I like prospects, and I have made a fuss on this blog about Guyer and Chirinos in particular. Chirinos got my attention in ’09 when he hit two grand slams in a game in late May, and then kept hitting. Disappointed when the Cubs failed to protect Chirinos from the Rule 5 draft in ’09, I wrote this on December 3rd:
Chirinos would be the biggest loss [in the upcoming Rule 5 draft], a power-hitting catcher with strong defensive skills to go along with years of experience at second and third base. Chirinos is in winter ball in Venezuela, where he maintains a .330 BA and a .957 OPS.
I usually prefer to be on the other side of trades like the Garza deal. I supported the Cubs when they traded DeRosa for three prospects (including Archer), since Fontenot was coming off a successful first year and could replace DeRosa immediately (in theory if not in practice). I thought the Braves were shrewd when they sold high on Adam LaRoche after his breakout year at age 26. They believed that they had an in-house replacement for LaRoche in Scott Thorman. Since they got a sore-armed relief pitcher in return for LaRoche, the trade was not successful, but the concept of selling high was sound. When you trade a blue-chip prospect who just turned 20 in November (Lee), you are not selling high. More than once on this blog I have wondered why, if Chirinos had developed into a slugger, and they didn’t seem to like Soto behind the plate, they didn’t just trade Soto?
Still, I have to challenge two criticisms of the Garza deal. I do not think the Cubs overpaid; and I don’t think they gutted the farm or mortgaged their future in the sense of trading players who would have been useful later on.
In terms of the Cubs’ overpaying, I’m not in a position to place a value–very high, high, medium or low–on Garza. Garza’s value is what the Rays could get for him. Since several other teams were in the hunt for Garza and, like the Cubs, put together packages of minor-league players for the Rays to consider, and since the Rays turned them all down until this week when the Cubs broke down and added Chris Archer to their package, I have to conclude that the Cubs paid exactly what was necessary and no more. When I buy a car, I try to gauge what the dealer is thinking by making it a rule to always walk out of the showroom at some point in the negotiation. The Cubs walked out of the showroom when they left the Winter Meetings without an agreement on Garza.
Unless the Cubs contemplated trading Soto, the only player in the deal who could have been an impact player on the Cubs in the next several years is Archer. But they got a pitcher in return for Archer, and that pitcher was bound to be better than Archer for the next two or three years, at least. It’s possible that, in three or four years, Archer will have become a better pitcher than Garza is right now, but how likely is that? And Garza is only five years older. Someone else–the Twins and the Rays–paid for his major-league education and development.
Other than Archer, I don’t see anyone in the trade who really fit into the Cubs’ plans. I would have been fine with Guyer playing centerfield or left field and batting leadoff for the Cubs this year; but realistically, Byrd and Soriano were in his way, and in any event, Brett Jackson was bound to trump Guyer in 2012 if not sooner. Chirinos had limited value as a sub for Soto. Defensively, Welington Castillo was a better answer to Soto’s weakest point, his inability to gun down runners.
That leaves Hak-Ju Lee. People are fond of saying that if Lee makes the grade as a major-league hitter, he has a better glove and arm at shortstop, and might have pushed Castro over to second base. That is fine in theory, but naive. Castro is already something of a star. He has an agent. Star shortstops don’t like to be pushed over. It’s one thing to say that Lee has the talent to be a major-league shortstop, and another to say that he has the kind of talent to overshadow Castro in the way that Castro overshadowed Theriot when he pushed him out of the shortstop position. I don’t see Lee as a second baseman. He was bound to end up as a shortstop for someone else. Could the Cubs have waited longer, and sold higher? Certainly. I’m simply arguing that he didn’t fit into the Cubs’ plans.
I would contend that in the Cubs’ mind, the shortstop of the future is of course Castro, while the second baseman of the future is LeMahieu. Thus far, LeMahieu is a singles hitter, but also a contact hitter who sprays line drives to all fields. Batting second for Daytona last year in his first full professional season–he’s only two years older than Lee–LeMahieu drove in 73 runs, only three fewer than Ridling, the cleanup hitter, and more than Flaherty or Burke, the two other middle-of-the-order hitters. LeMahieu followed Brett Jackson in the batting order until late June, so that’s where some of the RBI came from, but in July and August he had a tougher job trying to nudge Valdez, Macias and Evan Crawford around the bases. The prospect rankings that are coming out this month do not rate LeMahieu very highly, but being stat-based, they tend to skew toward walks and home runs. LeMahieu is a line-drive hitter, not a slap hitter, whose hits are mostly singles. His hitting style doesn’t translate into walks and home runs. Yet he may be just what the Cubs need in the two hole. I think LeMahieu has a legitimate shot to play for the Cubs as early as 2012. If the Cubs mortgaged their future in the Garza deal, the rates are lower than if they had traded LeMahieu instead of Lee.
Time will tell the overall success of the Garza trade, but I reject the idea that it was ill conceived.