Off-Season's Best Trading Chips
As the albatross that is the 2013 Cubs' baseball season culminates, the dreams of aquiring a mega-superstar begin. I'm going to avoid speculating on who the Cubs may entertain acquiring - although I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that I believe Giancarlo Stanton is a real possibility. Instead, I'm going to focus on ranking the Cubs' most valuable trade chips, in order. The rankings will reflect the likelyhood that a player may be traded, along with the perceived-value that player embodies.
1.) Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija will be 29-years-old at the beginning of next season. His limited innings over the course of his development due to being a reliever and playing football in college, shaves 3 years off his pitching arm. Samardzija has proven to be a solid pitcher with a live arm - SO/9: (9.3; 9.0,) last 2 seasons; BB/9: (2.9; 3.4) last 2 seasons - along with the sultry tease of being an ace. He's under team control for 2 more seasons, creating the illusion that any team who trades for him wouldn't be renting him. His value goes up due to a soft free-agent pitching market. Not suprisingly - Samardzija believes he should be paid like an ace - he has rebuffed the Cubs' attempts at signing him long-term. In my opinion, it is 50/50 that Samardzija is traded, with the possibility he brings down his contractual demands. One or the other is gong to happen; trade or long-term extension.
2.) Javier Baez
The Cubs' former 1st round(9th) pick, Baez is absolutely tearing up the minor leagues, this season - 33 HR; .581 SLG. At just 20-years-old, Baez is putting his video-game numbers up at a premium position - wether you believe that he'll stick at shortstop or not. Universally considered a top 20 prospect in baseball, Baez was not drafted by Theo and company, which crowns him "Prospect most likely to be traded". That and he's allergic to taking walks. Regardless, Baez holds immense trade value.
3.) Nate Schierholtz
When I try to paint a picture of Theo's thought process in regards to Nate Schierholtz, I place Theo in an office at the Board of Exchange screaming, "Sell High" into a phone. Schierholtz is a plus defender, bats from the left side and is having a career offensive season - .850 OPS. With a reasonable salary for next season, the 7-year veteran holds strong value for any team looking to contend.
4.) Carlos Villanueva
Villanueva has done exactly what the Cubs expected - pitched as both a reliever and a starter, doing so solidly. While Villanueva isn't sexy - he's kinda like the hot girl's average-looking best friend - Villanueva projects as a valuable swing-pitcher - a pitcher who can bridge the gap in the rotation when injuries occur, while being able to move back to the pen when everyone's healthy. Making just $5 million next season, Villanueva is the kind of piece a contending team woud over-pay for.
5.) James Russell
Who needs a left-handed reliever? Russell has the esthetics that will attract every team on the cusp of contending. But I have to admit, I won't be sad to see him go. Russell has morphed into a LOOGY - lefties are hitting just .182 against him, while righties are hitting a whooping .314. And while his perceived value may be higher, I don't believe that the Cubs will get anything more than a top 20 prospect for him - he's more likely to be included in a larger trade, thus adding to the overall return.
Why were they left off the list?
Ineligible. Bryant can't be traded since he hasn't been in the organization for at least 1 year. Besides, he's not going anywhere.
Jorge Soler and Albert Almora
Injuries. While neither has necessarily lost value, teams will want to make sure both are fully healthy before investing in them.
Anthony Rizzo and Stralin Castro
Low-value. Why sell a once-valued stock when it's at its lowest point? Theo and company will allow both to increase their value during the 2014 season. While Rizzo is likely cemented in the Cubs' future plans, I believe Castro's future is with some other organization.
Vanity. Theo and Jed are very self-conscious - see the Ian Stewart trade. Travis Wood marks the first impactful player they acquired; they will boast his existence and productivity while it lasts. Wood is cheap and under team-control through 2016, so he's here for a while. I'm not a believe in Wood, and I believe he'll be coming back-to-earth in the very near future - and so do other teams.