It's not very often that a major league club goes into a baseball season already knowing they are going to be sellers at the deadline—and sometimes after the deadline via the waiver wire.
This season, the Chicago Cubs just happen to be one of those clubs.
To figure out who will be available for trade, we should look at those who are not, or should not be, on the trade block.
Jeff Samardzija, Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo are the only players who are unofficially off-limits due to being the club’s core group of players.
Travis Wood must also be eliminated from trade consideration. He is everything that Cubs management is looking for in a pitcher—quality, young and cheap.
Wood has inarguably been the Cubs' best starter this season. Each of his six starts in 2013 has been a quality start (six-plus innings, allowing fewer than three runs per) and he has only surpassed the 100-pitch mark once in those starts.
If he continues to pitch this well, or in a relative fashion, Wood would warrant a king’s ransom from a contender at the trade deadline.
However, he is what the Cubs need going forward. Just think how formidable a one-two punch of Wood and Samardzija could be when the Cubs are vying for a playoff spot in a couple years, hopefully.
Being able to control two highly talented, young pitchers for a few more years before they reach free agency (Wood after 2016, Samardzija after 2015) is something every club would love to be able to do.
Welington Castillo should also not be placed on the trade block, not that he would be in high demand. It may seem a tad untimely to champion that the Cubs keep Castillo after his lack of hustle led to a run scoring in an eighth-inning comedy of errors in Thursday’s loss to the San Diego Padres, but “it” happens. What can you do?
He still has done fairly well for the Cubs this season and it is not as if the Cubs have a top catching prospect waiting in the wings or coming down the pipeline in the foreseeable future. Also, if you check out Cot’s Contracts of BaseballProspectus.com, the crop of possible free agent catchers next offseason isn’t all that impressive.
Those six players—Samardzija, Castro, Barney, Rizzo, Wood and Castillo—are the only ones currently on the roster that should not be trade-available come the July 31 deadline.
As for the rest, what they do going forward will determine whether or not they are placed on the trade block.
James Russell is in a unique position. He has been Chicago's most consistent, reliable reliever this season, which makes him incredibly valuable to the Cubs and to contenders at the deadline.
Russell could become one of those players that clubs unofficially make available at the trade deadline.
Once the deadline comes, reporters ask GMs if Player A is available for trade. GMs typically respond in intentionally vague terms so as to force any teams interested in Player A to take note that if they want to acquire his services the Cubs will not consider any low-ball deals as well as to not cloud the player’s mind with any unnecessary doubt of his future with the club so he can continue to maintain or increase his trade value.
In the end, however, as much as the Cubs need to keep Russell, he will be traded at the deadline. In prospect terms, what Russell can bring in return from a club vying for a division title or Wild Card spot would be of higher quality than any other trade piece the Cubs currently have.
Carlos Villanueva will be another interesting player to watch as the season inches closer to July 31. Despite his 1-2 record in six starts, his first four met the standards for quality starts. According to BaseballReference.com Villanueva has a 2.85 ERA—second among Cubs’ starters—and has the second-highest strikeout-to-walks ratio among the starting rotation.
Villanueva is signed through next season which would increase his relative trade value in relation to him rebounding from his two most-recent outings. If he continues to pitch well for the Cubs, the organization could find itself in the same boat with Villanueva as they are with Russell.
In the end, Villanueva’s salary could ultimately be the deciding factor to the now fiscally conservative Cubs in whether he is moved or not.
The current starting outfielders are all on the trade block, whether they realize it or not.
The Cubs having been trying to trade Alfonso Soriano ever since Jed Hoyer and Epstein were brought in and probably before then.
David DeJesus is valuable to the club because of not only what he brings onto the field, but also for what he brings into the clubhouse. The Cubs may not want to trade him because of the veteran leadership he brings to an otherwise young squad.
However, there is a sense that if the player is not included in the club’s “core” group, he will be available.
Nate Schierholtz is playing for a multi-year or long-term contract on his one-year deal with the Cubs. Since he is on a one-year contract, it is highly probable that Nate Schierholtz will be traded at the deadline.
However, if he spends the entire season with the club, that could mean he has earned a two-year deal with Cubs. As a lefty, Schierholtz hits righties very well and has been the Cubs’ best option so far this season when there are runners in scoring position.
The bullpen could see a complete turnover between now and the end of the season. Some changes could come via trade and some via waiver-wire. Then again, some changes could come via designation or demotion\promotion.
The current composition of the Cubs' bullpen, with the exception of Russell, leaves much to be desired and does not offer up many trade options that would bring quality prospects in return.
Believe it or not, Carlos Marmol may be the best trade piece the Cubs have in the bullpen besides Russell.
We all know that no matter how much a pitcher might be struggling, if he has shown any past flashes of dominance, there are pitching coaches and managers out there who believe they can reverse his fortunes.
For the Cubs to receive any sort of quality prospect in return for Marmol, they will have to pick up a generous portion of his salary. Then again, the Cubs may not care about the quality of the return as long as they can get Marmol off their books.
Finally, there is Matt Garza. It’s almost as if the Cubs put Garza on a track toward a trade and Garza’s body has decided it doesn’t like that track so has chosen to go in another direction. Which will prevail?
It’s common knowledge that the Cubs will indeed trade Garza this season.
He would have been traded in 2012, but suffered a season-ending injury to his right elbow shortly before the trade deadline.
Then in spring training, Garza suffered a lat injury that has yet to see him make a MLB start, throwing a huge wrench into the Cubs’ 2013 trade plans. It doesn’t appear likely that Garza will be able to make enough starts before the July 31 trade deadline to entice a favorable deal for the Cubs.
Just don’t be surprised when Garza becomes a permanent resident on the MLB waiver wire until the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline.