CHICAGO -- Ah, social media, how I love thee.
Already the "rumor" mill is churning as the Chicago Cubs embark on a key offseason effort to bolster their roster. The goal, of course, is to repeat their fabulous regular season while enhancing their chances at a World Series run.
President Theo Epstein has already stated that his team’s No. 1 goal is to add more pitching. No surprise there. Will he add via free agency or trade or both? If it’s going to be via trade, the Cubs will have to give up something to get something.
"I would love to have our entire position group back," Epstein said the day after the season ended. "I think the competition is good, the depth is great, the redundancy is important, and it’s a significant competitive advantage to have a solution at the ready if something goes wrong. It’s a competitive advantage to make out a lineup tailored for that night’s opposing pitcher. It’s a huge advantage.
"It might not be possible. We have some other areas we need to address. We may be forced ... to take away from that position-player group to add pitching. I don’t know."
So that means a key player or two off the current roster could be moved for pitching. Several people in the blogosphere have explored the possibility of trading Kyle Schwarber to the American League since he "projects" as a designated hitter.
Let’s start with the fact that if the Cubs wanted equal pitching to hitting they wouldn’t have drafted hitters in the first round over the past four years. If they trade Schwarber, they will just be looking to replace him, especially considering everything he brings to the table starting with being a dangerous left-handed hitter. It might be easier to find pitching.
Now, that’s a little simplistic, as trading Schwarber for a pitcher in his prime isn’t the same as drafting one who is unproven, but the point is the Cubs want to trade from where they are redundant or can get maximum value.
The Cubs absolutely love what Schwarber can do. As has been repeated many times, if he ends up catching he’s a left-handed power/on-base guy who are rare to find behind the plate. Plus, they believe he’ll be a big time leader at a leadership position -- if he catches.
Even if he doesn’t catch that doesn’t diminish his value all that much. Who cares if he’s an average left fielder? The Cubs don’t. He will more than make up for it with his offense. It feels like everyone is freaking out because he had a tough go of it on defense in the NLCS. He did. There is no denying that, but was his defense a big deal during the regular season? He had his bad moments, but not to the point of believing trading him for pitching was any answer. The ball found him in the NLCS. It happens.
The Cubs don’t go deep into the postseason without Schwarber’s second-half contributions. That’s the bigger point here. He can get a whole lot better on defense before the Cubs can find a talent like him again. He projected to be about a minus-10 to 13 defensive runs saved if he played a full season in the outfield. That’s about the same as Dexter Fowler (minus-12) this year, and not many are talking about not re-signing him because of his defense. He's about to get paid a lot of money, and Fowler plays center field, more important than left.
Schwarber isn’t bad on his feet. The No. 4 overall pick, who made it to the big leagues one year after being drafted, should be given the benefit of the doubt that he can get better in the outfield. And anyone who has been around him and sees his work ethic and the leadership qualities wouldn’t be so quick to trade him -- even if it might be for another team’s ace. You never say no to a deal before seeing it on the table, but if the Cubs are going to make a trade, look for Starlin Castro, Javier Baez or Jorge Soler to be on the move. Castro and Baez are potentially redundant in the middle of the infield and might be bigger question marks at the plate in terms of their impact compared to Schwarber. We know Castro has it in him, but we also know has issues at times. Baez is still unproven, but looking better. Both increased their trade value in the second half.
Soler is injury-prone and only came on strong at the end of the year. He did hit the ball hard, as you would expect. Remember, I’m looking for reasons to dangle them instead of Schwarber. They are all very talented, but that’s the way you acquire talent back. It bears repeating. All three are really good, but keeping Anthony Rizzo, Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell intact should be the Cubs' first choice. You can bet it is.
The final thought might be the most important. The Cubs went far this year with an imperfect starting staff. Their pitching "infrastructure" is really good. They don’t need to make a hasty move just to hand pitching coach Chris Bosio an ace. Take a secondary guy for a secondary position player. Or better yet, just buy one or two on the open market and enter 2016 with the offense intact. They will have some margin for error on their staff considering the offense they will employ for a full season -- at least until the postseason. That’s when the Cubs will need to outpitch the opposition.
If anyone is advocating moving Schwarber, there is no reason Bryant and Russell shouldn’t be in play as well. Why just him? We can find deficiencies in anyone’s game, especially rookies. They’re not in play and neither should Schwarber be in play. Barring some crazy lopsided deal, his value is too great. That’s not a rumor. That’s a fact.