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Happy post-All-Star break Monday, everyone!
The Cubs took all three games in Philadelphia to kick off the second half, which means they’ve never lost after the All-Star break in the CHGO era. That’s unreal production from our little media company.
All jokes aside, this is going to be a week to remember on the North Side. After trading away most of the World Series core at the deadline in 2021, it’s looking like the Cubs will be doing much of the same over the next eight days. With only two home games against the Pirates between now and the deadline on Aug. 2, that means there might be only two more chances for fans to see some of these players in a Cubs uniform at Wrigley Field again. Maybe you’ve grown numb to trades after last season, and maybe you haven’t. Either way, fans should buckle up for what’s going to happen over the next few days.
I’ve got thoughts on that, of course, but this is going to start with one player who’s dominated trade talks since he reportedly hit the market. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Here’s the “trade deadline SZN” edition of my Monday morning Cubs thoughts.
Let’s just start with the biggest conversation across Major League Baseball surrounding the trade deadline: young phenom Juan Soto might be traded by this time next week.
It’s not everyday that a 23-year-old, MVP candidate-type player with two more years of club control becomes available. Any team, regardless of what cycle each one is in at that given moment, should inquire about what it would take to get Soto, because realistically, you’re not just talking about getting any old superstar. This is a player who’s so good offensively that he’s already mentioned in the same breath as some of the all-time greats, and the numbers back that up. On FanGraphs all-time leaderboards (minimum of 1,000 plate appearances), Soto’s 154 wRC+ ranks 21st. Filter that through players’ age-23 seasons, and Soto jumps up to No. 9. Plus, it’s not like he’s some hot-shot rookie that hasn’t proven it over a long period of time. This is already his fifth season in the big leagues, and he’s racked up 2,409 plate appearances over 558 games. These kinds of players don’t become available that often, and certainly not this early in their careers.
All that is to say, the Cubs should at least look into the possibility of bringing him to the North Side. Beyond the fact that he’s hit .333 with a .928 OPS in 47 plate appearances at Wrigley Field, this is the kind of superstar a big-market team like the Cubs could and should build around. It’s going to take a lot to get Soto, and everything hinges around being able to lock him up long-term (he reportedly turned down a 13-year, $440 million extension with the Nationals). But still, there are few players in the league that are at his level at the plate — and Soto is the one who’s available right now.
There’s probably a variety of reasons why the Cubs won’t get him, but if they do want him (as they should), they should be doing everything it takes to bring him to Chicago.
I’ve seen different arguments against the Cubs pursuing Soto, but I’m going to address two that a disagree with. The first is that “now isn’t the right time.”
So when is the right time to acquire a generational talent like Soto? The answer should be whenever you can. Soto wouldn’t just fit a certain cycle of contention; he fits every cycle of contention. Again, Soto is just 23 years old and doesn’t turn 24 until October. Yes, the Cubs are rebuilding and probably won’t be looking at competing for a World Series for a little while. If that’s not until 2025 (as I’ve seen throw out there), well, that’s only Soto’s age-26 season, when he would be either just entering his prime years or still very early in that window. If it’s 2026, he’ll be 27. You can do the rest of the math from there.
Even though the Cubs are rebuilding right now, I don’t think the best idea is to say “wait until he hits free agency and sign him then,” because another team will likely have already traded for him, and you better believe that team is going to do everything it can to get him to sign that extension before he hits the open market. If the Cubs don’t get him now, then there’s certainly a chance they won’t have that opportunity in the future.
Could they go a different route and add a player (or players) this offseason? Sure, but there are so few players out there that stack up to the value Soto brings, and he still has age on his side. For example, look at the shortstop market. Of the big-name players who might be available this winter (a couple would still have to opt out of their contracts), Carlos Correa is the youngest at 27 years old. That’s an extra four years the Cubs could get out of Soto before he even hits the same age Correa is now.
And again, just because the Cubs aren’t competitive right now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t even look into Soto. He’s not just a player a team should go out and get when it’s ready to win. He’s a player who can help a team win now, next year, the year after that and for years down the road. Yes, the money Soto will command is going to take up a large chunk of a team’s payroll, which means that team will have to be smart and efficient in how it builds around him. But this is the big-market Chicago Cubs we’re talking about. There will be a team that’s going to give him that money and still expects to win a World Series with him, and there’s no reason that couldn’t be the Cubs.
