Yesterday we plowed through the bottom 30 of this completely unscientific ranking of the Cubs current trade assets.  The idea is simple.  It’s a ranking of every player on the current 40 man roster, plus 10 other guys who will be on it someday.  Age, past performance, projectable future performance and contract status all factor in.

Take a look at 50-21, but now we’re on to the top 20.

20. Jason Motte, P

This all hinges on his health, if he gets back to close to what he was when he led the NL in saves in 2012 he’s a tremendous asset.  If he’s a notch lower than that, he’s still carrying real value.  He projects to set-up along with Pedro Strop and Neil Ramirez for Hector Rondon, but if Rondon falters, and Motte is healthy, he’ll end up as the closer.  Regardless, he’ll entertain the guys in the bullpen with the antics of the family of squirrels who live in his terrible, terrible beard.

19. Gleyber Torres, SS

Oh, you thought the shortstop glut for the Cubs is limited to Starlin Castro, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara?  Nope.  Gleyber not only has a terrifically strange name, he’s about to rocket up the Cubs prospect list.  Torres, and his buddy Eloy (Jorge Soler lite) Jimenez were the top two international signings in the 2013 signing period.  Eloy apparently needs a little more work, but Gleyber will play his first full-season of minor league ball this year.

18. Dexter Fowler, CF

The Cubs filled three holes with the trade of future Hall of Famer Luis Valbuena to the Astros for Dexter.  They found an everyday centerfielder, they found a leadoff man and they added somebody who can actually get on base.  The risk is that he’s in the final year of his contract and could walk after the season.  But that actually adds to his trade value if the Cubs aren’t in it, don’t think they can bring him back (or decide they don’t want to) and a team in the race is in need of a short-term rental.  I’m pretty sure at some point I’ll combine Dexter Fowler and Junior Lake into the Dexter Lake Club.

We…are gonna die.

17. Jason Hammel, P

There were four key pieces in the Cubs Fourth of July trade with the A’s, and three of them are currently Cubs.  They acquired Addison Russell and Billy McKinney and brought Hammel back.  He was excellent for them in the three months before the trade, and you’ll hear that he struggled with the A’s, but a look at the numbers show he really only struggled in July and was good for them down the stretch in August and September.  Hammel left as the Cubs number two starter and returns as their number three.  That’s progress.

16. Welington Castillo, C

Welington does a lot of things well and is only 27.  There are plenty of catchers in this league who aren’t as good as him, so now that the Cubs have decided that Miguel Montero is an upgrade, there should be a market for Welington.  One didn’t emerge in the offseason (at least not one as robust as the Cubs wanted), but all it takes is one injury, or a team realizing their starting catcher sucks for a deal to happen.  If one doesn’t emerge by opening day, the Cubs will be in the unenviable position of needing to carry three catchers for a while.

15. Kyle Schwarber, C

The Cubs will make every attempt to make a catcher out of The Hulk, as Schwarber is known.  If he can become even average back there, his awesome lefty bat will be a huge boon.  If he can’t, then the big guy will be lumbering around left field.  Some scouts thought Schwarber could hit big league pitching straight out of college, and the swath he tore through the minors in his half season last year did nothing to dissuade that opinion.

14. Kyle Hendricks, P

Yet another former Ranger1, Hendricks shouldn’t even be a Cub.  Just before the 2012 trade deadline the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Barves for Randall “They don’t did a trade” Delgado.  But Dempster was convinced that the LA Dodgers would trade for him eventually and that’s where he wanted to go.  He vetoed the trade, and he was wrong about the Dodgers.  With minutes to go before the deadline, the Cubs traded Dempster to the Rangers for Hendricks and Christian Villanueva.  Dempster’s folly has turned out to be good for the Cubs, as Hendricks has done nothing but great things since the trade.  He made 13 starts for the Cubs last year, going 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA, allowing only 72 hits in 80 innings.  He does it without dominant-looking stuff.  But you don’t have to blow guys away, you just have to get them out.  It also helps that these Cubs only require him to be a number four starter.  Who knew that Dempster’s delusion would pay off so handsomely?

13. Pedro Strop

In his first full season in the big leagues in 2012, Pedro Strop was a key part of the Baltimore Orioles bullpen as they made the playoffs.  After pitching in the spring of 2013 in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican, Strop struggled early on in the season for Baltimore.  Unable to contain themselves from the opportunity to acquire superstars Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger from the Cubs, the O’s sent Strop and some hack named Jake Arrieta in the deal.  Strop almost immediately turned things around once he got to Chicago.  After throwing up2 an ERA of over seven in 29 games in Baltimore, Strop made 37 appearances for the Cubs and posted a 2.83 ERA.  He was even better in 2014 with a 2.21 ERA, and fills a key role late in games setting up for Hector Rondon.  Strop somehow managed to escape with just a scrape after crashing his car into a wall this offseason.  Let’s hope he gets through the season similarly unscathed.

