While we have not reached the all-star break yet, it is never too early to think about potential trade targets to build onto a club that should make the postseason. As it stands, the Cubs are a good ball club, but they are alarmingly inconsistent in certain aspects of the game. That is going to happen for a young and still somewhat inexperienced team. We are going to take a look at each situation individually and evaluate what the Cubs will probably trade for when the July 31st deadline rolls around.
Chicago’s starting pitching situation has been odd, to say the least; their two most consistent starters this year have been Jon Lester, who is 34 years of age, and Mike Montgomery, who was a reliever going into the season. The Cubs rank seventh in the league for best ERA for starting pitchers, as well as fourth in opponents’ batting averages, but the one stat that stands out the most is the number of walks surrendered; their starters have given up the most walks in the NL, with the crosstown White Sox being the only MLB team with more. It isn’t even close, though, as the third worst team, Minnesota, has thrown 25 fewer walks. The decision to go to Yu Darvish instead of keeping Jake Arrieta has proven to (so far) proven to be an enormous failure; Arrieta has far more playoff experience and success, while Darvish has been bad or injured almost all season. (Darvish was diagnosed on Friday with a right elbow in-pigment, which will not set him back that much.) Jose Quintana has done OK as a middle-rotation starter, which is what he was supposed to be, but has he been worth trading a top-level prospect in Eloy Jimenez for? Chatwood, a huge culprit for the walk problem amongst starting pitching, is starting on Saturday. He has done alright, and if he could keep his walk rate down, he would make the Cubs’ rotation a lot more dangerous.
While the starting pitching definitely has not been bad, the relief pitching has been better. While the walk issue is there for the bullpen, the ratio isn’t nearly as prevalent. Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow are proving to be solid pickups for the Cubs as they have been two of the biggest forces out of the bullpen. Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, and Justin Wilson have been solid as well. Mike Montgomery has done a lot better in the rotation than he had out of the bullpen. Veteran Brian Duensing has been the only major problem out of the pen for the Cubs, with an ERA at almost 6.50 and a WHIP of 1.76 heading into Saturday.
Heading into Saturday, the Cubs lead the NL in batting average and are fourth win walks. They lead the NL in OPS and the entire league in OBP. The Cubs have seemed to break out for a game or two and crush the ball all over the yard, but follow that up with a few games of struggling offense. For example, the Cubs are the only team to have a batting average over .300 in games won, while in games lost, they drop all the way down to .199, which is sixth worst in the league. They don’t consistently crush the ball either; they are 19th in homers entering Saturday. If they hit more homers, the Cubs would be a truly dangerous team on offense.
It is worth mentioning that their offense has been stopped by solid pitching a couple times in the past (2015 NLCS vs the Mets, 2017 NLCS vs the Dodgers). It is just another reason why accurate postseason predictions are hard to make based just on the regular season.
So what position should the Cubs go after, if any at all? I would have to say the starting pitchers would be the top priority, as they have been alarmingly inconsistent outside of Lester and Montgomery since he joined the rotation. Going after hitting wouldn’t be a bad idea either, but I don’t think it is the main need.
- Manny Machado; shortstop, Baltimore Orioles
We will get the biggest name out of the way first; I don’t think the Cubs have the resources to acquire Machado unless they go all in. Unless they plan on REALLY going after Machado in free agency, the Cubs should not bother trading for him.
- Cole Hamels; starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
Cole Hamels currently has an ERA of 3.61 (entering Saturday), which is lower than three of Chicago’s regular starters. He also has playoff experience, which is always handy. The issue with Hamels is his salary; he will have a club option next year worth $20 million, which is nearly as much as what Jon Lester makes. Salary is always a concern, especially with Kris Bryant being eligible for arbitration again this offseason.
- Francisco Liriano; starting pitcher, Detroit Tigers
Liriano would provide good depth, but I’m not sure he would be in the rotation. There isn’t really much of a risk here, as he is in the only year of a $4 million contract with no options. At worst, he would be a good long reliever to help rest pitchers’ arms in September leading up to the playoffs.
- J.A. Happ; starting pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
Happ is in the middle of another decent season in Toronto. Entering Saturday, he has a 3.61 ERA (again, better than three of Chicago’s starters) and is 10-3. This veteran would be another nice addition that, at the very least, should provide the Cubs some innings, leadership, and depth.
The Cubs could surprise us all and go after Machado, could go after a cheap veteran pitcher, or just try to add depth on other parts of the field, including the bullpen. Who do you think the Cubs will trade for? Be sure to comment below!