The Chicago Cubs have done an exceptional job at collecting assets in recent years, but with many of their young players ready to contribute, they will soon need to turn those assets into a balanced roster built to compete for a World Series title.
The Cubs have one of the best farm systems in baseball, but while their system is loaded with potential impact hitters, it is light when it comes to pitchers ready to contribute. Next season Chicago will have the good problem of having to find a way to slot the likes of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez into the same lineup, but its pitching staff will still be mediocre relative to the rest of the league.
With many of their young hitters ready to contribute in 2015, the Cubs must sacrifice one of their budding stars in a trade in order to acquire a young starter to help lead their staff. Jake Arrieta and possibly Kyle Hendricks are a good start, and it is possible that they will throw money at Jon Lester or Max Scherzer this offseason, but adding a young, impact starter would not only put the Cubs in great position next year but for the years to follow.
Below are three promising young starters the Cubs should target this upcoming offseason in a trade. The criteria for these starters is that they must have at least some big-league experience along with a tremendously high ceiling, a pitcher who is truly worth one of the Cubs' big-time prospects.
The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs seem like the perfect match for a trade; two teams with their eye on being relevant in 2015, one with a stockpile of young hitting, the other with pitching. Cubs fans may have seen a preview of their future ace on Friday night when Zack Wheeler led the Mets to victory.
Wheeler was a top 10 prospect in baseball for a long time, and he has done little in his past year in the majors to create cause for concern about his future as a top-of-the-rotation stud.
Wheeler has had his hiccups, but he has still been remarkably solid for a pitcher who just turned 24, posting 3.46 ERA over his first 247 innings. He has proven that his talent alone can carry him to major league success, and if he refines his command and develops his changeup a little more, he could be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Wheeler would be a perfect fit for the Cubs. Assuming Chicago makes a big addition to its staff this offseason, whoever it signs along with Wheeler and Arrieta would make for a very solid top three of a rotation.
However, because Wheeler has established himself over the past year as one of the bright young stars in baseball, he would come at a steep price.
The Mets may have interest in Starlin Castro, but if they were to trade Wheeler, they would likely demand one of Baez, Bryant or Russell. New York is looking to compete in 2015, meaning a pu-pu platter of intriguing yet younger and further away prospects wouldn’t be enough for a deal.
It is possible the Cubs target another Mets pitcher in a deal such as Noah Syndergaard or Jonathon Niese. Syndergaard is less proven than Wheeler yet the organization values him just as highly, but Niese could also make sense, and he would likely cost less than one of the Mets’ two younger studs.
Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman struggled during his stint in the majors in 2013, but he still has a humongous ceiling and was rated as the No. 10 prospect by Baseball Prospectus coming into this season despite his less than ideal start to his career. He has still had some hiccups this season but has posted a 3.90 ERA while exhibiting the ability to be a future ace.
Trading for Gausman would be a tricky proposition for the Cubs because the Orioles currently imagine Gausman and Dylan Bundy leading their future rotation. However, it will be difficult for them to re-sign J.J. Hardy this offseason and could be enticed by the Cubs’ potential left-side infielders.
Gausman has truly elite talent and is a good bet to be a stellar starting pitcher for a long time. Adding him to their rotation would give the Cubs a much-needed starter who would be under team control who could also potentially become their long-term ace.
Despite Gausman’s relatively unimpressive stat line, he would still cost the Cubs one of their prime prospects. The Orioles would likely be interested in any of their elite hitting prospects, as they could put Bryant or Baez at third and slide Manny Machado back to short, or Russell and Machado could potentially form the best left side of an infield in baseball.
Miami Marlins starter Andrew Heaney came into the season as the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus (No. 30 overall), and he would be a great addition to the Cubs' pitching staff.
Heaney struggled during his cup of coffee in Miami earlier this season, but he has continued to prove in the minors that he is a refined left-hander with above-average stuff who will be ready to contribute in the near future.
Miami would also love to obtain a premier power-hitting prospect to put alongside Giancarlo Stanton moving forward. The Marlins will be looking to compete in 2015 with the return of Jose Fernandez and continued excellence of Stanton, and the idea of adding a potentially elite bat under team control like Baez would make them salivate.
However, unlike Wheeler and Gausman, who have shown at least some major league success and were once considered top 10 prospects in all of baseball, Heaney is a shade lower in terms of talent. If Miami wanted to acquire one of the Cubs' premier young hitters like Baez, they would likely have to include another significant prospect in the trade.
The reason the Cubs might prefer Heaney to someone like Wheeler or Gausman is that they could possibly acquire him without giving up one of their premier hitters. A deal centered around Albert Almora, Jorge Soler or Arismendy Alcantara could be enough to sway the Marlins into dealing their young lefty.
All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.
Follow Sean on Twitter: @SCunninghamPG.