12. Miguel Montero, C

A three-time All-Star with the Diamondbacks, Montero is considered one of baseball’s best defensive catchers, especially in the way he receives pitches.  His all-around defensive ability is probably just a tick below Yadier Molina’s, but Montero has a decisive edge in his ability to occasionally breathe through his nose.  Montero is a lefty hitter, but his offense has been in decline the last two seasons.  Though he has a reputation as heading up the fun police in his clubhouse, he apparently wasn’t militant enough for Tony LaRussa who decided Miguel had to go after last season.

11. Neil Ramirez, P

The Matt Garza trade with the Rangers in 2013 was so deep in talent for the Cubs that Ramirez was the player to be named later in the deal.  After battling arm injuries in the Texas organization where they were trying to make a starting pitcher out of him, Ramirez has thrived in a bullpen role for the Cubs.  He was nearly unhittable at times last season as a rookie and finished the season with a 1.44 ERA in 50 games, allowing only 29 hits in 43 innings and only two homers.  He is part of a young bullpen that was dominant for long stretches last season.  The depth of that bullpen gives Joe Maddon a lot of options late in games.

10. Arismendy Alcantara, IF/OF

All the talk in recent years when it came to middle infield prospects was about Javy Baez, but the guy who followed him from level to level and played next to him actually beat him to the majors.  Alcantara is a shortstop by trade, but plays an excellent second base (despite lacking much game experience there), and the Cubs thought so much of his all-around skill set that just a couple of weeks before they called him up they gave him a crash course in centerfield.  He was called up to the Cubs on July 9 and ended up making 48 starts in center and 25 at second.  If left in the outfield he gives every indication he’ll become an elite defender, and you can say the same about him at second base.  He is small, but has surprising pop from both sides of the plate.  He struck out too much as a rookie (93 times in 300 plate appearances) but his minor league track record suggests he’ll figure that out.  He’s a man without a position as spring training gets underway, but much like Maddon deployed Ben Zobrist all over the field, Alcantara figures to play just about every day, just not necessarily in one spot.

9. Hector Rondon, P

Recent Cubs history has had them try to stash inferior arms in the bullpen as Rule V players (David Patten and Lendy Castillo, anybody?) but Hector Rondon turned out to be worth the wait.  After missing most of 2011 and 2012 in the Indians organization, Rondon struggled early on in 2013, which was understandable.  But it didn’t last.  He cut his ERA nearly in half (3.20 as opposed to 6.14 in the first half), and early on in 2014 he took over the closer role when Jose Veras set his career on fire repeatedly on the mound.  Rondon saved 29 games in 34 attempts including 15 in a row to finish the season.  He’s only 27 and is the best kind of closer–cheap and controllable.

8. Javier Baez, 2B

People like to make fun of Javy’s ridiculous strikeout totals from last year.  In 213 at bats he struck out 95 times.  But he also showed off the hellacious bat speed and power that were promised.  He homered in his debut and then hit 8 more in just 52 games.  He stole five bases in six attempts and he was very impressive defensively at second base.  So while his strikeout totals are a red flag, if the Cubs made him available, all 29 other teams would line up to take a crack at him.  His power is so impressive that even if he hits only .240 he would be more productive than just about any other second baseman in the game.  Early signs from Cubs camp are that Baez has toned down his leg kick quite a bit, but he’s still swinging from his ass.  When he hits it, it goes a very long way.

7. Jon Lester, P

OK, so how is Jon Lester seventh, you ask?  While well deserved, there are $155 million reasons why he’d be a little tough to trade if the Cubs tried.  His career playoff ERA is 2.57 and his career World Series ERA is a miniscule 0.43 in three starts (all wins.)  The Cubs expect to be playing in big games, so they went out and got the best big game pitcher they could.  They found a great one.  Now, they just need to actually play in some big games.

6. Jorge Soler, RF

Soler’s minor league numbers are all held down by the fact that he’s battled injuries every season.  When he played he hit, and hit impressively.  After another early season injury last year, the Cubs sat him down and came up with a new program.  It involved doing special exercises to try to better align his freakishly muscled body, and prescribed rest literally forced him to take a game off every few days.  It worked.  In 22 games at AA Tennessee, Soler (who was age appropriate for the league) hit a whopping .415/494/.862/1.355.  That 1.355 is not a typo.  He was aggressively promoted to AAA Iowa and crushed the Pacific Coast League to the tune of .282/.378/.618/.996 with 8 homers and 29 RBI in only 32 games.  Because he’s signed through 2020, there was little reason for the Cubs to keep him in AAA, so they promoted him to the big leagues on August 27.  He homered in his first game.  He homered three times in his first four games.  He drove in a run in seven of his first eight games.  He reached base in 20 of his 24 big league games.  A scout said early this spring that of all the Cuban hitters in the big leagues right now (including Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu) Soler is the best.  He sure looks like it.

