Here's what the Cubs got in return for Bryant, Baez, Rizzo, others
Friday was a dark day on the north side of Chicago that signaled the end of an era.
Within a span of two hours, the Cubs traded Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Trevor Williams, Craig Kimbrel and Jake Marisnick. Less than 24 hours earlier, the club traded first baseman Anthony Rizzo to the Yankees, and months earlier, the team shipped 2020 Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini out to San Diego for Zach Davies and a pile of young prospects. Two weeks before the deadline, the Cubs sent outfielder Joc Pederson to the Braves. It's Extreme Makeover: Cubs Edition.
Naturally, fans were heartbroken. The heart of the team that the city had grown to love had been gutted, with only scraps remaining. Now, just three players from the 2016 World Series team remain on the Cubs' roster: Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward. The rest of the team is gone.
In a Monday interview on ESPN 1000's Kap and Hood morning show, Cubs' general manager Jed Hoyer chocked last week's fire sale up to the front office's inability to get Baez, Bryant and Rizzo to sign long-term extensions.
"The only thing I will say is that, while frustrating, I put my head on the pillow every night knowing that we put our best foot forward," Hoyer said. "The extensions we offered these guys will hold up exceptionally well against the open market. I don’t know why guys didn’t want to sign. I don’t know why guys didn’t want to even counteroffer oftentimes. I don’t know. Because every one of these guys would say they wanted to stay in Chicago, ‘We wanna be a Cub,’ but when we sat down to do negotiations that wasn’t how they acted.
"I see a guy like Lance Lynn who comes to Chicago and signs an extension and he certainly could’ve gotten more on the open market this winter but he said, ‘I wanna stay here, I wanna be a White Sock.’ That wasn’t something that – other than Kyle Hendricks who I admire for really rolling up his sleeves with us – we didn’t have that, so it’s a source of incredible frustration for me."
As I wrote two weeks ago, this rebuild was inevitable. Since the 2016 call-ups of Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, the Cubs have received little help from their farm system. Ian Happ, the no. 9 pick of the 2015 draft and a 2017 call-up, has been abysmal this year, with a slash-line of just .177 BA/.290 OBP/.611 OPS. Since Theo Epstein took over baseball operations for the Cubs in 2011, the club has drafted just one player to make an All-Star team with the Cubs: Kris Bryant. That's it. Since trading prospects Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the Cubs' farm system has been depleted.
Each February, MLB.com releases its prospect rankings for each farm system, a list that isn't updated frequently. Just one of the Cubs' top 5 prospects is healthy and having a productive 2021. As of last Friday, this was the status of the Cubs' top 5 prospects according to MLB.com:
1) (no. 44 overall) 22 year-old LHP Brailyn Marquez (shoulder) has yet to pitch in 2021.
2) (no. 45 overall) 21 year-old OF Brennen Davis in A+: .321 BA/.406 OBP/1.013 OPS
3) (no. 70 overall) 22 year-old C Miguel Amaya in AA: .215/.406/.709
4) (no. 97 overall) 17 year-old SS Cristian Hernandez in FRk: .206/.349/.555
5) (no. 16 overall pick of the 2021 MLB Amateur Draft) 18 year-old SS Ed Howard in A: .204/.259/.536, with a K rate of 29.9%.
With the hope of resigning the Cubs' trio of stars looking bleak, the front office used the trifecta as trade chips to start reloading and replenishing the team's farm system, and they didn't stop there. So what did the Cubs' 2021 trades accomplish? Here's exactly what the Cubs received as a result of their entire 2021 fire sale.
July 15th, 2021: Outfielder Joc Pederson traded to the Braves for minor league first baseman Bryce Ball.
Bryce Ball is a 23 year-old, 6-foot-6, 240 lb. first baseman that some scouts project as a designated hitter at the next level. Ball was the no. 12 prospect in the Braves’ system, drafted in the 24th round of 2019 MLB Draft out of Dallas Baptist.
Ball absolutely shredded rookie and A ball in 2019, slashing a combined .329/.395/1.023 between the two leagues. Keep in mind, there was no minor league play in 2020, so prospects have had to pick up this year from where they left off in 2019. Ball has struggled this year, with his slash-line down to .199/.347/.722 in High-A in 2021.
At the time of the trade, I texted a Braves' fan, wanting to hear his thoughts. Unhappy with the trade, he responded, "Hate Joc, LOVE Ball."
