Why Not Making a Move is the Right Move
The upside of two trade targets, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, is not worth the Cubs exploring that option right now. Keeping Soler and Baez helps the Cubs for 2016 and the rotation is better and deeper than people realize. There could be a move at the deadline for one of these pitchers, but right now is not the right time for the Cubs.
Lets flashback to December 11th for a moment. That is the day rumors came out that Jason Heyward was going to sign with the Cubs. The happiness and jubilation filled every Cubs fan’s heart. Just dreaming about the lineup, with Ben Zobrist signed earlier in that week, was something that made every Cubs fan want the calendar to flip to February for Spring Training. However, there was one rumor that came out that same day about a different Cubs player, Jorge Soler. Soler, along with Javier Baez, has been rumored to be a possible center piece of a trade to acquire a young, cost controlled starting pitcher. While there are arguments that say trading for one of these pitchers can help not only the 2016 team, but the team for the next three to four years, there are a few reasons why the Cubs should stand pat with their team right now, but the upside of these young players isn’t worth trading them.
Acquiring a young starting pitcher would help the Cubs anchor a rotation that could change in a big way in two or three years. However, there isn’t a realistic deal for the Cubs to make to trade for one of these pitchers without including a part of their young core, namely Jorge Soler and Javier Baez. Let’s start with Soler. The 23-year-old outfielder is signed through 2020, after signing a 9 year/$30 million deal in the summer of 2012. Soler has struggled to stay on the field in his time in professional ball, while dealing with a number of injuries. In 2015, Soler missed time with an ankle sprain and an oblique injury. The outfielder only accumulated 404 plate appearances in 101 games over the season, but the postseason is where Soler thrived. In his first playoff appearance, Soler reached base safely in his first nine plate appearances and in all seven postseason games that he played in, while finishing with a .474/.600/1.105 slash line, three doubles, and three home runs. While Soler was only worth 0.1 fWAR and the defense is shaky at times, Soler slides perfectly into the right field spot for the 2016 Cubs, with new outfielder Jason Heyward in centerfield. If the Cubs were to part with Soler, that moves Heyward to right field, and an outside option, most likely, to play centerfield.
Another young Cubs position player who flourished in his postseason debut was Javier Baez. The 23-year-old started in place of the injured Addison Russell in Game 4 of the NLDS and Baez responded with a booming, opposite-field 3-run home run in the second inning, which gave the Cubs the lead. Baez has come under some criticism for his 2014 rookie year performance, where he hit .169 with a 53 wRC+, a 41.5% K rate, and was worth -0.8 fWAR in 434 plate appearances. In 2015, Baez missed time on bereavement, dealing with the death of his sister, and a broken finger, as the young infielder only had 80 plate appearances in the majors, which were all in September. However, in his time in the majors, Baez did improve. Baez ended with a .289 average, a 98 wRC+, a decreased K rate of 30%, and a final fWAR of 0.5 in 28 games. The upside with Baez is that he can play three positions in the infield, all above average, and is now working in Winter Ball playing some centerfield. The Cubs signed Zobrist in the offseason, and they may have a different version of Zobrist in Baez.
While the Cubs current rotation is a reason for concern with most people, it actually looks better than last year’s. The 2015 Cubs rotation actually ended with the highest starting pitcher fWAR in baseball at 19.2. Pointing at the lack of starting pitching in the playoffs is a viable argument. Then enter John Lackey, who is coming off a career year in St. Louis last year with a 2.77 ERA, a 3.57 FIP, and 3.6 fWAR to lead the Cardinals rotation. Lackey fits into the three spot in the Cubs rotation, behind NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta and last offseason’s free agent prize Jon Lester. While the backend of the rotation was a revolving door, especially the 5 spot, the depth has been answered. Kyle Hendricks likely has the 4th slot locked down, coming off a sophomore year where he compiled a 3.95 ERA, a 3.36 FIP, a 3.25 xFIP, and 3.4 fWAR. For the last spot in the rotation, there are a number of interesting options that including Jason Hammel, who was a star in the first half of 2015, and a number of swingmen like newly-acquired Adam Warren, Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Clayton Richard, who all will be stretched out in the spring to battle for the last rotation spot. With these pitchers that can move from the rotation to the pen and back to the rotation gives the Cubs flexibility if there were an injury were to happen in the rotation, a spot the Cubs were not suited for last year.
While trading for a Carlos Carrasco or a Tyson Ross would certainly help the Cubs rotation and make it possibly the best rotation in baseball, the Cubs are in a great position right now. They don’t have to make a move. The 2015 Cubs won 97 games and added three key free agents and rotation depth. While Soler and Baez both have flaws and could not end up as projected, there is a ton of upside for both players. Soler should be the starting right fielder on Opening Day, and Baez could possibly play four different positions and provide much needed power off the bench. As for the rotation, the newly acquired depth is a key attribute and can help the Cubs in the long run of the season. There are many reason to make a move, but right now, the Cubs should sit back and get ready for the season with the team they have now.