The Cubs won the World Series. Even after 202 days, it’s still a surreal feeling knowing that the Cubs dominated the rest of Major League Baseball with a 103-58 record on their way to winning the franchise’s first championship since 1908.
This time last year the Cubs were well on their way to securing the NL Central with a 29-14 record and a comfortable five-game lead in the division. Fast forward to 2017 and the Cubs are off to a vastly different start. Chicago currently possesses a 23-21 record and find themselves third in the division behind the Brewers and Cardinals.
A big reason the Cubs aren’t dominating the way they did in 2016 is that their starting pitching hasn’t produced in the same manner. In 2016, through 43 games the Cubs starting rotation had a 2.70 ERA which was one of the lowest in the majors. This year the Cubs currently sit just inside the Top-10 ranked 8th with a 3.92 ERA.
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Chicago has a team built to compete for championships right now, and with a surplus of talented prospects, the Cubs have the pieces needed to bolster the rotation and make another deep run into the playoffs.
Here are five players Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer could target prior to the 2017 MLB trade deadline.
5. Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics
The Cubs are no strangers to trading with the Oakland Athletics, and Chicago would seem to be a perfect fit if they look to move Sonny Gray in 2017. In 2015 Gray was 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA and a 3.7 WAR on his way to an All-Star season. The 2016 season wasn’t too kind to Gray. He was in and out of the lineup with various injuries and posted a sub-par 5-11 record with a 5.69 ERA and only .7 WAR in 22 starts.
That being said, Gray has started to look like his old self in 2017. Through four starts Gray sports a 1-1 record with a 3.97 ERA and .1 WAR. While not initially impressive, keep in mind this is only through 22 innings of work. Perhaps the most encouraging sign is that his velocity is starting to average 93 MPH which is on par with his averages pre-2016. Gray will turn 28 this November and is under contract through 2019. He would not only fill a need now but has the potential to fill a long-term need going forward.
4. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
A narrative that never seems to go away is the link between Joe Maddon’s former team the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs. The Rays have a relatively deep pool of talent at the pitcher position, but not a lot of impact talent around the rest of the diamond. That’s where the Cubs come in with their deep pool of offensive prospects.
What some may not remember is that Chris Archer was in the Cubs system from 2008 to 2010 prior to being traded to the Rays in 2011 for Matt Garza. Since then he has blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball and the Cubs along with the rest of the teams in the MLB would love to have him on their pitching staff.
In 2016, Archer had a Jekyll and Hyde type of season. During the first half of the year, he posted a 4.66 ERA while sporting a 5-14 record. However, during the second half, he returned to the type of pitcher we’ve come to expect. His record was slightly better at 5-9, but he did put up a 3.25 ERA. On the year he finished with 252 strikeouts, good enough for 2nd in the American League.
Chris Archer will turn 29 this fall and has four more years of control. He’d be worth the hefty investment and would position the Cubs rotation nicely for the foreseeable future.
3. Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays
The Cubs would love to take Chris Archer off the Rays hands, but they would likely want a current major league talent like a Javy Baez or Kyle Schwarber plus some combination of their top prospects. While that scenario seems unlikely given Theo’s reservations about depleting the farm system too much, there is another pitcher on the Rays the Cubs could be interested in.
Jake Odorizzi is another talented member of the Rays staff, and he wouldn’t have near the same price tag as Archer. Since he became a full-time starter, Odorizzi has been a model of consistency. During his first three years as a starter, he has averaged 10 wins a season, with 163 strikeouts and a 3.72 ERA. An Illinois native and only 27 years old with two more years of control, Odorizzi would be an ideal candidate for the Cubs moving forward.
2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gerrit Cole is a bonafide ace and is someone the Cubs would absolutely love to acquire. However, trading for someone like Cole comes with some challenges, especially for Chicago.
The Pirates are off to a rough start to the 2017 season. They are without Starling Marte, who was suspended for 80 games because of a positive drug test, and have no real replacement to fill his spot on the roster. Promising young pitcher Jameson Taillon is still recovering from testicular cancer. Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen has yet to recover his pre-2016 form and may never be the same. All that combined has left the Pirates in last place in the NL Central without a clear plan moving forward.
That being said the Pirates still and rightfully so have reservations about trading their franchise ace, especially to a division rival. Cole throws 97 MPH and is only one year removed from being an All-Star with 19 wins and a 2.60 ERA. He turns 27 in September and has two more arbitration-eligible seasons after 2017. If the Pirates were to put Cole on the block it would take a ridiculous haul to not only appease the Pirates but to also fend off other potential suitors.
1. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
Yu Darvish may seem like an odd candidate for a potential Cubs target given the recent success by the Rangers, but if the Cubs elect to go for a rental approach there is no better potential option on the market.
With Cole Hamels out for the next few months and Adrian Beltre out for the next several weeks, it will be a tall task for the Rangers to keep their current momentum going. If they are unable to do so and fall out of the Wild Card position, the Rangers front office may start thinking about trading the soon to be free agent.
During his five seasons with the Rangers, Darvish has put up some very impressive numbers. A three-time All-Star he has averaged 10 wins a season, a 3.21 ERA with 176 strikeouts, and his WAR has never been below 2.7 over the course of a full season.
In 2017, Darvish is off to another impressive start. He has a 5-2 record with a 2.83 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 63 ⅔ innings. If he continues on this path he should see plenty of interest as we approach the trade deadline. The Cubs liked Darvish when he was first posted, and even put in a bid for him. So expect Theo and company to at least put in a phone call if/when Darvish becomes available.
The Cubs are a team loaded with talent and have a reasonable chance of making multiple runs to the World Series during the next several years; however, they must address their rotation.
Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are likely to move on after this season, and the 5th spot in the rotation remains a question mark with Brett Anderson and Eddie Butler having mixed results so far. With that in mind, expect Theo Epstein and the Cubs to be active during the 2017 MLB trade deadline.