Triple-A Iowa Cubs 18-5 victory last night, corner infielder Jeimer Candelario banged out four hits, including three doubles, and drove in five more runs, giving him a Pacific Coast League-leading 15 just a week into the season. His .370 batting average is accompanied by the league’s fourth-highest OPS.
Yet Candelario, 23, could hit like the fictional Roy Hobbs and field his position more adeptly than Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson and still have no long-term future with the Cubs. That is because he is veritably blocked at the major league level by cornerstones third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Position talent duplication is a good problem for an organization. The Cubs faced this very situation last season.
In July, the Cubs parted ways with their top prospect, shortstop Gleyber Torres, in a package that netted menacing closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman compiled a 1.01 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP, saved all three Cubs victories in the NLDS and helped lead Chicago to a World Series title.
Torres’ potential value to the major league roster was limited by the presence of phenom Addison Russell. That trade makes no less sense today even though Chapman departed as a free agent and Torres continues to gain ground in top-prospect ratings.
Like with Torres, the Cubs could fortify their pitching in a Candelario deal.
Of the Cubs five starting pitchers, only Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are not scheduled to become free agents at season’s end. Closer Wade Davis and setup men Koji Uehara and Brian Duensing are also only signed through this season, while former closer Hector Rondon is set to hit free agency following the 2018 season. Moreover, not one of the Cubs’ top 18 prospects, according to MLB.com’s most-recent ratings, is pitching above the AA level.
Last season, the Cubs starting rotation benefited from fortuitous durability and good health: Five pitchers accounted for 153 of their 162 starts. Jason Hammel, who made 30 of those starts, is now pitching for the Kansas City Royals. His replacement, Brett Anderson, has made more than 19 starts only twice in his injury-plagued eight-year career. John Lackey, the lone Cubs starter to visit the disabled list last season, is 38 years of age and has pitched almost 2,700 innings. And while incredibly durable during their careers, starters Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester are both North of 30.
Relief pitchers Davis, Rondon, Uehara and Pedro Strop all spent time on the disabled list last season, which is where Duensing started this campaign, and where Rondon could be headed after suffering a knee injury in last night’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs in-house options of Felix Pena, Rob Zastryzny, Alec Mills, Aaron Brooks, Eddie Butler and Jack Leathersich might all be viable options in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness, but they have limited experience and, with the exception of Zastryzny last season and Leathersich in 2015 with the New York Mets, have struggled in the majors.
When the Cubs trade Candelario and what they can fetch in return is the only suspense about his future with the organization. Position talent duplication at the minor league level is a good problem for an organization. Trading from a position of strength to upgrade a weakness is what the Cubs must eventually do with Candelario.