With 22 days remaining until the deadline, trades are beginning to happen around major league baseball. Yesterday, the Red Sox made a move for reliever Brad Ziegler from Arizona to bolster their pen in the wake of the injury to closer Craig Kimbrel. This series of articles is going to look at the Cubs to see what pieces could help the team and then look at the American and National League teams to see what pieces are out there that would fit those needs.
Coming into play today, the Cubs still maintain a large eight game lead in the division and are one game back for home field advantage for the NL playoffs. The offense has scored the second most runs in baseball and the pitching staff has allowed the fewest runs. Breaking that down a bit further, the starters have easily allowed the fewest runs in baseball, but the bullpen comes in 12th in preventing runs. So, at a high level, the pen would be the first area that needs some reinforcements. But we can take a deeper look than that.
Starting with the offense, let's go position by position. We'll see how the position ranks by both WAR and by wOBA.
Catcher - 6th in WAR; 6th in wOBA
The Cubs are well set at catcher for this year and coming years. While Montero has struggled with both health and performance, Willson Contreras has proved to be a foundation piece for the present and future. The rookie will undoubtedly have his ups and downs, but the three headed moster of Contreras, Montero and Ross is set in stone for the remainder of the year.
First Base - 3rd in WAR; 2nd in wOBA
This one is obvious. Rizzo is one of the elite first basemen in baseball, is only 26 and is on a team friendly contract through 2019 with options for 2020 and 2021. Should Rizzo go down, the Cubs have capable players to put in place in Contreras, Bryant and could even call up Dan Vogelbach if necessary.
Second Base - Tied for 3rd in WAR; 4th in wOBA
The Cubs have gotten great production out of Ben Zobrist and have great depth at the position with Baez and La Stella. This will be a theme as we go through the offense: this team is immensely solid at just about every position with great starters and great depth.
Third Base - 6th in WAR; 10th in wOBA
The rankings here surprised me for a minute until I realized how many of the 3B plate appearances have been taken by Baez and La Stella. While the offense supplied by those guys is more than adequate for second base, they would be merely average at third. The ranking is also impacted by the surfeit of great third basemen in baseball today. The position is simply loaded with talent across the league. That said, the Cubs could easily improve here simply by playing Bryant more here than in the OF. They also have depth here if Bryant is needed full time in the OF or needs to spend time on the DL. The other way of looking at it is if one of those other great players at the position became available, the Cubs could move Bryant to the OF full time. This is very unlikely as those players are not likely to be dealt, but it would be one way for the Cubs to make an upgrade.
Shortstop - 11th in WAR; 19th in wOBA
Addison Russell has been getting the vast majority of the playing time at shortstop and is another foundation piece for the team. While his offensive rank is below average in MLB, there are a lot of reasons to think he might be significantly better at the plate in the second half. Baez provides a more than capable backup at the position, though depth behind him is questionable in the case of injury.
Left Field - 4th in WAR; 4th in wOBA
By the stats, this is the third strongest position for the team behind first and second base. However, this is the one position on the field that would be the easiest to "upgrade". If the Cubs brought in a player for left, it would allow Bryant to play full time at third base. A move like that would severely limit the number of at bats for Jorge Soler, Javy Baez and Tommy La Stella. The team also has another player they consider part of the foundation coming back in 2017 in Kyle Schwarber, so it is unlikely that they would want a player who had a contract longer than this year. But it would be a possibility.
A quick fun fact: The Cubs have already had 11 players get a plate appearance as a left fielder this season, including Travis Wood. They have also played two other players out there for "defense" purposes only: Pedro Strop and Spencer Patton.
Center Field - 5th in WAR; 6th in wOBA
Maddon has told Dexter Fowler that as he goes, so go the Cubs. Please come back soon, Super Dex!
Behind Fowler, the Cubs have Heyward, Almora and Szczur as depth. Just like in LF, the Cubs could make a move here and shift Fowler to LF when he returns. As for getting a player on a longer term contract, that could actually make some more sense here. Fowler is purely on a one year contract. Almora has shown enough to be considered part of the future, but he has not shown enough to be considered a lock for the position, either. He has backed up every single bit of his defensive reputation and more, but still has a lot of growing to do at the plate. It is easier to see the Cubs making a move for a center fielder that would be here for multiple years than any other position on the field.
Right Field - 13th in WAR; 26th in wOBA
There is no question that Heyward's first season with the Cubs has been disappointing to date. But he's not going anywhere. The team will continue working with him on his swing and hope that he returns to at least his established levels of performance going forward. The only possibility for RF would be the Cubs adding a player to RF and moving Heyward to center field for the next couple of years.
The Cubs bench has primarily consisted of Baez, Ross/Montero, La Stella, Szczur, Almora and Coghlan; with spot roles for Kalish, Kawasaki, Candelario and Federowicz. It is generally one of the stronger benches in baseball and will become even stronger when Dexter and Soler return from injury. The Cubs are unlikely to make a move to bring in another role player for the bench since there are too many players that are out of options on the team.
The Cubs have had one of the best offenses in baseball throughout the first half. They have young players that are considered foundation pieces throughout the diamond. It is possible that the team would trade for another position player, but that player would have to be very special to represent an improvement. Those players would not come cheap and it seems more likely that the Cubs would use their resources to acquire pitching help.