The other argument I’ve seen against the idea of signing Soto is that the Cubs would have to give up too much to get him.
We’ve seen various ideas of what a package would be, but just to put out a scenario, I’m going to address this report from Ken Rosenthal:
In that scenario, a package from the Cubs could look something like Nico Hoerner and one of Keegan Thompson or Justin Steele (who all have multiple years of club control) and Brennen Davis, Cristian Hernandez and Pete Crow-Armstrong (Cubs’ top three prospects and all in MLB’s top 100, per MLB Pipeline). Honestly, even if you throw Kevin Alcantara or Caleb Kilian in there (Cubs’ Nos. 4 and 6), that still probably wouldn’t be enough to make a deal, but that’s just what we’re going to roll with here.
Yes, that hurts. Hoerner and Thompson have both been exciting and look like pieces for that “Next Great Cubs Team,” while the Cubs would also lose upwards of four of their top prospects from a farm system they’ve just spent the last 19 or so months rebuilding. While the major league club is losing, Cubs fans have turned their attention to these young players, and trading away this many of them for a player the Cubs would have to turn around and extend is not something every fan will get on board with. However, to not make that deal would mean the Cubs are counting on any of those players to reach anything close to what Soto is. I don’t love saying that they haven’t proved anything yet, but it is true in this sense. Hoerner is in just his first full season as the starting shortstop. Thompson is in just his first full season in the big leagues, and he’s only been a full-fledged part of the rotation for a couple of months at this point. As for the prospects, Davis is the only one who’s expected to see the big leagues in the next calendar year (include Kilian, too, if he’s also going to be in that deal). None of them have proved they’re going to be big-time major league players for the long-haul, and though Hoerner and Thompson have had impressive seasons, the Cubs would be fortunate to see those two or any of the prospects they give up become perennial All-Stars.
Again, it hurts to give up young players who’ve shown signs of being good players, but to be against doing that would also mean you think the Cubs wouldn’t be able to get other prospects to replace them. Sure, they didn’t do that during the last winning era, but the Cubs are confident that they’ll be able to do that this time around with the changes they’ve made in the minor league infrastructure over the last few years. And as it stands, they appear to be doing that. On FanGraphs’ farm rankings, the Cubs are fifth. They just added some high-upside talent in the draft, and they’ll bring in some more prospects at the trade deadline (more on that later).
I think fans are right to be excited about these youngsters. Hell, my tweet about PCA getting promoted to High-A South Bend earlier this year might’ve gotten the most interactions I’ve ever had. But they are also players who still have a long way to go, and as Soto gets older and better, who’s to say the whole combination of those prospects will added up to the value the Cubs could get from Soto? It’ll be tough to give up a big chunk of the farm the Cubs have worked back to a respectable level, but to me, that’s still not an argument that should take them out of the Soto sweepstakes.
As for what the trade deadline will actually look like on the North Side, it seems like the time is coming for the Cubs to say goodbye to some players for the second year in a row.
The three-game sweep of the Phillies didn’t change anything. The Cubs could turn around and sweep the two-game set against the Pirates and the four-game series in San Francisco, but even then, they’d still be 13 games under .500. There’s likely no scenario in which the Cubs aren’t sellers at the deadline, which means fans might have to take these next two home games as opportunities to see some of their favorites play at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform for the last time.
Willson Contreras is expected to be dealt by the deadline. He’s going to be a free agent this season, but he’s an All-Star catcher whose bat and energy would help any contender in a playoff push. We saw what the Cubs were able to get for rental players at the deadline last year. Contreras could certainly bring back an exciting prospect or two. Ian Happ is the other All-Star who might not get a chance to call Wrigley Field home after this week. He’s unlocked something this season that would make him attractive for buyers over the next eight days. With another year of club control before he hits free agency, the Cubs could certainly bring him back if they don’t get the package they’re looking for. But Happ has had an up-and-down career prior to becoming an All-Star this year. If the Cubs aren’t confident that he’ll be able to maintain this level of play even past this year, they could be so inclined to trade him while his value is high.
Those aren’t the Cubs only two trade chips, but they’re the two who have been here longest that fans have watched from the time they were still prospects to players who earned their trips to Los Angeles for the Midsummer Classic last week. There’s no guarantee that either of them make it back to Chicago in a Cubs uniform, so if you’ve got the means to do it, it might be nice to see them at Wrigley one last time.
