Since October of 2011, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have been doing an amazing job trading away aging, overpriced players and acquiring a large, talented, young base of talent for the Chicago Cubs. What else could they do? The mess they inherited was an average team at best without much hope for the future.
Now, the Cubs are in a tremendous position of organizational depth to the point where they could conceivably compete in the NL Central as soon as 2015. Most recently, the Cubs’ trade of Matt Garza for Mike Olt, CJ Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez gave them even more depth and players that can contribute sooner rather than later. Of course, there were some clunker deals along the way, first and foremost being the Edwin Jackson signing of four years, $52 million to be a temporary ace. But with such depth, one has to wonder if they would entertain offers for current players in order to make room for their future stars.
One such player appears to be Darwin Barney. Barney, who has been the majors best defensive second baseman since he obtained a starting position (including tying the major league record for errorless games at the position with 141), looks to be on the outs with uber-prospect Javier Baez climbing up the organizational ladder. Baez, currently playing as a five-tool shortstop, would either make the switch to second, or displace incumbent shortstop Starlin Castro, leaving Barney as the odd man out.
Granted, Barney’s offense isn’t anything to write your grandma about: he has a decent walk rate, average-to-above-average speed, a typically below-average wRC, and not much power to speak of. However, he’s coming off a career-low in BABIP last season (which could indicate something as simple as bad luck), and his surrounding cast didn’t do him any favors. The notable thing with him is that his walk rate has increased each year of his career, and his impact defensively is fantastic.
Barney’s OOZ the last three years have been 33, 65, and 32, with last year’s being only one point behind Omar Infante. He has led all second baseman in UZR the last two years. He took home a Fielding Bible award in 2012, in addition to a Gold Glove, and his range and awareness of his surroundings in absolutely staggering. He’s also under team control until 2017, so pairing him with Jose Iglesias basically allows the Tigers to field the single best double-play combination in the major leagues for the foreseeable future.
Another area of need the Cubs could help with would be in the outfield, where they have a glut of young, capable players. The two I’m most intrigued by (excluding Cuban stud Jorge Soler) are former top prospect Brett Jackson and Jae-Hoon Ha.
Jackson was once viewed as the cornerstone of the Cubs future, a five-tool outfielder who would pair with Josh Vitters and cement the Chicago lineup for years to come. But something happened on the way to stardom: his sheen wore off and his weaknesses became exposed. Jackson is a strikeout fiend, with his minor league K average clicking at somewhere around 30%. Jackson performed so poorly in 2013 that he was demoted to AA, and some suspect he’s on his last chance with the organization.
However, he has maintained a very good walk rate in the minors (and during his brief cup of coffee in 2012), has great defensive potential and an ability to play all three outfield positions well, solid power, and good speed. He’s only 25 years old and under team control until 2019, so a prospect of this caliber may only need a change of scenery to tap into his potential.
Jae-Hoon Ha has been a favorite of mine since my in laws raved about him at a Daytona Cubs game years ago. He has decent power, good speed, and his eye has adapted and improved at every level he gets promoted to. He seems to have taken his development to another level after the 2012 Futures game, but again, the Cubs have a logjam of quality outfielders in the system. He’s 22 years old and hasn’t seen the majors yet, so he could be under team control for a while. As a right-handed hitter, he could either be a quality fourth outfielder, a solid platoon player, or maybe something more.
Since the major needs of the Tigers are second base and left field, positions of depth in Chicago, one has to wonder what the Cubs would want in return. Perhaps something as simple as any young player with upside and team control. Still, one also has to wonder if a major market team gearing up towards the future would want an ace to head the staff, and that’s where Max Scherzer might come in. He’ll be due to make over $12 million in arbitration this off season and will be looking for a nine-figure deal as a free agent after that. The Ricketts should be able to foot the bill this year, and it seems to me that when an ace of that caliber is available any team would rush to the phone (see: Cliff Lee in ’09 and ’10). If Scherzer’s involved in a deal then the prospects and players get better (hello Soler!).
Still, picking up Barney or Jackson or Ha or even all three wouldn’t break the bank for the Tigers (and could cost very little to acquire), and the return could end up being so much more than the price.