, powerful left-handed swing” who “drives balls hard in the air from gap-to-gap, handles both premium velocity and quality breaking stuff and mashes both lefties and righties.” According to MLB Pipeline, “with his sweet left-handed stroke, patient approach with good balance, uncanny hand-eye coordination, bat speed and strength, Busch is equipped to hit for both average and power.”
Busch is an enticing player, one with a first-round pedigree who can become an impact bat in the lineup while filling a need on the diamond. It’s easy to see why the Cubs were interested in him.
Meanwhile, Almonte should provide some depth to a bullpen whose running out of gas contributed to the Cubs’ September collapse in 2023.
After four seasons in Colorado, Almonte had the best season of his career in 2022, his first in Los Angeles, as he posted a 1.02 ERA with a 0.79 WHIP. However, he was limited to 33 games that season, as he right elbow tightness cost him all but five appearances after the calendar flipped to August.
Almonte then regressed in 2023, posting a 5.06 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in 49 appearances before a right knee sprain ended his season in mid-August. Over his six-year career, he owns 4.51 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP.
This fits the mold of the more minor additions the Cubs have made to the bullpen in recent years, finding success with low-cost arms (in November, Almonte agreed to a $1.9 million contract for 2024 to avoid arbitration). He has not had sustained success but does have a strong sweeper in his repertoire, and you can be sure the Cubs will get him in the “Pitch Lab” to see how they can get more out of him.
Selected by the Cubs in the second round of the 2022 MLB Draft, Ferris was one of their more promising pitching prospects (he was last ranked No. 8 in the Cubs’ system by MLB Pipeline, who said he “physically resembles Blake Snell at the same age but with superior stuff and mechanics”). They gave him an over-slot bonus to get him to sign out of high school, and the southpaw made his pro debut in 2023 with Low-A Myrtle Beach, where he put together a 3.38 ERA across 18 starts and struck out 77 batters in 56 innings for Low-A Myrtle Beach.
Zyhir Hope was the Cubs’ 11th-round pick in 2023, though they’d internally graded him higher. He went on to slash .286./.419/.543 in 43 plate appearances at the Arizona Complex League.
This feels like a good trade for both sides. In Ferris and Hope, the Dodgers have two teenage prospects who won’t take up 40-man roster spots and can potentially develop into impact big leaguers down the line.
In Almonte, the Cubs get much-needed bullpen help, and in Busch, they’re getting a bat who, if things go right, can help get this club back to contender status.
Get Our Best Cubs Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago Cubs fan with Ryan Herrera's Cubs Newsletter!
Just drop your email below!