During the 2018 Winter Meetings, Theo Epstein went viral for saying that there is no such thing as an untouchable player. The rather innocuous statement caused quite a stir because it was answering the question “Is Kris Bryant untouchable?”
Of course, Theo has no plans to trade Kris Bryant; he was just making a point about his principles and reputation as a shrewd deal maker. While he’s over a decade removed from trading Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra (Nomaahhhh), he’s shown that it’s not out of the question that, if the right player became available, he’d trade away an unexpected player or prospect to enhance the Cubs title chances for 2019 and beyond.
With that in mind, here are three names that might be popping up in trade talks over the next week.
1. Ian Happ
Ian Happ has had quite the 2019.
He entered Spring Training as a favorite to win a starting job. Instead, he ended up being optioned to AAA Iowa despite boasting a career .801 OPS over 875 plate appearances. He struggled mightily out of the gate, appeared to figure things out, then went into a deep slump again.
During Happ’s minor league hiatus, many have questioned his future with the organization. His positional versatility is due as much to his inability to excel at one spot as it is his ability to play multiple positions, his power numbers last season dropped dramatically while the strikeouts rose. His early struggles in Iowa only reinforced the idea that the Cubs should try to trade him before his value dips even lower.
However, it looks like he might be starting to put everything together:
With Happ’s pedigree, raw talent, years of team control remaining and current positional fit, trading him at this point in sure would rile up the fan base as well as the clubhouse. Ten days from now Happ could be with another team, starting in CF for the Cubs, or riding a bus somewhere in Iowa. Whatever actually happens is anyone’s guess.
2. Miguel Amaya
Amaya, a 20-year old High-A catcher, is the unanimous #2 prospect in the Cubs system. MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the #79 best prospect in all of baseball. Considering he is projected to be MLB ready around the same time that Willson Contreras will be hitting free agency, why would the Cubs be willing to trade him?
Well, for a couple of reasons. For starters, the Cubs drafted the top-ranked high school catching prospect Ethan Hearn in the sixth-round and signed Ronnier Quintero, the top-ranked IFA catching prospect.
The impact catching additions the Cubs have made to their farm system would certainly soften the blow of an Amaya trade. Which brings us to the second reason why it would make sense to see him moved:
Cost-controlled, impact talent costs top prospects, and the Cubs simply don’t have many of those right now.
Considering Royals utility man Whit Merrifield has been the only cost-controlled, impact player strongly linked to the Cubs this trade season, a trade featuring Amaya seems unlikely. But it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for.
Speaking of a Whit Merrifield trade…
Chicago’s favorite large adult son has been a constant in trade rumors since his debut back in 2015. He’s stayed put thus far, and I wouldn’t expect that to change, but his name being floated around as a trade piece makes more sense now than it has in the past.
Schwarber hasn’t been able to graduate from a good hitter to a great one, that along with his poor glove has prevented him from having the impact that the Bryant-Baez-Rizzo-Contreras group has had, but he’s also been quite a bit better than the Russell-Almora-Happ group have been the last couple of seasons. The former group of players aren’t going anywhere and the latter group of players aren’t bringing back anything worthwhile in return (with the possible exception of Happ). That leaves Schwarber as the most tradable cost-controlled player on the roster.
The name he’s been linked most often to is Whit Merrifield, but does trading Schwarber plus two additional quality prospects really make the Cubs better? How does trading away their second-best outfielder, for a guy that would be their second-best outfielder, enhance their depth?
Trading Schwarber for Merrifield isn’t going to keep Albert Almora out of the lineup. It’s not going to keep David Bote out of the lineup. It’s not going to prevent the Robel Garcia outfield experiment from happening, which means more Addison Russell. It doesn’t get Daniel Descalso off the roster.
The 2019 Cubs are a better team with Kyle Schwarber as one of their eight starters. Losing him over the next week would be a tough pill to swallow.
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