July 26th, 2021: Relief pitcher Andrew Chafin traded to the A's for minor league outfielder Greg Deichmann.
Of all the minor league prospects the Cubs acquired via trade over the past year, Deichmann is the furthest along in his development. A 2017 second round pick, Deichmann has been excelling in AAA all season, slashing .291/.420/.859 through 64 games. It's entirely possible we see him called up to the big leagues by the end of the 2021 season.
July 29th, 2021: Relief pitcher Ryan Tepera traded to the White Sox for minor league LHP Bailey Horn.
Horn was the White Sox's 5th round selection in the 2020 MLB Draft out of Auburn, where he made 22 appearances, primarily out of the bullpen between 2019 and the COVID-shortened 2020 season, logging a 4.75 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. Prior to attending Auburn, Horn pitched at McLennan Community College, where he was tagged a top-75 junior college prospect by Perfect Game.
Horn started the 2021 season in High-A Winston-Salem, initially struggling, with a 13.09 ERA. Since moving to A ball, he's been quite good, with a 2.63 ERA over 27.1 innings. Horn has had Tommy John in the past. His fastball tops out at 96 and scouts like the breaking action on his wipeout slider.
July 29th, 2021: First baseman Anthony Rizzo traded to the Yankees for minor league outfielder Kevin Alcantara and minor league RHP Alexander Vizcaino.
Vizcaino and Alcantara are both natives of the Dominican Republic. Vizcaino (no. 9 prospect in the Yankees' system) is a 24 year-old RHP with a 9.00 ERA this year between high A and Rookie ball. He has a career 4.95 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over five years of minor league baseball. Vizcaino has attractive "stuff" — in fact he recently upped the velocity on his fastball from low-90s to one that tops out over 100 — that the Cubs' scouting department clearly likes, and perhaps with the right player development team and coach, he'll be able to take his game to a new level, similar to how other young pitching prospects have benefitted from a change of scenery and reached new heights (ie: Jake Arrieta, Tyler Glasnow, etc.). Vizcaino's command has been an issue.
Alcantara (no. 12) is a 19 year-old right-handed hitting OF that is crushing Rookie ball pitching: .360 BA/.448 OBP/.968 OPS.
July 30th, 2021: Closer Craig Kimbrel traded to the White Sox for second baseman Nick Madrigal and relief pitcher Codi Heuer.
Admittedly, I hadn't followed any of the prospects listed in these trades prior to their arrival to the Cubs' system. With both Heuer and Madrigal being young players already at the major league level, naturally, I'm more familiar with the return on this trade than any of the others.
Nicknamed "Nicky Two-Strikes" for his ability to hit for contact even when he's behind in the count, Madrigal is a great get for the Cubs. The 5-foot-8 second baseman was the no. 4 overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Oregon State. He has a career average of .317 and has already drawn many comparisons to Jose Altuve. At 24 years-old, under a cheap, controllable contract through 2025, the double play combo of Madrigal and Hoerner should be one that Cubs fans will see for the foreseeable future, and one that has the potential to be among the league's best. Adding Madrigal signals to me that Jed Hoyer is going in the opposite direction of where Theo Epstein took the club. Epstein loaded the Cubs' lineup with high-strikeout, power bats that often struggled to put the ball in play and move runners on the base paths. Hoyer's going the other way, valuing contact hitters, an against-the-grain approach in today's MLB. Madrigal will likely miss the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury, but should be ready to go by Opening Day next year.
Heuer, a 25 year-old RHP, thrived out of the Sox's bullpen in 2020, his rookie season. He posted a 1.52 ERA and 0.89 WHIP through 23.2 innings. In 40 appearances with the Sox this year, he's had somewhat of a sophomore slump, with a 4.87 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Since joining the Cubs last week, he's thrown two scoreless innings and looks like a prime candidate to fill Kimbrel's shoes as the team's closer for the time being.
Again, I clearly know the most about the return the Cubs got from this trade, but on the surface level, I think this was the best return the Cubs received last week, especially considering that coming into the season, many Cubs fans didn't think Kimbrel would maintain the team's closer role past the month of April, following his poor 2019 and 2020 campaigns.
July 30th, 2021: Shortstop Javier Baez and RHP Trevor Williams traded to the Mets for minor league outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong.
