Year two of the Theo Epstein regime is likely to include another eventful July.
Now that Scott Feldman has been traded (along with Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop) and Carlos Marmol was finally sent packing (to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier), Cubs president Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office can cross off a few items from the "Things To Do List".
To recap, the Cubs completed two trades on Tuesday. By trading away Marmol, whose uncertain situation had become a distraction, they can now move ahead and focus on trying to find some relievers who can help in the second half and beyond. Guerrier is a free agent after the season so his addition is more about trying to help stabilize a struggling bullpen.
Although cutting costs isn't likely a huge priority for the Cubs, the Feldman deal saves them close to $3 million (Feldman's 2013 salary is $6 million) and also brings back two talented pitchers who could flourish with a change of scenery. Arrieta will join the rotation later in the season while Strop could be eased into a high-leverage role.
On to the next line of business ...
1. The Cubs are shopping Matt Garza (pictured), the top starting pitcher on the trade market, and there isn't a shortage of interest from contending teams. Even for what could amount to approximately 12-15 starts of Garza, the Cubs should be able to net a very good return for the 29-year-old. And according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, it could be sooner rather than later.
Heavy traffic on Cubs righty Matt Garza. Should be dealt well ahead of trade deadline according to major league source.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) June 28, 2013
With terrific consecutive starts (22 IP, 2 ER, 15 H, 5 BB, 23 K), Garza has likely boosted his trade value considerably. In fact, it could be rising to the point to where a team like the Padres, who are reportedly interested and have a farm system that the Cubs front office is very familiar, might not have the elite prospect depth it would take to get a deal done.
The Padres could probably give up three very good prospects to rent Garza, but that would hurt the overall farm system depth that their small-market organization relies on to be successful. In addition, they've lost four in a row, which could serve as a reminder that they're not quite ready to go all out—giving up top prospects and take on an estimated $5 million in salary—for a trade deadline rental like Garza.
On the other hand, a team like the Boston Red Sox do have the big-name prospects in the upper minors necessary to land Garza, as well as the payroll flexibility to take on the remaining portion of his $10.25 million salary. Including center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. or a starting pitcher like Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo or Allen Webster as the centerpiece of a deal could make them the clear favorites to make a deal happen relatively quick.
Even third baseman Will Middlebrooks could be expendable at this point with the emergence of Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts, who should be manning the left side of the Red Sox infield together in the near future. The deal might have to be expanded, however, to possibly include reliever Kevin Gregg or a Cubs prospect to even out the deal.
2. Reliever Kevin Gregg (pictured) has been a pleasant surprise since joining the team in mid-April. The 35-year-old has posted a 1.65 ERA and saved 13 games in 14 chances while walking eight batters and striking out 29 in 27.1 innings.
In helping to solidify a bullpen that has been otherwise terrible on the season, Gregg has also given the Cubs an unexpected trade chip. And now that White Sox right-hander Jesse Crain, the top relief pitcher expected to be available in a trade, has landed on the disabled list with a strained shoulder, Gregg's value has likely increased even more.
With Jesse Crain landing on the DL, an already thin crop of trade-market relievers gets even more thin. Kevin Gregg a standout in the group.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 3, 2013
Don't expect the Cubs to net a top prospect for Gregg, but they could end up with a lower-level minor leaguer with some upside or even a starting pitcher closer to the big leagues with a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.
3. In a trade market lacking many impact bats, the Cubs could once again see if there is any interest in left fielder Alfonso Soriano (pictured), who is heating up with 10 hits in his last 27 at-bats, including three homers.
With a no-trade clause and a contract that no team is willing to take on completely, it certainly won't be easy. But a contending team in need of a right-handed hitting designated hitter who can play in the outfield occasionally would surely be interested in finding out what it would take to acquire Soriano, who has an .855 OPS against left-handed pitching.
Soriano reportedly turned down a potential trade to the Giants last summer, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer of The Chicago Sun Times. While he hasn't come out and said he'd flat out refuse any trades, Soriano has expressed his desire to remain in Chicago so the no-trade clause could be an obstacle.
The 37-year-old is still due an estimated $9 million in 2013 and another $18 million in 2014. If the Cubs take on at least half of that, a team like the Yankees or Tigers might be willing to part with a mid-level prospect for a year-and-a-half of Soriano.
4. Another veteran who has played his way into an unexpectedly valuable trade chip is right fielder Nate Schierholtz (pictured), who is hitting .284 with 11 homers and 19 doubles in 71 games. The 29-year-old, who is making $2.25 million this season, is also under team control for one more season, which will further drive up the asking price.
The Cubs don't have to trade Schierholtz and would gladly head into the offseason with the option of shopping him again or just holding onto him and let him be their starting right fielder in 2014 at what will be another bargain rate. For this reason, they can set the asking price high and hold their ground if they're not happy with the offers.
With so few outfielders expected to be available on the trade market—Alex Rios is the biggest name that has been floating around—it wouldn't be too surprising if the Cubs got a nice return for Schierholtz. Not top prospect "nice", but a lot more than they could've expected when they signed him this past offseason.
Other players under contract beyond 2013 that are trade possibilities include infielder Luis Valbuena, who has a .738 OPS in 67 games, and Carlos Villanueva, who is versatile enough to start, fill a high-leverage role out of the bullpen or pitch in long relief. Signed to a two-year, $10 million contract this past offseason, Villanueva has a 3.45 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched.
It's also expected that contending teams will ask about Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, who is still under control for two more seasons. Unless a team is willing to overpay at this point, expect the 28-year-old to stay put and take the mound for the Cubs on Opening Day 2014.
5. While this is typically the time of the year for a non-contending team to sell off veteran players who aren't in the club's future plans, it's not completely out of the question for the Cubs to at least inquire about players they have interest in for 2014 and beyond.
Even if it just lays the groundwork for an offseason deal, the Cubs could look into impact trade targets such as Rays pitcher David Price (pictured) or Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Neither player is expected to be available this month, but don't count out such an acquisition in November or December. It would be a huge disappointment if the Cubs don't make a big splash prior to Year 3 of the Theo Epstein regime in 2014.
Looking into what the price would be should such a player become available this upcoming offseason will give the Cubs an early start on their preparation for 2014. They not only have the elite prospects—shortstop Javier Baez, center fielder Albert Almora and corner outfielder Jorge Soler—to acquire an All-Star caliber player but they'll also likely be in on several of the top free agents.