The Cubs brought in some interesting prospects during the draft last week, and we got to talk to vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz about how some of those picks came together and what the scouting department saw that made it lock in on those players.
Here are some that I found most intriguing.
On how Cade Horton (1st round) who shot up draft boards with his postseason performance: “His performance throughout the year continuously improved, which was consistent with the timeline of somebody coming back from Tommy John surgery. I think what we started to see towards the end, with his performance in Omaha in the College World Series, was indicative of the Cade Horton that we’re going to see in the future. I also don’t think we’ve seen the best of him. I think it’s one instance, ironically, where having a little bit later draft probably worked to our advantage, in the sense that I don’t think we probably would have had the opportunity to see him really at his best and to have the confidence to take him as high as we did had the draft been a month ago.”
On Jackson Ferris (2nd round), a highly-rated southpaw from IMG Academy (Fla.): “The competition a program like IMG faces is pretty strong, and it’s a national schedule. We had the opportunity to have 10 different scouts evaluate Jackson throughout the spring. This wasn’t somebody that was just coming in and pitching with two pitches for two innings. He’s throwing complete games and showing off four pitches and going multiple times through the order and showing an ability to make in-game adjustments. It kind of went above and beyond sort of your typical two-pitch high school pitcher. This is somebody with a full repertoire, and once he adds a little weight to his frame, we think he’s pretty ripe to add power across his full mix.”
On Nazier Mulé (4th round), who was a two-star at Passaic Tech High School (N.J.) on the mound and in the field: “We thoroughly evaluated him both ways this year. We have some scouts that are really excited about him offensively, too. He’s just a dynamic, exceptional athlete. I think the way that we’ve planned it out internally is that we’re going to first evaluate him as a pitcher, but remain open-minded as far as sort of how his role might evolve. Just because we’re going to start off with the evaluation one way doesn’t mean we’re going to typecast him into that role in particular. He’s dynamic on both sides of the ball. That’s one of the reasons why we drafted him. I think we’re going to be open-minded to somebody that might be able to do both or however that involves going forward. But we certainly don’t want to close the doors there.”
On Mason McGwire (8th round), the son of former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire: “This was something that we evaluated Mason completely independent of the name on the back of his jersey. This is a projectable arm where the fastball is just lively; it comes out easy, comes out hot. And then he’s got a split that you don’t really see every day on the amateur side. So he’s somebody that, despite being a McGwire, we were interested in Mason as a pitcher. It’s just fortuitous that we did have a relationship with Mark (from Kantrovitz’s time with the Cardinals), but I would credit Mason and Evan Kauffman, our area scout, for putting in a lot of work here to get to know him as a person and as a pitcher. It’s great that he’s got that exposure and that he comes from a family that understands the grind here, but I wouldn’t want to sort of take anything away from the hard work that he’s done to put himself in this position.”
On Shane Marshall (14th round), who pitched all of 1 2/3 innings at Georgia but was drafted as a pitcher anyway: “Shane is going to be exclusively a pitcher. And in that case, it’s a little different. I think you could consider it more of a conversion candidate in that sense, but there’s no plans for Shane to do anything but pitch once he gets to the organization. We’ve been fortunate enough where our scouts have seen some pretty special fastballs out of him. When you get a few different data points, even if it’s just not too many pitches, if it’s a potentially special pitch, it’s something that we want to make sure that we have the opportunity to develop. We’re excited about him.”
On Haydn McGeary (15th round), a two-time Division II Player of the Year: “He’s accumulated just off-the-charts, Nintendo-type numbers. But that’s kind of backed up by some context neutral data points as well, when we’re talking about kind of exit velo and the manner in which the ball just flies off his back. Haydn was one of, I think, five or six players out of the 20 that we drafted that attended one of our pre-draft workouts. And Haydn attended our workout in Arizona, our complex in Mesa. We were able to sort of kind of dig deeper and get to know him on a different, deeper level. It just got to the point where we were really comfortable in the potential in having a power bat.”
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
- Draft recap: How Cade Horton became the Cubs’ first top-10 pick in seven years
- Grading the Cubs after a frustrating first half
- Willson Contreras celebrates 3rd All-Star Game — but this time, with his brother
- CHGO Cubs Roundtable: What the Cubs need to show in the second half
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