That is my question.
Why can’t the Chicago Cubs keep all their top positional prospects?
(Side note: I consider Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler their top 6 positional prospects. I got mad love for Alcantara but do not think he has the ceiling that these 5 players do thus not making my top 5.)
The media, writers, bloggers, and many others have stated that the Chicago Cubs cannot keep all their top positional prospects. Well I am here to say they can and I think they will. There is going to be at least 5 valid rebuttals to my statement so lets review those first.
Rebuttal #1: Prospect Flame Out
A sad but true point. Prospect flame out or PFO is a part of baseball. We have been several top prospects (unfortunately several with the Chicago Cubs) flame out before or during their time in the big leagues. Yes it is a part of the game and yes it does happen but with the way teams are using a wide array of tools and data it seems prospects that have flamed out is on the decline especially when you talk about top prospects such as the Chicago Cubs front office has drafted in the past few years. Top 10 draft picks are guys you have to be right on and thus carry the most weight when drafting them. I think because of this; and the tools that our front office and scouts have, PFOs are not going to be as common on the north-side of Chicago. Now, do I think the numbers Kris Bryant is putting up with translate to MLB pitching? Not likely but he does not have to hit .350 with a .440 OBP and 50 bombs to be successful in the Majors. I would be thrilled with a .270 average with a .350 OBP and 30 homeruns a year from Kris Bryant and so would the scouts and player developers in the Cubs system. All I am stating is that I do not think one of the top 5 positional prospects currently in the Cubs system will be a bust. They might not all be Hall of Famers and All-Stars but I think all will be solid Major League players for the Chicago Cubs.
Rebuttal #2: Trade Prospects
Trades are a part of baseball. Thinking the Cubs front office is going to trade one of their top 5 prospects to address other needs (like pitching) is an easy thing to assume and frankly see. The Cubs front office is stocking themselves with the most demanded goods in baseball; young controllable hitters. To make things even more appealing they are stock piling young controllable players in the infield which just adds to the value. Because they are adding so much depth to the infield it is easy to see why the speculation is on the uptick about them dealing from that depth. But they are not going to do it. The value of something like young controllable hitters is so high it may not be as high as it is for the Cubs. The idea that they can have an cost effective infield combining to make under $20M is more valuable to the Cubs long-term success than it is to trade away. Because the cost effectiveness of keeping these players is so high and valuable it lets this Cubs front office allocate resources to the other needs (which currently is pitching) and lets them keep the young controllable hitters. They are not losing anything in terms of talent by keeping their prospects and spending on Free Agency to address other areas. It is a win/win by just adding valuable talent without taking any away. So trades of the top 5 positional prospects is not going to happen.
Rebuttal #3: Trade Current Big Leaguers
So if the Cubs are not going to trade any of their top 5 positional prospects then that means a guy like Castro is going to be traded right? Again I say no. Another common mistake is trading young proven commodities like Castro (or even Rizzo who some suggested move which is CRAZY) that have a team friendly contract. Going back to the PFO where you do run the risk of one of the guys flaming out in the big leagues. If you trade a guy like Castro and then Baez, Russell, or Bryant does not live up to expectations then you may have a hole in one of your infield positions leaving the Cubs to wait for another prospect to develop or addressing the need via free agency. Both could further delay the competing process. So I am also saying yes you are going to keep Rizzo and Castro.
Rebuttal #4: Pitching
But what about pitching? The Cubs need pitching! Well I agree they do need pitching but please lets not forget that there are young pitchers in the Cubs farm system that may not be elite but they are not slouches either. Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, Arodys Vizcaino, Armando Rivero, and Paul Blackburn are some examples. Plus let us not forget that a guy like Neil Ramirez could also get a chance to start for the Cubs. Add a guy or two from those names to Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta (EJax is not likely to be a part of the rotation next season) and then you are looking at adding maybe 1 or 2 more starters not the 3 or 4 like some of you are suggesting. Now as you stated the Cubs do need pitching and it just so happens the next free agent class has some pretty dynamic names on it that the Cubs could even “overpay” for with all the money they plan on saving by keeping their top positional prospects. Those names are Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Brett Anderson, Francisco Liriano, James Shields, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Max Scherzer. The Cubs chances of landing one of those pitchers is very good especially when they have the money to do spend. So yes I agree the Cubs need pitching but I think they just go the free agency route to compound talent and cost effectiveness.
Rebuttal #5: Where will they all play?
Please view my post on this found here.
Thoughts and Conclusion
Whether the Chicago Cubs front office goes the route I laid out or not remains to be seen. But please don’t forget that this front office has been on the cutting edge of advanced statistics, talent analysis, front office construction, and player development. What is to say that fielding a team internally with top positional prospects to control cost while maximizing talent which in turn allows you to spend abundantly on other needs is not the next big thing in baseball? To me I think it is the next big thing and I think once again Theo and Jed will be on the cutting edge of things.
Until Next Time…