With there being only one trade deadline this season, and for some reason MLB not moving it back to between where the two used to be, there’s some added zeal to July 31st this time around. Teams not only have to scramble to plug holes and needs, but have to plan for any eventuality that could happen in the next two months. The Cubs acquisition of Martin Maldonado is something of an example of this, where they didn’t want to have to deal with an extended Taylor Davis Experience should something happen to Willson Contreras or Victor Caratini (and it kind of did to the former, though very lightly it seems). Even if you don’t have a need somewhere but need cover, teams are going to be chasing that depth that in the past would have been a nothing waiver-wire pickup on August 29th.
Whatever this Cubs season has been, and it’s been a lot of things, they’re still in first place by multiple games and clearly have to have the chase for the postseason their minds. The names are already out there, so let’s run them through.
Nick Castellanos – This one seemed obvious a while ago, made the mainstream papers over the last few days, so you know there’s some fire to go with this smoke. And unlike some other targets, Castellanos is something of a sure thing. You know what you’re getting, which isn’t a miracle worker or a doomsday device but a pretty solid, above-average hitter. Castellanos was much better last year, but the two years previous had wRC+ of 119 and 112 and is at 115 this year, so it’s fair to assume that’s probably what he is. Castellanos has a .361 BABIP last year, some 30 points over his career average, and this year he’s much more in line with his career number. He’s not making as much hard contact this year as he has in the past, but he is hitting more fly balls, which could play better in Wrigley than it does in the vast environs of Comerica Park…at least until the winds shift in September. It can be hardly argued that Castellanos for sure wouldn’t provide a hell of a lot more than Almora, whom you’d guess he would be replacing in the lineup. Almora needs the Hubble just to see average offensive numbers.
The worry with Castellanos, if it even rises to that level, is defense. Mainly in that he can’t play it. Right field in Wrigley we know to be an adventure, and he has trouble with non-adventurous spaces. Heyward just isn’t that good in center, so you’d be taking your outfield defense from decent to borderline bad. There’s a lot of people who don’t seem to care about this, or just dismiss it as being able to put Almora in center in the late innings, as if for some reason teams weren’t allowed to hit balls to the outfield in the 4th inning?
People who do take this seriously live in the Cubs’ front office, however. It’s important to remember that the Cubs starting staff doesn’t really have a big strikeout guy other than Darvish. That said, the Cubs have the highest ground-ball rate in baseball from their pitchers, and the second-lowest fly-ball rate (no, I’m not sure how either but that’s the world we live in), so if there’s any team that can get away with a partial circus clown outfield, it’s the Cubs.
So the question is does the added offense offset your drop in defense? I would say it does, but not as much as some would think, but thanks to the Cubs’ pitching staff and their ways, it’s not as big of a concern as it is for others.
Danny Santana – This is a name that’s popped up in the past couple days due to the full-body dry-heave the Rangers have performed over the past week to drop from playoff contention. As if anyone was really buying them anyway. And this one is a hard no from me. Santana hadn’t been a plus-player in any fashion since his debut with the Twins five seasons ago, and there’s an awful lot of mirrors and smoke with this one. Santana’s BABIP is .399, and I shouldn’t have to say more than that. Yeah, he’s hitting the ball considerably harder than he ever has, so are a lot of people, and he plays several positions. But this is a balloon that could pop at any moment, and then you’re left with another Descalso when one is too many.
Eric Sogard – The chance to just yell, “NERD POWER!” every game makes it worth it for me, but I would hope the Cubs have slightly more qualifications at which they’re looking. But I’m sure Theo and Jed also would look forward to yelling, “NERD POWER!” He can, in a break glass in case of kind of way, get you out of a game or two in the corner outfield spots or at short for how many offdays they project Javy would need (increasingly looking like none). But you’d do this to shore up your second base spot, which needs it. Sogard himself is having something of an anomalous offensive season, as we’re only a year out from him putting up a 14 wRC+ in 55 games with the Brewers last year. His career-mark is 82. Sogard’s .491 slugging this year has come from literally nowhere, with a career number of .340. And at 33, this is another balloon that could pop at anytime. He’s not that effective defensively, so I’m not convinced this is any better than just riding the Robel miracle and see where that goes.
Billy Hamilton – I’ve seen this suggested a few places, as something of an Almora replacement after he’d dealt to the late-inning glove and speed guy. Or to just stop him from ever beating up on Jon Lester again. He would cost nothing, and he is both of those things mentioned, but the late-inning defensive replacement leaves me a touch cold when you still have seven or eight innings to get through before that. Let’s think harder.
Whit Merrifield – Solves everything, way expensive trade-wise, and almost certainly isn’t happening, especially as the Royals are supposedly asking for three major league-ready players in return and I’m not convinced the Cubs even have that. And the Royals probably want to do better than Ian Happ, whose hot two weeks probably haven’t raised his value as much as Cubs fans would like to think. And even if they did you’d have to add two more names to that.
So those are some bats being mentioned, and now that I’ve done this the Cubs will assuredly trade for someone not on this list. That’s just how these things go.