Player Acquisition Cost: Outfielders
After the trade acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, it would be easy to assume that the Chicago Cubs might be done making deals. However, there still have been quite a few rumors swirling around that the front office are looking for a lefty batting outfield power bat. It’s easy to see why as the offense has been fairly inconsistent lately, batting just .238/.321/.360 since the All-Star break.
The offense has been very similar to last year’s team with Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant making the offense go. Veteran acquisitions Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward were supposed to lengthen the lineup, but lately neither has really contributed. Zobrist looked like a revelation in May batting a ridiculous .406/.483/.653 but since then has batted a meager .195/.310/.349. Heyward has been in a season-long slump and isn’t earning his $21.6 million salary with his pitiful .632 OPS.
Recently, we profiled the best bat on the market in Josh Reddick. Reddick was drafted by Theo Epstein and is a complete player. He can hit for average, power, has a little speed and has been one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Reddick isn’t the only prize on the market though and the Cubs have been linked to others. Names like Jay Bruce, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Beltran and Brett Gardner have been connected to the Cubs before while players like Carlos Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury are other possibilities.
Other than Reddick, Bruce has probably been mentioned the most as a potential target for the Cubs. Fans should be very familiar with him as he has spent the past nine seasons as a member of division rivals, the Cincinnati Reds. In his career, he’s batted .249/.320/.471 with 238 doubles, 27 triples, 233 home runs, 717 RBI and 61 steals. Over the past couple of years, Bruce has really struggled with hitting for average, but he’s had a nice bounce back year this season, batting a solid .271 with 25 home runs and a NL leading 79 RBI. On defense, he used to be regarded as above average, but a knee injury in 2014 has slowed him considerably and he’s a shell of the player he once was. Bruce can be controlled beyond this season with a team option valued at $13 million.
In addition to Bruce, Blackmon has been a name that has popped up in rumors lately. He’s been a member of the Rockies over parts of the past six seasons and a full time starter over the last three. He’s not quite the power bat that Reddick or Bruce are, but still has double digit pop and quite a bit of speed. This season he’s batted an impressive .296/.358/.456 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 12 home runs, 44 RBI and 12 stolen bases. As with any player that’s home base is Coors Field, there’s a worry if they can hit away from there and Blackmon has batted a solid .276 away from there this year. He’s played mostly center field in his career, but has been below average defensively. He has limited experience in the corners, but has graded out much better there. He still has three years of control remaining through arbitration and if acquired could be a potential replacement for Dexter Fowler if he leaves via free agency next year.
When the Cubs acquired Chapman, you might be wondering why they didn’t add fellow Yankees Beltran and Gardner at the time of the deal if the front office was looking for an outfielder. At 52-49 and just six and a half games out of first place and four games out of the wild card, the Yankees might not have decided to make either player available yet. If they do, it probably would be easier for a deal to come together since New York has heavily scouted the Cubs farm system already.
At 39 and in the final season of his deal, it’s easy to wonder if Beltran has anything left, but he’s continued to defy his age with a strong season. He’s batted .305/.347/.548 with 21 doubles and 21 home runs and has driven in 62 runs. He’s been a pretty prolific postseason player and has a career .332 average with 16 home runs and 40 RBI in 52 games. That could be helpful to a mostly young team with limited postseason experience. It’s debatable if Beltran can still play the field though as he’s been well below average over the past four years. Although, if the Cubs were willing to go with a combination of Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler in left field at the beginning of the season, Beltran could probably be passable for a couple of months.
Gardner would probably be a better target though and was rumored to be the return in the Starlin Castro trade in the offseason. The power he showed over the last two seasons has disappeared this year and he’s batting .256/.346/.355 with 12 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 24 RBI and 13 steals. Nonetheless, Gardner would be a good fit as a number two hitter between Fowler and Rizzo. He’s controlled for two more seasons after this year and has a team option that could make it a third. He’s been a solid left fielder his whole career and this year is no different. Like Blackmon, he also could be a potential center field replacement.
Gonzalez and Ellsbury haven’t been mentioned in any rumors, but could make sense. Gonzalez has been mentioned as a trade possibility for many teams over the past couple of years. The Rockies traded away Corey Dickerson to the Rays in the off-season after they added Gerardo Parra in free agency. Now with top prospect David Dahl ready to play in the majors, there have been whispers that the Rockies could send out another outfielder which explains the Gonzalez and Blackmon rumors. Like the Yankees, the Rockies aren’t out of the race yet as they are just five games out of the wild card, so it remains to be seen if they plan to sell. If they do, Gonzalez is probably the most likely to go as he is set to earn $37 million over the next two years and the Rockies would probably like to unload his salary. He’s had his injury problems in the past, but Gonzalez has returned to being productive. This year, he’s hit .316/.369/.540 with 22 doubles, two triples, 20 home runs and 62 RBI. Gonzalez has been an average corner outfielder in his career and wouldn’t be an option in center next year as he hasn’t played the position since 2011.
Ellsbury is a huge long shot to be dealt to the Cubs, but he has the ever important Boston Red Sox connection that can’t be ignored. The front office has shown time and time again, a love for former players of theirs and Ellsbury was a very productive player in his time in Boston. The elephant in the room with Ellsbury is his exorbitant contract and whether or not if he’ll be able to last through it. Ellsbury has four years remaining and is still owed roughly $84.5 million. He’s had a variety of injuries throughout his career, but has been relatively healthy so far. He’s batted .267/.331/.372 with 14 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 31 RBI and 17 steals. He’s played mostly center field in his career, but has been an above average outfielder overall. He could be another potential long term option there.
As we saw with Chapman, the front office wasn’t shy about giving away top talent for the right player. Reddick is probably the best fit being a rental, but a player like Blackmon or Gardner could make sense as an option in center for next year. Blackmon probably has the most value and a similar haul to the Dickerson trade the Rockies made with Tampa Bay is probably necessary. That deal included a useful Major Leaguer like Jorge Soler and an intriguing prospect on the rise like Carson Sands. Reddick and Bruce probably have the next most value and will likely require two top 10 prospects. Names like Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Duane Underwood Jr. and Bryan Hudson could be fits. Gardner, Ellsbury and Gonzalez will require significant financial commitments and with all three players above the age of thirty, a top 20 prospect might be all it takes if some salary is agreed to be taken on. Donnie Dewees, Pierce Johnson, Ryan Williams or Victor Caratini could fit the bill. Beltran probably has the least cost and could be had for an interesting top 30 prospect like Justin Steele or Jen-Ho Tseng.
Whoever the Cubs deal for will probably give us a peek about the front office’s plans for next season. If they go with a player with some control, they might be looking to deal in the off-season for further upgrades. If they go for a rental, they probably will stand pat with their current mix of talent and look to add supporting cast. Most importantly, the player they add will have high expectations on their shoulders, as the Cubs hope they put them over the top to do the impossible. Win the World Series.
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