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Brian Cashman is a sinner.
So long as geographically boundaries are stretched and New York is considered a neighbor to Chicago, he is spending his July breaking the 10th Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house. Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
As he was ascending the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system, Kyle Schwarber was referred to by more than one scout as an “ox.” In the kindest terms, naturally. And now, with Cashman, the New York Yankees’ general manager, controlling the July trade market with his cache of dominant relievers, he gets to covet whomever he pleases. And atop that list is Schwarber, whose monstrous left-handed swing is made for Yankee Stadium.
“Cash thinks he can hit 50 home runs there,” one source with knowledge of the Yankees’ plans said, and, well, that isn’t altogether farfetched. Schwarber is a 30-home run hitter in any park, presuming he comes back from the torn ACL that has sidelined him almost all of 2016.
Seeing as the Cubs remain favorites to win the World Series even without Schwarber, the question of his dispensability has arisen, particularly seeing as the Cubs need relief pitching and the Yankees have Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Miller, in particular, is desirable because of his ability to pitch in a setup role and close, plus his reasonable deal that goes through the 2018 season. Chapman would be a rental, and one with baggage from a domestic incident that led to a month-long suspension.
The Cubs, it should be said, do not want to trade Schwarber. The likelihood of them doing it is small enough that even addressing it is probably a time-waster. But the question was posed to a dozen people in the game in recent weeks: Why would the Cubs ever trade a bat like Schwarber’s for a relief pitcher? And only one answer seemed satisfactory.
It has nothing to do with production and everything to do with opportunity. If the Cubs were to add Miller, he solidifies their chance to win the World Series this year, and a World Series to the Cubs, the theory went, is worth a billion dollars. Billion, as in with a B.
The math on this is inexact, of course, a product of guesswork on the windfall that would accompany the Cubs’ ability to charge an absurd amount of money for its TV rights when they’re available in 2020 and the ancillary ticket/concession/merchandise/sponsorship/advertising dollars that would make Walter White’s money pile look sad. Still, the billion isn’t necessarily unprecedented. Two years ago, when the San Francisco Giants won their third World Series in five seasons, Forbes valued the team at $2 billion – twice as much as it had just a year earlier.
Granted, the Giants’ spike wasn’t just because of their success; franchises writ large leapt forward in value in 2015. The normal year-over-year spike has been closer to 20 percent. Kansas City this year jumped more than $200 million to $865 million, according to Forbes. The Red Sox’s leap after 2013 was 14 percent to $1.5 billion. The smallest jump in the last decade: Philadelphia, just 3 percent, to $496 million in 2009. And that turned out just fine: The Phillies today are worth more than $1.2 billion, according to Forbes.
And then there’s the argument posited by some that part of the Cubs’ value exists not in spite of but because of the 107-year World Series drought – that if the Cubs win, the allure of the loveable losers, of Wrigley Field, of Cubdom’s essence, would vanish. This seems specious. Some may initially love the Cubs because of that, but eventually those who stick around end up doing so in spite of it. The nectar of a World Series win is addictive. Get one and it’s not like the goal is accomplished. There’s always another available next year.
That, perhaps, is the best reason for the Cubs to make sure …
1. Kyle Schwarber continues to wear their uniform. To sell him off for a shot this season via one reliever – a great reliever, but just one – would be positively short-sighted. The Cubs are a lot of things; short-sighted isn’t one of them. And chances are, their computer system sees Andrew Miller’s numbers for the rest of the season about the same as Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS, the great Steamer projections as well as two from Baseball Prospectus – his 50th percentile – his likely numbers – and his 90th, which show the upper end of what Miller could do.
Best-case scenario – completely unrealistic scenario – Miller is worth one Win Above Replacement. Which is great for a reliever. And unquestionably he helps the Cubs, whose bullpen has been its weakest link this season. But here are some other numbers to chew on.