5. Addison Russell, SS

Just his first name alone is enough to make him a fan favorite of Cubs fans.  How many of those fans named their daughters Addison3, and how many of those fans named a dog Addison4? But beyond that, Russell is a top prospect at a premium position, and of all of the candidates the Cubs have longterm at short, he projects to be the best combination of offense and defense at the position.  He’s been compared to Barry Larkin and Derek Jeter, which seems like pretty good company, but we’ll see if he ever stacks up with the greats who have played short for the Cubs, you know, guys like Roy Smalley Jr and Ricky Gutierrez.  Russell’s going to need some more time in the minors, but probably not much.  The problem, and it’s a good problem to have, is that the Cubs have Starlin Castro at short and are going to give Kris Bryant and Javy Baez cracks at third and second.  Somebody, at some point, is going to need to be traded.  It’s just not likely that that somebody is going to be Addison Russell.

4. Kris Bryant, 3B

I’m not sure you’ve heard of this obscure Cubs prospect.  He’s probably most famous for striking out five times in his professional debut.  The fact that he has 52 homers and 142 RBI in his first 174 minor league games is probably not as well known.  It’s true that he has struck out 187 times since that debut, and some are concerned about that, but it’s also true that he’s walked 97 times in his first 620 at bats, and his minor league slash line is straight out of a Bernard Malamud book: .327/.428/.666/1.095.

Bryant just turned 23 in January, and at some point very early in the season he’s going to settle into a middle of the order spot for the Cubs where he’ll reside for at least the next seven years (and hopefully many more after that).  If he can stick at third, great, if he has to move to the outfield that’s a small price to pay for the kind of impact bat teams dream about drafting.

3. Jake Arrieta, P

After four largely frustrating seasons shuttling between Baltimore and AAA, the Orioles decided to make Arrieta somebody else’s project.  He was traded to the Cubs along with Pedro Strop in the heist for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger, and to say he’s settled in is an understatement.  He’s pitched the basic equivalent of one full season for the Cubs, and in 34 starts he’s 14-7 with a 2.81 ERA, 204 strikeouts to 65 walks in 208 innings and has an ERA+ of 137.  It’s not that the Orioles didn’t think he was talented.  He was their opening day starter in 2012.  He’d be the Cubs number one pitcher if not for the fact they went out and bought Jon Lester.  Arrieta would likely be number one this list if not for the fact that he’s in his arbitration years (he’s not a free agent though until 2018) and the next two guys are signed to team-friendly long-term contracts.  Len Kasper boldly predicted that Arrieta–who has flirted with three no hitters already since joining the Cubs–is going to throw one in 2015.  Predicting a no-hitter is folly, but at the same time, would you really bet against that?

2. Anthony Rizzo, 1B

Now we get to the low-pressure version of Sophie’s Choice.  Rizzo or Castro, Castro or Rizzo?  The Cubs All-Star cornerstones are both entering their age 25 seasons.  You can’t go wrong with either, but given the dearth of shortstops to be had, Castro probably has slightly more value.

Rizzo is the total package though.  A lefty with power, who greatly improved his average and on base ability and who plays above average defense.  The fact that he’s already a team leader who tried to beat up the entire Reds dugout last year only makes him that much more awesome.  He is signed through 2019, but has a pair of $14,500,000 team options for 2020 and 2021, so unless he takes an unexpected drop-off in performance, he’s going to be around for a long time.

1. Starlin Castro, SS

His detractors are many, and it’s annoying.  He’s been the team’s starting shortstop since he was 20 years old.  He plays every day.  At some point this season he’s going to collect his 1,000th hit.  A thousand hits at 25.  It’s not to say he hasn’t given fans reasons to complain over the years.  He hasn’t always paid attention.  But the Cubs have also not played a single meaningful game in his five seasons.  Not a one.  Let’s see how he does in a pennant race.  He does not give the impression he’ll shrink from the moment.  His defense has at times been bad, but he’s never shied away from working on it.  He played more than 40 consecutive games without an error last year and cut his error total down from a league leading 29 in 2011 (he also led the league with 27 in 2012) to 15 last year.  Sure, missing the last 29 games of the season with a high ankle sprain helped, but he had made significant strides.  He was productive hitting cleanup, but with actual power hitters joining him and Rizzo in the lineup he should settle into a spot more suited to his talents.

Bottom line: he’s a 25 year old, three time All-Star shortstop, with a team friendly contact (he’s signed through 2020).  If in fact he’s not “Theo’s kind of player” and the Cubs choose to trade him, there’s nobody else on this roster who would bring back a better return.  The Cubs could call Ruben Amaro this afternoon and quickly build a Castro-centered trade for Cole Hamels.  Nobody else in the league could come close.

In the building phase of this roster construction, the Cubs have had to part with very few actual assets.  They traded Andrew Cashner to get Rizzo and they traded Jeff Samardzija to get Russell, but otherwise they’ve mostly just been trading veterans near the ends of contracts.  The talent accrual has created some pretty attractive logjams, and in the near future some of these guys are going to have to get traded to sort things out.  If done correctly, the returns should be pretty exciting.

This is the fourth year of the Epstein regime, and the transformation has been dramatic.  Now, it’s time to see what it does to the standings.



Here are those annoying footnotes.

  1. Half the prospects on this team used to be in the Texas organization.  OK, maybe not that many, but it seems like it.
  2. Literally.
  3. A lot.
  4. A shitload.