A Review of the First 9 Days of July's Transactions
In the latter half of June, Jed Hoyer said that he thought there was about a 50/50 shot that the Cubs would make any trades before the All Star Break. Either Jed Hoyer was using a bit of misdirection (also called lying through his teeth), or things moved a lot faster than he thought they would because the Cubs have been involved in four trades through July 9th. But who did the Cubs trade, what did they get back, and does this give any indication for how the Cubs plan to move forward with the rest of the 2013 trading season and beyond?
Cubs trade RHP Scott Feldman and C/IF Steve Clevenger for RHPs Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, and international signing money
Of the moves the Cubs have made so far, this one appears to have disappointed fans the most. Feldman pitched very well as a Cub (3.46 ERA in 91 innings over 15 starts), while Clevenger was at least a serviceable backup catcher and corner infielder when he could stay healthy. Arriet has the stuff to be a number 2 starter, with four pitches and a mid-90s fastball, but has lacked the command and control to turn that stuff into good Major League pitching. Strop comes from the Carlos Marmol school of relief pitching: he’ll strike out a lot of hitters, but he’ll walk a lot of hitters too. However, he doesn’t have anywhere near the mileage on his arm that Marmol has at this point.
I actually get why the Cubs wanted to pull the trigger quickly on Feldman. There was a concern he could turn into something of a pumpkin, as his FIP and xFIP are both right around 4.00. Also, once the market for the Matt Garzas, Yovani Gallardos, and other similar pitchers of the baseball world developed, moving Feldman could have become more difficult.
The real confusion is in Arrieta as the big piece back. There are two rationales the Cubs could have behind bringing in Arrieta. First, he’s a guy that has been mentioned in a lot of trade rumors around baseball as a popular buy low candidate, so the Cubs might think they could flip him for prospects. Second, the Cubs might think they could fix Arrieta. If it is the latter, at least they will get Derek Johnson working with him.
Cubs Trade RHP Carlos Marmol and international signing money to the Dodgers for RHP Matt Guerrier
This was a largely a straight swap of struggling relievers. Marmol had been DFA’d by the Cubs, Guerrier had been DFA’d by the Dodgers. Guerrier has enough of a track record that a hot July could make him someone the Cubs could flip again. But likely it’s just giving a couple of veterans who didn’t have places with their prior organizations another chance.
Cubs Trade 2B Ronald Torreyes (Double A) to the Astros for international signing money
Since Torreyes had joined the Cubs’ organization in the Sean Marshall trade, he had been an intriguing prospect. Not necessarily a good prospect, but an intriguing one. Torreyes is absolutely tiny. He’s listed at 5’9″, 140 lbs, but from everything I’ve heard the height could be overstated by as much as 4 inches. He has absolutely no power and can only legitimately play 2B defensively. But he has truly elite contact skills that propelled him through the lower minors. Unfortunately for Torreyes, the numbers kept declining as he moved up the ladder, likely making the Cubs believe that the contact skills wouldn’t be enough. That, plus the Cubs wanting to promote Javier Baez to Double A and Arismendy Alcantara’s emergence would have made it difficult for Torreyes to get everyday at bats at Double A with the Cubs.
Cubs Trade OF Scott Hairston to Nationals for Minor League RHP Ivan Pineyro (High A)
This trade was more along the lines of what everyone expected. The Cubs traded one of their role players who would have more value to a contender for a pitching prospect. Don’t let Hairston’s batting average fool you, he was actually pretty decent this season, just with the worst BABIP of any hitter with at least 100 PAs by a country mile at .129. Hairston hit more home runs (8) than singles (7) with the Cubs. And that just means he had some crappy luck, considering all of his other rate stats stayed on par with his career numbers. Hairston is only a guy who can crush left handed pitching but not much else, but of the corner outfielders who fit that description he is one of the better ones.
Pineyro isn’t an elite prospect, but is a legitimate one. He was at the back end of some of the longer organizational top prospect lists at the beginning of the season, and performed well in Low A before a recent promotion to High A in the Nationals’ system. Throughout his young career he’d been able to record a lot of strikeouts while limiting walks, a great sign from a young pitcher. This is someone who has a legitimate shot to contribute in a Major League starting rotation, which is the most you can ask in return for an outfielder whose primary skill is mashing left handed pitching.
The one curiosity is why the Cubs traded Hairston in the first place? This was a solid return for Hairston, so it’s possible the Nationals approached the Cubs instead of the Cubs shopping Hairston around. But Hairston was signed cheaply through 2014, and was a logical choice as a short term replacement for Alfonso Soriano if Soriano was traded. I just have a feeling that the Cubs don’t think they’re going to be able to get what they would view as a fair return for Soriano, and we’re likely to see the Cubs’ left fielder in blue pinstripes at least through the middle of next year.
The Cubs Sign all the International Amateur Free Agents, and Will Incur Penalties Next Season
Ok, not quite all of the international amateurs, but a huge proportion of the best ones. Since they are largely a bunch of talented 16 year olds I could only provide very limited information on, I won’t go through the names, but the info is readily available on the internet. In the process, the Cubs blew through their international amateur spending limits, and will face significant penalties. First, the Cubs will have to pay a 100% tax on everything over their spending limit (a few million dollars). Second, and more importantly, the Cubs will not be able to sign anyone to a bonus of more than $250,000 next season.
Some are saying that this was always the Cubs’ plan: blow through the spending limit on a strong international free agent class this year, then trade away a lot of their international spending limit next season for higher level prospects or MLB talent.
Honestly, I doubt this. If the Cubs were going to blow their international spending limit so significantly, why bother trading assets to accumulate the ability to put more money towards international free agents in the first place? I think that there came a point where it became clear to the Cubs that they were not going to be able to sign all the players they wanted to for the money they had available without incurring big penalties, and as such they just decided to sign everyone they can this year. Once you’re in the worst penalty zone, you might as well take full advantage of the offending behavior.
The good news is that the Cubs being even willing to risk going over their international spending limit means they likely at least contemplated this idea of going over this year, then trading away much of their international spending money next year. It could be a sign that the Cubs are looking to flip the switch to being competitive at the Major League level in 2014, as the international spending money they would be looking to trade could help bring players that would help the Cubs get better immediately.