Those are Baseball Prospectus’ year-by-year WAR projections for Kyle Schwarber until he hits free agency. That’s 21.3 wins. More than Addison Russell, more than Willson Contreras, more than Jason Heyward, more than Jorge Soler – more than everyone but Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, each of whom will finish in the top 5 of NL MVP voting this season.
Yes, it’s true: Schwarber isn’t a catcher, tore his knee trying to field a ball in left and can’t move to first because Rizzo is there. He is, best-case scenario, a designated hitter – and for now, the NL doesn’t include a DH. Cashman is right: He does fit perfectly in New York. Just not for Miller, even if Miller does make the Cubs a percent or two or maybe slightly more likelier to win that World Series.
Now, if the Cubs somehow can wrangle Miller and …
2. Aroldis Chapman in a Schwarber deal – well, that’s where it goes from interesting theory worth a deep number crunch to let’s exchange the medicals and get this puppy done so we can win a World Series. Not that getting Chapman and Miller cinches anything for the Cubs, but no team – neither the Giants, who have a better record, nor the Nationals, who are deadlocked with Chicago today – has a better on-paper roster.
And, no, championships aren’t won on paper. They’re quite often not won with the best talent. What the best talent does, though, is take something exceedingly random and tilt the odds ever slightly in your favor. And that’s all a team can do, really. Gather as many great players as possible and hope it works in the chaos of a short series.
The Yankees are going to trade Chapman because it would be foolish not to. They dipped below .500 coming out of the break and trail three obviously superior teams in their division. The Yankees won’t hit the reset button – it is not in their blood to do that – but they are staring at the blue screen of death and know that teetering around .500 is the worst place to be in baseball.
They’re getting closer to ridding themselves of so many onerous deals. Mark Teixeira is gone after this season, CC Sabathia either this winter or next depending on a vesting option, Alex Rodriguez paid through 2017 and Chase Headley and Brian McCann saying hasta luego the year after that. The Yankees’ only significant long-term commitments are Masahiro Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury. The winter of 2018 – yeah, that one – will be their playground.
In the meantime, Chapman will go. Miller could, though the prospect of him at just $9 million a year for two more seasons allows GM Brian Cashman to ask Schwarber without getting laughed at. Perhaps the lack of pitching prompts someone to take a bite at one of the Yankees’ 5-something ERA monsters: Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda or Ivan Nova. And then there’s the case of …
3. Carlos Beltran, professional deadline mercenary, first with the Houston Astros, then with the San Francisco Giants, and now TBD. Because he will be on the move, and one could make quite the compelling argument he’ll be the best bat available. And before you say Carlos Gonzalez – even if CarGo isn’t getting shopped, the Rockies will listen – Beltran’s OPS+ this season is actually better than Gonzalez’s.
Now, this is not the classic, walk-taking, whiff-avoiding, professional-at-bat Beltran of years past. He is 39 years old. He moves around in right field with not the grace of his youth but the stilted steps of a retirement home. Beltran’s .297/.334/.542 line hasn’t been erased by his defensive shortcomings. It just makes National League teams wary, and if that limits Beltran’s trade market, the Yankees still should do fine.
Beltran isn’t going to fetch three prospects like he did when Kansas City traded him to the Astros, and chances are the Yankees don’t get someone like Zack Wheeler coming back, as the Mets did when they shipped Beltran to San Francisco. The market is wild, though, and it’s how …
4. Rich Hill turned from Long Island Duck into perhaps the most sought-after pitcher available over the next two weeks. Provided he can last longer than five pitches in a start, as he did Sunday, when a popped blister forced him from the game.
That’s the rub with Hill: will he pitch. No longer is it whether he can pitch. That much is evident. There’s a great argument in favor of saying Rich Hill has been the best pitcher in the American League this season. And even though that sounds like fiction, it’s either true, or close enough to being true, that the Oakland A’s should not be willing to take anything less than a big return.
