Offseason Preview: Trade Candidates

Without even knowing what the Cubs general plan is going to be this offseason, it’s very difficult to look ahead to the offseason with any confidence of what they may do. They could decide to go all in and go after guys like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder and CC Sabathia. They could pass on all of them and stand pat with what they currently have. They could trade a bunch of players and begin a rebuilding process. I’m more inclined to think that they’re more likely to trade a bunch of the veterans than they are to go all in and try to contend next year.

The new GM isn’t going to come out and just say that the Cubs won’t be contenders for a few years. That kind of honesty is rare in sports. Not to mention the uncertainty. Bad teams can contend and have and will continue to do so. Don’t be surprised to hear the GM talk about a 5-year plan, which is about what it’s going to take to rebuild the Cubs farm system and begin to produce the talent necessary to contend. At that point they can fill the holes with expensive free agents.

If that is the direction the organization is heading, I figured it might be worth taking a look at the most obvious candidates to be traded. All players are tradable, but some are more likely to be traded and help accomplish a goal than others. I’ve reached the conclusion that this is what the Cubs will do. I may be wrong and if I find out then I’ll have to think differently, but for now I’m going with this.

The first thing I want to add is that teams don’t have to have a fire sale in order to get better down the road. There are two ways that teams can add talent: trading players and signing players. Trading players subtracts some talent, usually at the big league level in favor of potential talent down the road. Trading is also done for the exact opposite reason (trade potential for production now). Signing a player only adds talent. The Cubs got a good start on that this past summer when they spent more than $20 million on amateur free agents. But if the plan is to contend down the road, some players are more useful for the young talent they can bring in a trade. Not all players will bring much in return, but are still candidates.

The list:

Matt Garza
Geovany Soto
Sean Marshall
Carlos Marmol
Ryan Dempster
Randy Wells
Jeff Baker
Blake DeWitt
Marlon Byrd
Alfonso Soriano
Carlos Zambrano
Starlin Castro

You may be surprised by the last player in that group, and I admit that it would be surprising to see Castro traded, but if the Cubs do go through a 5-year rebuilding plan, Castro is going to be very expensive and either on the verge of free agency or already a free agent. He also could bring more talent in return than most of them combined. Castro’s 2012 season will be his last at league minimum and then he has 4 years of arbitration as he’ll almost certainly be a super-two. He does have 5 years of club control left so he’s more like a borderline candidate.

Some of these players are less likely to be traded than others. Would Ryan Dempster accept a trade if he’s told by management that the team will be rebuilding? Only Ryan Dempster knows that, but Chicago is important to him becasue of his family. I would think it’s more likely Dempster would accept a trade if told the team would rebuild, but I’m not sure if that means a trade is more likely than not. Dempster has been in the league for 10 years and 5 with the Cubs so he has 10 and 5 rights (no trade rights).

The same is true for Soriano and Zambrano. People will talk a lot about the no-trade clauses the Cubs have given out, but at this point they’re irrelevant. They have the no-trade clause because of service time and length of employment by one team. Soriano, Zambrano and Dempster can all reject trades. It’s entirely up to them if they want to accept a trade and there’s nothing the Cubs can do about that.

Matt Garza, in my opinion, is the most likely player of decent value traded by the Cubs this offseason. He has 2 years of club control left and although he’s arbitration eligible each year and therefore more expensive than some of the others, he’s also the most valuable player listed there not named Starlin Castro. In terms of pure value (disregarding salary), Garza is the most valuable of them all.

When you look back at what the Cubs gave up to acquire him, it’s quite likely they would receive more than they gave up last offseason. Not only is Garza a better pitcher now, but the Cubs also got him for relatively little. The 5 players traded makes it sound like a lot more, but once Chris Archer struggled this season the deal looked a hell of a lot better. Considering the scouts opinions on Archer, it probably will remain that way.

