According to ESPN Chicago, the Cubs are already preparing to internally discuss trading some of their expensive, veteran pieces away. This should come as little surprise. The trade deadline is a mere five weeks away, and the Cubs sit in fifth place, ten games out of first with little hope for a comeback. The Cubs have plenty of high-cost veterans they will look to move, such as Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, and Kosuke Fukudome. The question: can they find anybody willing to take these players on, and if so, how much much cash will the Cubs themselves have to throw into the deal?
Let’s take a look at each trade candidate on an individual basis.
As we will find to be a theme with these players, Carlos Zambrano is still good. He’s just making way, way too much money. This year would be the first time Zambrano would ever finish with an ERA over 4.50, but the Cubs defense is also the worst unit in the league by a wide margin. Although his strikeouts are down, his walks are down in turn, and his 3.85 FIP suggests he could be a useful starter for a contending team, assuming they’re willing to deal with his rather fiery temper.
And his temper hardly compares to the nearly $28 million remaining on his contract. His performance this season is that of an average pitcher, not of an elite pitcher. On a pure per-win basis, Zambrano probably will provide somewhere around $10-$13 million over the next year and a half. If trade partners agree, that would mean the Cubs would have to throw in at least $15 million into the deal before the teams could even begin to discuss prospects. Maybe some teams are desperate enough for mid-tier starting pitching, but chances are most teams will opt for a simpler, cheaper option.
Much like Zambrano, Soriano remains productive, just at a salary far too high. What he lacks in on-base skills, Soriano more than makes up for in power, posting a .500 SLG or better all but two of his years with Chicago (and .496 one of those years). He was a 3.0 WAR player last year and has been similarly productive this season, off the pace only because he missed some time due to injury.
Of course, Soriano’s contract is even worse than Zambrano’s, with a whopping $63 million remaining on the deal through the 2014 season. If we assume a typical aging curve, beginning at 33.0 WAR pro-rated for this year and decreasing by 0.5 WAR per season, Soriano would be worth roughly $35 million. The Cubs may actually be able to get out from under half of Soriano’s salary if a team is willing to bring him on, but given Soriano’s advanced age (35), it’s hard to imagine anybody jumping at the chance to pay $20-30 million for the chance to get him through age 38.
At least the Cubs won’t have to worry about his no-trade clause. As Soriano himself said about Chicago:
“It’s the worst,” said Soriano, who has seen several teammates also booed at Wrigley in his 4+ seasons in Chicago. “I played in New York, but the fans are worse here.”
Clearly the most attractive Cub to trading partners will be Fukudome, a very capable hitter who will be a freea gent at the end of the season. His .400 OBP is partly a product of a .344 BABIP, but he also is one of the most disciplined hitters in the Major League, drawing walks in nearly 15% of plate appearances. The problem, at least according to UZR, is his defense, 8.5 runs below average this year. However, his defense has never rated this poorly before by any system, and likely would not deter any trades. With $6.5 million remaining on his contract, the Cubs probably couldn’t count on any stellar prospects coming back, but there may be a match which wouldn’t require the Cubs to cover any salary either.
Ramirez would be as attractive a trade candidate as Fukudome, if not more so, except he doesn’t appear willing to no-trade clause. Of course, such things can change in a hurry, so the Cubs will likely still try to find a trading partner. Ramirez has a history of power, although that hasn’t shown up this season. Despite his current .125 ISO, ZiPS projects a .439 SLG, which would be extremely useful at third base for many contenders when paired with a .335 OBP.
The Cubs have veterans to trade, and many of them should be productive enough to bring some calls to Jim Hendry’s office. Unfortunately for the organization, the Cubs simply attached too much money to these players to get much of anything in return. Right now, it looks like the main benefit of any trade the Cubs make this year will be salary relief. Any prospects brought back in return would be gravy.
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