What Prospects Could Cubs Expect to Land by Dealing Core Player Like Javy Báez or Kris Bryant?

Most of the commentary here at Cubs Insider has been predicated on the idea that Theo Epstein will keep the team’s position-player core largely intact. Perhaps as much as a belief that a collective bounceback is possible, there’s the idea that players with just one year of control coming off of disappointing seasons won’t garner much value in trade.

But if we now take a different tack and consider that the Cubs do end up moving one of their core players like Kris Bryant or Javier Baez, what could they expect in return?

It might be easier to answer that question under normal circumstances, but the tumultuous 2020 season and what figures to be a depressed free-agent market complicate things quite a bit. Were the aforementioned stars coming off of MVP-caliber performances, there’d no doubt be several teams willing to bid for their services even if only for one season. Even though down years, the financial constraints of the pandemic, and increasing arbitration salaries mean Bryant and Báez are still likely to be Cubs in 2021, the possibility remains that they could be moved.

The Cubs will not obviously not be getting shortstop Wander Franco of the Rays, the top-rated prospect in all of baseball, or any team’s top prospect. Those players are like gold right now, more so than ever before, which means the Cubs could probably get two top-20 prospects at best given the market and other circumstances. Over the rest of this post, we’ll examine 12 potential trade partners and take a look at which of their farmhands might be in play.

Note: Each team link below is for MLB Pipeline’s top 30 list for the organization.

Blue Jays – No. 3 prospect Jordan Gorshans is a physically projectable kid who would have been at high-A last spring. I saw him play South Bend a few times and I like what he can do at the plate. Once he fills out his 6-foot-3 frame, he could have some serious pop. 

Rays – I loved pitcher Nick Bitsko as a draft target for the Cubs this past summer. The prep pitcher has yet to take the mound as a pro, but he has the body and makeup needed to be a solid MLB starter. He’s still just 18, so this would be a long play.

Twins – This team is loaded with prospects I like. Outfielder Trevor Larnach, shortstop Keoni Cavaco, outfielder Matt Wallner, pitchers Dakota Chalmers and Cole Sands — younger brother of former Cubs prospect Carson Sands — are just a few who could make sense. This might be my favorite doable target team.

White SoxMichael Kopech or bust in the José Quintana revenge deal. Well, sort of. The Cubs would be getting a high-risk pitcher who is still coming back from Tommy John surgery and opted out of the 2020 season, but who could yet pay off at the top of the rotation. The odds of this happening are very low at best.

Astros – They spent most of their prospect capital in 2017 and 2018, so their top four prospects would probably be required. That said, I can’t see them sending Forrest Whitley anywhere.

Angels – Like the Astros, their cupboard is about empty and Reid Detmers is about it here. Athletic outfielder Jordyn Adams is coming on strong, but this doesn’t seem like a great fit.

Braves – They were heavily rumored to be interested in Bryant last offseason, but they were probably better suited to swing a deal a year ago rather than right now. Still, here they are on the list. Outfielder Drew Waters is first on my list and the lynchpin of any deal with Atlanta, as I doubt Cristian Pache would be available. I also like outfielder Greyson Jenista and lefty Kyle Muller.

Nationals – Their top nine prospects are all pitchers, so this is your team if you want arms. If you want hitting, try another club.

Phillies – Believe it or not, the Phillies might be the best landing spot for a current Cub. There are several interesting names I like out of their solid mix of hitting and pitching in their top 10. Righty Mick Abel, outfielder Mickey Moniak, and shortstop Casey Martin stand out here.

Giants – I have seen most of these prospects play in the Northwest League against Eugene and there’s some depth here including outfielder Hunter Bishop and catcher Patrick Bailey. Joey Bart is not coming to Chicago, but outfielder Luis Matos might be a lottery ticket.

Dodgers – The Dodgers are pretty stingy with their talent, but like the Twins, LA has a lot of depth. Righty Clayton Beeter, outfielders DJ Peters — who the Cubs actually picked and tried to sign out of high school — and third baseman Kody Hoese out of Tulane top the list here. I loved two summers ago in the draft and being able to get two power bats like him and Peters in one fell swoop would be a coup.

Padres – This might be the team that could be the most eager to wheel and deal with the Cubs for Bryant and put him in the outfield. While MacKenzie Gore is not coming over in return, the Cubs could get outfielder Robert Hassell III or righties Cole Wilcox and Justin Lange, all recent draft picks and all very young. While the Padres would not really miss them, all would be top-10 prospects for the Cubs overnight. Wilcox would be the closest to the majors.

Here are my top 5 target clubs, all of which are very close in terms of preference

5. Braves – Waters would be great in CF every day and the Cubs could get him.
4. Giants – Bishop and Bailey are everyday guys, but it’s all about the 19-year-old Matos.
3. Dodgers – Cubs might have to sweeten the deal with another MLB guy to get two top prospects.
2. Twins – They can offer a lot of quality players and would be the best mix of hitting and pitching.
1. Padres – They might be anxious to catch LA and might be more willing to part with top talent to do it.

It could take a while for the market to develop once the World Series concludes and the offseason actually begins. Don’t be surprised to see teams stalling into spring training as they wait to see whether and how many fans they can host while also waiting out free agents to get them on cheaper deals. Arbitration will also play a role, as salaries will help to determine players’ value in trades.

Though the Cubs might be more willing to make “warranted and necessary” roster changes at the fringes as they look to “thread the needle” heading into Epstein’s final year at the helm.

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