The Hill market hasn’t developed as rapidly as Drew Pomeranz’s did. Once teams know Hill is healthy, or at least healthy enough to pitch, the offers will start pouring in. Expected to be in the bidding, according to sources, are the usual subjects: Boston, Texas, Baltimore, Toronto and the Los Angeles Dodgers. A more surprising team calling around on starting pitching, sources said: Detroit, which is four games above .500 and three back of the second wild card.
Only contenders, or wannabe contenders, are interested in Hill, seeing as he’s a free agent at season’s end. If the A’s decide to make …
5. Sonny Gray available, that could change the landscape of the market significantly. Thus far, though, the A’s have been unwilling to engage in substantive discussion of trading for Gray, according to multiple officials from other teams who have tried.
Oakland’s tack is understandable. If Gray goes on the market, he could disrupt it. Or they can skip the deadline and auction him off in the winter, when teams staring at the possibility of a miserable free agent class of pitchers. Granted, in order for the latter to be successful, Gray needs to improve upon his mess of a first half, with a 5.16 ERA. Said one scout who saw him pitch Saturday against: “He’s better than anything out there, but I’m not emptying my farm system for him.”
Among Gray, Danny Valencia and Josh Reddick – who at this point is very unlikely to reach a contract extension with Oakland – the A’s do have desirable pieces beyond Hill. Having a surplus this time of year makes July tricky but also makes the possibilities that much richer. Just see what Tampa Bay is doing with …
6. Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore and the rest of its rotation. Yes, it helps that Tampa Bay is a cratering mess – the Rays were .500 through 40 games; over the next 50, they played. 280 ball – but what’s important is that the Rays find themselves in this position at all.
This is, essentially, the Atlanta Braves’ strategy: load up on young arms and deal them for a bounty. The Rays have executed it, and that they have the worst offense in the AL makes a deal all the more sensible. Maybe it’s Odorizzi. He’s 26, strikes out a ton of guys, gives up too many home runs and hits arbitration after this season, meaning the Rays could save money by sending him off. Maybe it’s Moore. He’s 27, has been inconsistent since returning from Tommy John surgery last season and has three team options left for a total of $26 million after this season.
The match between the Rays and Rangers is clear. Texas wants controllable pitching. Tampa Bay needs young hitting. If the Rangers are willing to give up Joey Gallo – and sources familiar with the talks believe they are – something could come together quickly. No, Tampa Bay isn’t going to give away Odorizzi or Moore – or even Chris Archer – because Alex Cobb is nearly back from Tommy John surgery or Matt Andriese has been excellent in his spot starts this season.
In a seller’s market, they hold the cards. And in a market like that, it’s a wonder other teams aren’t taking advantage. Why isn’t …
7. Matt Shoemaker being dangled by the Angels? Considering their preponderance of young starting pitching, shouldn’t Cincinnati at least make
Anthony DeSclafani available to see what a 26-year-old with four years of club control might bring?
Look, weird things happen in July, ones that don’t make a whole ton of sense. Before Brad Ziegler was traded to Boston, the Diamondbacks were asking teams for frontline prospects – all top 100-type guys, some top 50, even higher. Cleveland, Toronto, the Cubs – all wanted Ziegler, and all were gobsmacked by what the Diamondbacks ended up taking from Boston: second baseman Luis Alejandro Basabe and right-hander Jose Almonte. “I was just wondering if they know they got the wrong Basabe,” said one GM, referencing Luis Alejandro’s twin, Luis Alexander Basabe, who is considered by scouts the better player of the two.
So, yeah, if teams are wondering aloud about A-ball prospects, they’re certainly doing the same regarding two guys who could help a team – or drive down the price on other available starters.
Shoemaker, 29, was in Triple-A less than two months ago. Since his return, he has an 88-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and observers are raving about his split-change. “Best splitter I’ve seen this year,” one scout said. The Angels are in dead last, and much as they don’t want to white-flag next season, too, Andrew Heaney is out, Garrett Richards may still need Tommy John surgery, the farm system is decrepit and owner Arte Moreno isn’t inclined to do a patch job via free agency. In other words, barring some sort of voodoo magic from Billy Eppler, yes, the Angels will be wasting Mike Trout’s prime in glorious fashion.