What surprised me most about this trade is that the Cubs were able to package Trevor Williams in this trade, instead of Zach Davies. Davies has clearly been the superior pitcher over the past five years, this year included. While I like Williams as an inexpensive, effective arm, he's been injured this year and has an ERA over 5.00. 19 year-old Pete Crow-Armstrong was the Mets' no. 5 prospect and the no. 19 overall pick of the 2020 draft out of Harvard-Westlake, the same high school that produced star pitchers Lucas Giolito, Jack Flaherty and Max Fried. He's currently on the 60-day DL with a shoulder injury, but in six games this season, he's slashed .417 BA/.563 OBP/1.063 OPS.
July 30th, 2021: Third baseman and outfielder Kris Bryant traded to the Giants for minor league outfielder Alexander Canario and minor league RHP Caleb Kilian.
On the surface, the Cubs acquired the Giants no. 9 (Canario) and no. 30 (Kilian) prospects, which doesn't appear to be a fantastic return in exchange for the 2016 MVP. But if you dig a little deeper and consider how prospect rankings change from year to year, it may end up being a better trade than Cubs' fans expect.
Kilian, an eighth round pick out of Texas Tech in 2019, has excelled at every level of baseball he's played. Through 15 starts across high-A and AA this season, he has a 2.13 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. If he continues on the pace he's on, I wouldn't be surprised if we see his prospect ranking jump significantly in 2022, nor would I be surprised if we see him at the major league level at some point next season.
Like Ball and some of the other prospects on this list, Canario flourished in the minors in 2019, but has slumped in 2021. Between low-A and the Arizona fall league, Canario hit .318/.377/1.000. This year, through 66 games in A ball, he's at .239/.326/.758.
July 30th, 2021: Outfielder Jake Marisnick traded to the Padres for minor league RHP Anderson Espinoza.
23 year-old Espinoza signed with the Red Sox as a highly sought-after international free agent in October 2014. At the time, he was Baseball America's fourth-highest ranked international amateur prospect. A couple years later, he was traded as the centerpiece of the Drew Pomeranz trade in 2016, when Pomeranz put together a fabulous first half that made him an All-Star for the first time in his career. Sine 2016, Espinoza has undergone two Tommy John surgeries. Prior to 2021, he had last pitched in a professional game in 2016.
In 2021, in High-A ball, Espinoza has a 5.02 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.
Just for kicks, let's rewind to one more trade...
December 29th, 2020: Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini traded to the San Diego Padres for RHP Zach Davies and minor league prospects Reginal Preciado, Owen Caissie, Yeison Santana and Ismael Mena.
Before assessing the minor leaguers, it's important to note that the much-maligned Darvish trade hasn't been exactly horrible for the Cubs. Since May 29 (right before the league issued a memo that it would be cracking down on "sticky stuff"), Davies has been significantly better than Darvish, who is now sidelined on the DL-
Yu Darvish: 10 starts, 54 IP, 5.00 ERA
Zach Davies: 11 starts, 57.1 IP, 3.77 ERA
Also note that one's pitching in a pitcher's park on a good team, and the other isn't.
As for the prospects, three of them are mashing Rookie ball pitching -
18 year-old SS Reginald Preciado: .394/.461/1.006
19 year-old OF (and second round 2020 draft pick) Owen Caissie: .382/.547/1.256
20 year-old OF Yeison Santana: .318/.429/.747
Through 84 plate appearances, 18 year-old OF Ismael Mena's Rookie ball season is off to a slow start: .203/.286/.610
So did the Cubs win these trades, lose them, or break even? You can be the judge of that, but truly, only time will tell. There's a reason scouts refer to young players as "minor league suspects", as you truly can never be sure as to what each player will amount to if they reach the major league level, or even if they'll reach the major league level. The hope for a front office is that if you stockpile enough high-ceiling prospects, you can stack the deck and eventually build a young nucleus of cost-effective budding stars that will push your club towards contention, akin to what the Cubs had in 2015 and 2016. I have to believe this is just the beginning of the Cubs' transformation process.
The Cubs built a winner in 2016 through the trade market. Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Dexter Fowler, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks were all acquired via trade. Only time will tell if last week's trades will lay the groundwork for a new era of Cubby excellence, or another decade lost, wandering the wilderness.
(Photo via Cooper Neill/MLB via Getty)