I think there’s a very good chance that Soto is gone. I probably should have talked about him before Garza as I think Soto is traded regardless of what the Cubs intend to do next year or in the future.  After Soto’s 2008 breakout season in which he was worth 4.1 rWAR, he’s combined to be worth 5.1 rWAR over the last 3 seasons. His walk percentage is at a career low and under 10% and his strikeout percentage is at a career high at 26.3%. He’d been between 19 and 21% the other 3 full seasons. His walk rate was 11% in 2008, 12.8% in 2009 and 16% in 2010. He’s absolutely horrible on the bases and over his career his fielding runs is below average.

I think Soto is a better player than most people do, but he’s getting older and more expensive and probably isn’t going to be a significant part of the next Cubs team that contends. It also helps that the Cubs have Welington Castillo who can step in to replace Soto. It’s not likely he’d replace Soto’s production, but if the team is rebuilding that’s not necessary.

Sean Marshall has 1 year left of club control while Marmol has 2 more years. I think Marshall has made a strong case at this point that he is the better reliever. At least I’m certain of it. He’s certainly more reliable and he makes less money than Marmol. If the Cubs are going through a 5-year plan, there’s little reason to keep both of them and there may be little reason to keep either. Marshall will bring more in a trade, but if the Cubs keep one of them I’d prefer it be Marshall.

Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt will probably draw some interest from various teams looking to solidify their bench. I don’t think the Cubs trade both of them as they still have to field a team next year, but I’d say at least 1 of them is gone. Neither will bring much in return, but neither are going to be on the next contending Cubs team.

Randy Wells is interesting and I’m going to write more about him in the next week or so. He’s not so valuable that you can’t trade him, but his valuable that the Cubs may get something useful in return. The Cubs haven’t been sold on Wells as a starter since his breakout seasons. Each of the last 2 years the Cubs have hinted that he may be moved to the bullpen. That there tells us there’s a strong chance he’d be traded.

Marlon Byrd is still a valuable player. His rWAR this year is 1.9 and his fWAR is 2.1. He’ll be paid only $6.5 million in 2012, which is the final year of his contract. He’ll easily be worth the money and probably a little more. If the Cubs are confident in either acquiring a cheaper outfielder or bringing Brett Jackson up (or even going with Tony Campana to start the season) there’s a decent chance the Cubs trade Byrd. They’ll get something in return. He’s not a great player and never has, but he’s still a regular player and is about league average.

The Cubs would love to trade Alfonso Soriano and as Tom Ricketts even said, it’s hard to imagine Carlos Zambrano ever returning to the Cubs. Both are 10 and 5 players as I said above so they can reject any trade. Zambrano has sounded more than willing to accept a trade if the Cubs don’t want him and based on Soriano’s comments he’d accept one too. The question is how much money will the Cubs have to send along?

Soriano has 3 years and $54 million left on his contract while Zambrano will be in the final year of his deal and be paid $18 million. I’d be very surprised if any team paid more than $1-2 million for Zambrano so that’s at least $16 million being spent to make him go away. The hope would be that you get a valuable prospect in the trade by sending along so much money. The same is true for Soriano though, in my opinion, it’s going to be even harder to trade him than Zambrano. The Cubs made it clear at the deadline they’d eat a huge chunk of his remaining contract and not one team was the least bit interested. If we look at Soriano’s rWAR it’s kind of funny because the bulk of his value this year has been defensively. I don’t buy it and I don’t think many of you buy it either. I certainly don’t think any 1 of the other 29 teams is going to buy it. if Soriano is traded, it’s most likely to an American League team where he can DH. Moving to the AL would only further suppress his numbers when you consider the negative impact not playing the field has on a hitter.

I don’t think either of these guys return. I think the Cubs pay off some team to take Zambrano and get something interesting in return. I think the Cubs just cut their losses with Soriano and release him.

I don’t have any idea if some, none or all of these players will be traded, but it seems to me they’re the most likely players traded. This is, as I’ve said, partly because I expect the Cubs to rebuild for the future. I don’t think contending in the next few years is a top priority.