Player Acquisition Cost: LHP Sean Doolittle
Despite a record 27 games over .500, it has become apparent in the past week that the Cubs are in need of another high end middle reliever to stabilize a bullpen that has been somewhat in turmoil of late. Currently, the group has a 3.51 ERA, a full run higher than a 2.31 ERA of the starting pitchers. Pitchers Justin Grimm, Adam Warren and Clayton Richard have been underwhelming and caused manager Joe Maddon to over rely on Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Travis Wood in key situations. Reports have the front office actively looking for help, but not wanting to overpay and lose leverage.
Last week, we profiled Andrew Miller, one of the best left-handed relievers on the market and chatter has another southpaw catching the front office’s eye in Sean Doolittle of the Oakland Athletics.
The Athletics are currently in the cellar of the AL West with a 28-41 record and could sell off their more expensive pieces to retool against a tough division in the coming years. Doolittle certainly fits the bill after signing a five-year, $10.5 million extension back in 2014. He’s set to earn a combined $7 million over the next two seasons and holds two team options for $6 and $6.5 million over 2019 and 2020. That’s a huge chunk of change for a player who lost his closing job in April and has had shoulder troubles in the past.
For a team like the Cubs though who are in the midst of a World Series run and have much deeper pockets, a player like Doolittle could be a worthwhile gamble. In his career, he has an 11-12 record, 32 saves, 2.98 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 259 strikeouts in 220.1 innings. This season, he had a rough start, but has bounce backed to a 1-2 record, three saves, 2.60 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. Though his numbers aren’t as eye-popping as Miller, he could slide in the role currently vacated by Justin Grimm’s recent ineffectiveness and slide Travis Wood into his more customary long relief spot. He also gives the team another potential closing option if needed.
To get a gauge on Doolittle’s value, names like LHP Jake McGee, RHP Joakim Soria and RHP Kevin Jepsen come to mind. All three relievers came with at least two years of control, closing experience and the utility of being used in a variety of roles.
McGee is the most recent of the deals as he was sent from the Tampa Bay Rays along with RHP German Marquez to the Colorado Rockies for OF Corey Dickerson and 3B Kevin Padlo. At the time of the trade, McGee had been one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball earning a 21-11 record, 26 saves, 2.77 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 319 strikeouts in 259.2 innings. He is currently earning $4.8 million for this year, a steep price for a Rays’ team with not a lot of payroll to spend or chance to contend in a tough division. In return, the Rockies gave up Dickerson, who had a .299 career average, had shown solid power with 39 home runs in three seasons and had four years on control remaining. They also added Padlo, a top 15 prospect who also had good power, but like Cubs’ prospect Dan Vogelbach, there were concerns over his lack of athleticism holding up long term. The Rays had to also throw in top 25 prospect in Marquez whose mid-90s fastball, coupled with an average curveball and fringe change, to sweeten the deal to pry away Dickerson.
Soria has been traded twice in his career, but his first trade at the deadline in 2014 from the Texas Rangers to the Detroit Tigers for RHP Jake Thompson and RHP Corey Knebel follows a similar setup to comparison to a Doolittle trade.
At the time of the deal, Soria had a lot more closing experience with 178 saves in his career, but was expected to slide into a setup role to strengthen Detroit’s bullpen thanks to his 2.70 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 33.1 frames. The Tigers gave up two of their top six prospects for his services. Thompson, a starter has mid-rotation upside thanks to a low- to mid-90s fastball and good slider. Knebel, a reliever had already reached the majors after being drafted the year before with the 39th overall pick. He has future closer potential thanks to a fastball that touches 98 mph and a knee-bending curve.
Jepsen doesn’t quite have the track record of the other two, but had shown solid flashes over his career. He was acquired at last year’s deadline by the Minnesota Twins from the Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Chih-Wei Hu and RHP Alexis Tapia. At the time of the deal, Jepsen was 2-5, with five saves, 2.81 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. Wei Hu was a top 20 prospect in a top 5 system and showed good results with a 3.22 ERA in 109 IP. A low-90s fastball and good command are high points, but a unique palm ball varied for scouts from his best pitch to fringy. Tapia was an international signing with not much experience outside of rookie ball, but had shown good control and a projectable body type.
Based on these three deals, Doolittle is probably worth a useful Major Leaguer with some control or two to three top 15 prospects. The Jeff Samardzija trade with Oakland makes general manager Billy Beane probably familiar with many of the Cubs prospects and they do have some good assets to offer for a team in transition.
A name sure to be discussed is Jorge Soler. Soler has shown good promise from time to time and is probably the team’s best asset at this point. The recent emergence of Albert Almora Jr. and a rehabbing Kyle Schwarber leave Soler without a place on this team going forward. In 585 at-bats, he’s smashed 31 doubles and 20 home runs. A team like the A’s can give Soler development time and will need outfielders once Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick leave in free agency.
Other potential names that could pique Oakland’s interest include Matt Szczur, Tommy La Stella, Jeimer Candelario, Pierce Johnson, Carl Edwards Jr., Dan Vogelbach, Corey Black, Mark Zagunis and Duane Underwood Jr.
Sean Doolittle would be a nice addition for a team that has recently shown a need for added bullpen depth. He’s likely to be cheaper than a high end name like Andrew Miller, but that might all depend if Beane feels the need for retribution when the Cubs essentially stole Addison Russell from him. The two clubs recently matched up on a deal to swap utility players Chris Coghlan and Arismendy Alcantara, so a deal could be struck quickly again. The front office has been reported to be looking to add someone sooner rather than at the deadline, so time will tell for the next couple of weeks.
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