With the World Series currently in full swing, the MLB offseason is just a week or so away. The Pittsburgh Pirates will need to address their offense this winter. Doing so should be a top priority. The division rival Chicago Cubs have an abundance of positional talent. Could there be a potential match?
The Cubs’ plethora of young positional talent is led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Those two players are untouchable super stars. I would also guess that Wilson Contreras is untouchable as well as he emerged as star in his own right this season.
That leaves the likes of Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, and Albert Almora. All of these players are 24 years old or younger. Not one of these players will be a free agent before 2022. There are only so many at bats a team can allocate. The Cubs will most likely look to trade a player or two from this group in the offseason.
Conversely, the Pittsburgh Pirates have an abundance of young pitching that include Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham. Could a package of some combination of these pitchers land one of those bats?
For as much depth the Cubs have positionally, there is equally a lack of depth on the pitching end. Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks will headline the Cubs’ starting rotation in 2018. Jake Arrieta will likely depart via free agency. John Lackey will likely retire. The Cubs have an obvious need for starting pitching.
Yu Darvish may be the only ace on the free agent market this winter. Johnny Cueto is also a possibility if he chooses to opt out of his current deal with the San Francisco Giants. After those two, the well dries up pretty quickly. Starters like Lance Lynn, Wily Peralta, Clay Buchholtz, Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hellickson, and CC Sabathia will also be on the market. These are all middle of the road starting pitchers. This year’s starting pitching market is pretty mediocre after Darvish. If the Cubs can’t land him or Cueto, their starting rotation could be a weak spot next season.
A trade may be the best path for the Cubs to improve their starting rotation in 2018. The Pirates would be a logical trade partner. The two teams have worked together in the past. In 2015, the Cubs purchased the contract of Clayton Richard from the Pirates. In 2009, the Pirates send Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Cubs for Josh Harrison, Kevin Hart, and Jose Ascanio. There is no particular bad blood between the two teams. If there were to be a match that both team agreed upon, there is no reason why a deal shouldn’t get done.
For any deal to get done, the Pirates may need to overpay. No Cubs player will be cheap by any means. These players are immensely talented. They are also extremely accomplished for such a young age. Looking at the pool of the five players mentioned above, this is how I would rank their potential value to the Pirates.
Number one is Baez. He can play anywhere in the infield and would slot nicely at either second or third base for the Pirates. In 2017, Baez hit .273/.317/.480 with 23 home runs, 24 doubles, and two triples. He had an fWAR of 2.2. Baez would immediately slot at the top of the order and bring a certain flair to the Pirate lineup. In my opinion, it would take a package of Taillon, Williams, or Kuhl and another prospect or two to get the job done. Maybe more.
Next is Happ. Primarily an outfielder, Happ also played a fair amount at second base in 2017. This is where he would play if he were traded to his hometown of Pittsburgh. This season, Happ hit .253/.328/.514 with 24 home runs in just 413 plate appearances. He had an fWAR of 1.8. Happ would provide a middle of the lineup bat the Pirates desperately need. Like Baez, it would probably take a Taillon, Williams, or Kuhl led package to land Happ.
Russell would be a great option to play shortstop for years to come. This season he hit .239/.304/.418 with 12 home runs, 21 doubles, and three triples. He had an fWAR of 1.4. Russell is one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball. For that reason, I think he is the least likely to be traded of these five players. I also presume that he would be the most expensive. A great shortstop is hard to come by, plain and simple.
That leaves Almora and Schwarber. Both are outfielders. If the Pirates were to trade for one of these two, it would ultimately mean the end of Andrew McCutchen‘s career in Pittsburgh. Almora is a slick fielding centerfielder with a decent bat. He was worth 0.9 wins this year. Schwarber is a burley power hitting corner outfielder. He has obvious 40+ home run potential. He was worth 1.5 wins this year with 30 home runs while hitting .211. That said, Schwarber is an awful outfielder and will most likely shift to first base or DH in the coming years. Josh Bell is the Pirates first baseman of the future.
From a pure needs standpoint, a pitcher for hitter exchange makes all of the sense in the world for both the Pirates and Cubs. Any current Cub hitter would upgrade the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup. Any Pirate starter would fill out the backend of the Cubs’ 2018 rotation nicely.
I truly don’t believe that both teams being in the same division would hinder talks if value is present on both sides.
Do I think a deal could get done? Who knows? It’s close to impossible to predict a trade. The Cubs may have their sights on bigger fish than what the Pirates have to offer. The Pirates may not want to part with their pitching depth. There is no denying both teams’ needs though. There is no denying the potential fit on both sides.
The Cubs’ young position players are much more accomplished than the young Pirate starters. Their is no doubt about that. The group of Baez, Happ, Russell, Almora, and Schwarber had a combined fWAR of 7.8 in 2017. Interestingly enough, the combination of Taillon, Kuhl, and Williams had a combined fWAR of 7.0 in 2017. Taillon had the highest fWAR of all players discussed at 2.9.
At the end of the day, the talent level of both groups of players is within the same spectrum. A deal could definitely happen.
Image credit – Daniel Decker Photography