With just over a week remaining until the trade deadline, we turn our attention to a front office favorite in Luis Valbuena who has started to gain interest in teams like the Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays who are in need of some starting infield depth. Valbuena’s appeal lies in a few things, first being his ability to get on base. Valbuena was picked up off of waivers from the Blue Jays in 2012 and has been a mainstay at third as Mike Olt hasn’t been able to supplant him. Another positive to Valbuena is the amount of control an acquiring team would gain, as Valbuena will not be a free agent until after the 2016 season. Another gain for Valbuena is his versatility. In his time for the Cubs, Valbuena has mostly played third, but he also has experience at second, shortstop and a little in the outfield. This versatility gives an acquiring team depth and broadens the Cubs pool of teams to trade him too. Because of his versatility, let’s look at what the Cubs could expect to receive for Valbuena due to his ability to start at a couple of positions.
As mentioned above, Luis Valbuena has spent much of his time with the Cubs at third, despite not being the prototypical third baseman that hits for power and can drive in runs. Since third base is usually a hard position to fill and there’s generally a dearth of players at the position available at the deadline, Valbuena may be of value to someone. At the deadline last year, the A’s acquired Alberto Callaspo from the Angels for a middle infield prospect in Grant Green. Callaspo is a similar player to Valbuena with a little bit of pop, ability to get on base although he is a better hitter. Callaspo came with a year of control and strengthened the A’s depth in the infield with experience at second base and third base. Green gave the Angels a similar player to Callaspo who could play multiple positions but was much younger and cheaper, an ideal return for a rebuilding team like the Cubs.
It’s more likely though that Valbuena is seen as a second baseman for most clubs due to his career statistics with the bat. Another versatile player known for his time at the keystone and in the outfield is Skip Schumaker who was traded from the Cardinals to the Dodgers for minor leaguer Jake Lemmerman. The return on this trade is quite the contrary from the Callaspo deal, as Schumaker was always a productive player with the Cardinals as a pinch hitter and a fill in who could get on base and hit for average. It seems curious that all the Cardinals received in return was a minor league utility player in Lemmerman to fill a bench role in Triple-A then be released in the following offseason.
The last deal we will consider is for a player who has been traded multiple times in his career, Marco Scutaro. Scutaro is another versatile player who is definitely an overall better player than Valbuena. For example, in 2012, when he was acquired from the Rockies, he hit a ridiculous .362 and was named the NLCS MVP. All the Giants gave up for Scutaro was utility infielder Charlie Culberson who has yet to find any consistent success in the majors. When Scutaro was traded to the Rockies from the Red Sox in the offseason prior to the 2012 season, the Rockies gave up Clayton Mortensen who ended up being a long reliever for the Red Sox with limited success. In both trades, Scutaro was a reliable middle infielder who could hit and play all over the diamond, but was acquired very cheaply.
Which begs the question on the return for Valbuena, is it worth the team to trade him or to keep him? As these trades suggest, Valbuena at best could be flipped for a younger, similar player with more control or for minor league depth in general. With the Cubs having a lot of quality position players in the minors and with rival teams unlikely to give up decent young pitching for Valbuena, it’s hard to see a trade made for him that makes sense beyond moving him to clear space for young prospects. Valbuena’s versatility may be more valuable on the Cubs bench than to be moved for next to nothing.