DeSclafani is a bit of a different case. The Reds don’t want to trade him and shouldn’t want to, but sometimes markets warrant opportunism, and this trade deadline – or perhaps this offseason – gives Cincinnati a chance to cash in. Over seven starts this season, DeSclafani has a 2.55 ERA. He strikes out a fair number, walks next to no one and is a perfectly viable No. 3 or 4-caliber guy. With Homer Bailey on the mend, plus Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and perhaps the best of them all, Amir Garrett – not to mention Keury Mella, Rookie Davis, Tyler Mahle and the just-optioned John Lamb – the Reds have an enviable amount of good, young arms. Shipping off DeSclafani and …
8. Jay Bruce would be a good continuation to the rebuild that long ago should’ve started. Cincinnati did an admirable job holding on to Bruce, mind you, considering where his value is now compared to where it was in the offseason, when they almost traded him to Toronto.
Bruce is slugging .532, and while that doesn’t render the other two pieces of his slash line entirely inert, it makes the .265 batting average and .317 on-base percentage plenty tolerable. Even in this home run-rich environment, a .532 slug plays and plays well, and the perfectly reasonable $13 million option for next season is an added bonus.
Barring a last-minute reversal, Bruce will go somewhere. Cleveland could be the favorite. Texas, Washington, Baltimore, San Francisco, the Los Angeles Dodgers – they’ve all checked in on Bruce and have varying degrees of interest. Once teams get past Bruce and CarGo and Beltran and whoever Milwaukee decides to sell, whether it’s Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun or both, the carcass will be picked quite clean. Pitching is the same way, which leads some teams to believe that despite protestations otherwise …
9. Julio Teheran is going to be made available by the Atlanta Braves. The executives’ thinking: Why wouldn’t he be? Teheran is pitching like a good No. 2 … a year after he better resembled a middling No. 4. His contract is fine, but it’s not exactly cheap: $26.3 million for three guaranteed years, plus a $12 million club option.
If the best argument the Braves can come up with for keeping Teheran is they wants to open their new stadium with him on the mound, they should trade him in the next two weeks. Teams in the midst of total teardowns simply cannot be concerned with optics. The truth is, winning brings back the fans that losing bleeds. The Astros’ attendance is up to 28,000 after a nadir of just under 20,000. Kansas City once had trouble drawing 10,000 to Kauffman Stadium. Today, it regularly exceeds 30,000.
All the blather about opening day is lip service, and no executive is buying it. “I can get Teheran,” said one GM looking for pitching. “It’s just going to cost too much right now.” And that may as well go for the rest of the market right now. It’s why the Yankees can ask for …
10. Kyle Schwarber and not seem entirely crazy. Just a bit greedy is all.
And seeing as there’s still two weeks until the deadline, Gordon Gekko would be right at home in this market. Is it crazy for the A’s to ask Anderson Espinoza for Rich Hill? Well, yeah. But A.J. Preller did the same for Drew Pomeranz, and San Diego got one of the best prospects in baseball out of it. Is it crazy for Arizona to try and shoot the moon on Daniel Hudson as it did Brad Ziegler? Yeah, but maybe it can get the other Basabe twin out of it.
The trade market really picked up last week, and negotiating points were staked out. Now comes the fun part, where they dance, parry, feint and try to make a deal. Some teams do that naturally. Others are so desperate to win the trade they end up with nothing. Mixing 30 strategies into a cauldron where 18 of the teams considering themselves legitimate playoff contenders makes for some sweet action.
Buckle up, boys and girls. It’s trade season, and even if the deals are populated by B- and C-listers, chances are they’ll influence Octobers present and future just the same.