The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs need to make a few moves at the MLB trade deadline to get back to the Fall Classic.
Has there been a World Series hangover in Chicago?
The Cubs finally broke through and won a World Championship for the first time in more than a century in 2016, and with a roster packed with young talent, the club had the look of a dynasty. Instead, Chicago has spent the bulk of the 2017 season looking up at the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central division standings, and at whatever powerful NL West team wasn’t in first place at the time in the Wild Card race.
On July 1, the Cubs fell to 40-41 after a 5-3 loss to the Reds, which put them three games out in the division race and seven back in the Wild Card standings. For comparison’s sake, Chicago had a 10-game division lead and 51-28 record on that date last season.
What’s different? Injuries have played a role. Jason Heyward and Kyle Hendricks are both on the disabled list, and Brett Anderson made six largely terrible starts before a back injury sent him to the 60-day DL. Also, pitching has taken a step back overall, especially in the starting rotation. Hendricks, who won the NL ERA crown last season, has a 4.09 ERA in 11 starts. Ace Jake Arrieta has a 4.67 ERA after posting a 2.42 ERA combined over the three previous years.
Also, the Cubs had a historically great defense in 2016. Last season, Chicago had the best Defensive Efficiency of all-time according to Baseball Prospectus, having recorded outs on 74.5 percent of balls in play. According to FanGraphs, the Chicago had 69.0 Defensive Runs Above Average last season, by far the most in the majors. This year, the Cubs have recorded a slightly above average 9.8 Def, which ranks ninth in baseball and 15.0 behind the best defense in baseball, the Reds.
While there’s no dire need to go out and acquire defensive stalwarts, improvements can be made to the roster – especially in the starting rotation. But, the Cubs are in a unique position to make a major splash in the summer trade market because of their deep pockets and deep farm system.
If there’s one team capable of adding two or three big names in July, it’s Chicago. With that in mind, we explore five trades the Cubs should make before the July 31 MLB trade deadline.
Cubs Trade Needs and Assets
Far and away the biggest need on the Cubs roster today is starting pitching. Chicago starters have combined for a 4.54 ERA through Saturday, which ranks No. 15 in the majors and in the middle of the pack in the National League.
Jon Lester is the only Cubs pitcher with more than five starts under his belt to post an ERA under 4.00, though Mike Montgomery has a 3.58 ERA in five starts since moving into the rotation June 9, and has a 2.80 ERA in 64.1 innings this season. Arrieta and Hendricks have both taken a step back, as has John Lackey. Adding a front-line starter to stabilize the rotation should be priority No. 1.
This one is a little less obvious, particularly because manager Joe Maddon doesn’t currently see the need for his team to steal bases. With a lineup that isn’t built to steal, the Cubs rank 28th in the majors with 24 stolen bases this season. However, there might be a time down the stretch of the season, or more so in the postseason, when it makes sense to put an electric base runner on the roster, and let him loose on the base paths to help manufacture a run.
Baseball Prospectus Organizational Talent Ranking: 13
MLB.com Top 100 Prospects: 3
MLB.com Top 10 Prospects
- Eloy Jimenez, OF
- Dylan Cease, RHP
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B/1B
- Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
- Mark Zagunis, OF
- Trevor Clifton, RHP
- Jose Albertos, RHP
- J. Wilson, OF
- Eddy Martinez, OF
- Thomas Hatch, RHP
The biggest name potentially available to the Cubs’ suitors is Kyle Schwarber, who was a World Series hero last season before struggling at the big league level this year. Though he’s hit just .171/.295/.378, Schwarber has 12 home runs in 258 plate appearances as a major leaguer this season, and he’s has the ability to play multiple positions.
Primarily a left fielder in Chicago, Schwarber was demoted to Triple-A in June and has hit four homers in seven games for the Iowa Cubs. Expect Schwarber back in the big leagues before long, though teams will surely be calling about the former top prospect prior to the trade deadline.
And speaking of top prospects, Eloy Jimenez ranks No. 8 in MLB.com’s Top 100 prospect rankings. Jimenez has one of the most powerful bats in the minor leagues, and he’s sure to be on the top of everyone’s list when trying to make a trade with the Cubs.
Likely still two years from the majors, Chicago would likely need to be blown away to deal Jimenez. However, with the names on our list, it’s safe to say each of the trade packages that follow would require at least Schwarber or Jimenez and two or three other top 20 prospects. Current big leaguers like Tommy LaStella and Albert Almora might also be available.