The Chicago Cubs have been stagnant for years following their 2016 World Series championship, but the 2021 season has put them in the worst position in years. They are currently 50-54 and 4th place in the NL Central, so they decided to start selling off the pieces from their core. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo were all on expiring deals entering the season, while Trevor Williams and Joc Pederson were signed to one-year deals entering the season.
As a Cubs fan, it’s tough to see the pieces from the World Series core be moved away, but it’s the best move for the future of the franchise. The longer a team stands pat with a mediocre roster, the longer it takes to recover. Although many Cubs fans will continue to be upset that the faces of the franchise for the past decade have been moved, let’s take a look at the moves from an unbiased lens.
Rizzo to the Bronx
Rizzo was the first big name to be moved by the Cubs, as the captain was shipped off to New York on Thursday. In exchange, the Cubs received two prospects, RHP Alexander Vizcaino and OF Kevin Alcantara. Rizzo had a legendary tenure in Chicago after being acquired in a trade on January 6, 2012, from San Diego.
In nine seasons in Chicago, Rizzo slashed .272/.372/.489 with 242 home runs, a .369 wOBA, 132 wRC+, and 31.9 fWAR. With the Cubs, he was also a 3x all-star, 4x gold-glover, as well as a silver slugger and platinum glove winner. He added two fourth-place MVP finishes in 2016 and 2017 too, and the 2016 World Series ring, of course.
The last two seasons haven’t been quite up to par for Rizzo, whose offensive production has taken a hit. Since the start of 2020, Rizzo has just a 110 wRC+, although a hit to his BABIP could be the explanation, and moving to Yankee Stadium should help the lefty slugger.
For the Cubs, the deal brought in Kevin Alcantara, one of their biggest gets at the trade deadline. He was ranked as the Yankees’ 12th prospect entering the season by MLB Pipeline, and 7th according to FanGraphs. Now, he’s jumped up, as he’s ranked as the Cubs’ 2nd best prospect and 120th overall. Over the past year, the Cubs have chosen quantity over quality, but Alcantara is a high-level prospect, despite being just 19 years old.
He’s a power bat with a solid glove and solid speed and is a 50 future value prospect according to FanGraphs. He’s only played 8 games this year, but he’s slashing .360/.448/.520 with a 160 wRC+ in the Florida Complex League. There’s a ton of upside with Alcantara, who stands in at 6’6, 188 lbs and can move around in the outfield.
Alexander Vizcaino is a 24-year-old pitcher who was pitching for the Yankees’ high-A Hudson Valley affiliate at the time of the trade. He’s a high-velocity arm, showing a 98-99 MPH fastball on multiple occasions this year, but he has a control issue. He likely profiles as a reliever moving forward, and could be up in the Cubs’ bullpen by next season, but there’s no need to rush him. He has a 60 graded fastball, and a change-up with a 70 future grade, still developing into one of the best pitches in minor league baseball.
Baez Dealt to Queens
The other Cubs’ superstar heading to New York, Javier Baez has been an integral piece of the Chicago Cubs for the past seven years, as he’s grown from platoon infielder to MVP candidate and defensive superstar. Baez has put up a 105 wRC+, 2.6 BsR, 4 DRS, 2.0 fWAR, and 2.8 rWAR this season, which is near the production that should be expected moving forward.
In return for Baez and starting pitcher Trevor Williams, the Cubs received 19-year-old outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, the Mets’ 2020 first-round pick out of Harvard-Westlake HS in California. He only has six games of professional baseball behind him, but he has upside as a top-of-the-order bat with elite center-field defense and great speed.
Crow-Armstrong recently underwent shoulder surgery, which is what made him available in the trade. The Cubs are taking a gamble with him, as it’s possible Crow-Armstrong doesn’t fully recover, but it’s a risk worth taking for half a season of Javy Baez.
Kimbrel, Tepera Sent Across Town
In two separate trades, the Cubs sent relievers Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera to the Chicago White Sox, but the real return is for Kimbrel, who has been the best reliever in baseball so far this season. In 2021, Kimbrel has a 0.49 ERA, 1.08 FIP, 46.7% K%, 1.83 SIERA, and 2.1 fWAR. He joins Liam Hendriks in the White Sox bullpen, giving them two of baseball’s top closers.
In return for Kimbrel, the Cubs were able to net 2nd baseman Nick Madrigal, as well as reliever Codi Heuer, both young, controllable MLB players. In pure value, the Cubs absolutely knocked it out of the park with this trade, as they were able to land Nick Madrigal, who is under club control through 2027.
In his major league time, Madrigal has displayed his incredible bat-to-ball skills, striking out just 7.9% of the time. He’s the anti-three-true-outcome hitter, as just 12.7% of his MLB PAs have ended in one of the three true outcomes. He has a plus glove, plus speed, and a plus bat while just 24 years old. The Cubs now have their middle infield of Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal filled in for six years, should they keep both of them.
This season, Madrigal has hit .305, with a .425 SLG%, but he has a .337 wOBA and 115 wRC+, so he’s been a solid bat that will play at the top or bottom of any lineup. The ultimate traditional leadoff hitter, he also comes with great baserunning skills, as he has 1.1 BsR this season despite a tough season on the basepaths in 2020. In the field, Madrigal has 5 career OAA, despite -3 career DRS. He profiles as a 3-4 win 2nd baseman moving forward, which is a great get for the Cubs, who gave up just a year and a half of Kimbrel on a massive contract.
The Cubs also received Codi Heuer in the deal, who is a young, controllable major league reliever. Heuer alone may offset the true value of Craig Kimbrel in a trade (in money and WAR), but he has struggled so far in 2021. Last season, Heuer had a 1.54 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 17.4% K-BB%, and 3.69 SIERA in 23.2 IP. This season, the strikeout stuff is still there but his ERA has ballooned to 5.12 despite a 3.67 FIP and 3.56 SIERA. He’s a solid, hard-throwing bullpen piece who will likely be with the Cubs for many years.
Bryant to the Bay
The final major trade of the Chicago Cubs trade deadline was the one that sent all-star utility man Kris Bryant to the MLB-leading San Francisco Giants. Rumors were circling all day regarding Bryant, whether he’d end up in New York, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, or even stay in Chicago. At the end of the day, with just seven minutes left before the deadline, the Cubs superstar 3B/OF was sent across the country to San Francisco.
Bryant may not have been the face of the Cubs’ contending window, but he was always the best player. He came up in 2015 and made an immediate impact, winning rookie of the year in 2015 and MVP in 2016 to go along with his four all-star appearances and world series championship. This season has been one of Bryant’s best, as he has a .369 wOBA, 132 wRC+, and 2.8 fWAR through 93 games.
In return for the former MVP, the Cubs received outfielder Alexander Canario and right-handed pitcher Caleb Kilian. The main piece of the deal was Canario, who is a 21-year-old Dominican outfielder currently playing in A ball. He doesn’t have a great hit tool, but he has incredible power with solid speed and a solid glove. He got off to a slow start this season but has heated up, now up to a 98 wRC+ in A ball.
The other piece, Caleb Kilian, is a 24-year-old RHP who has shown out so far in his minor league career. The lost year of development due to COVID-19 has really hurt his stock, as he’s now a 24-year-old playing in AA, but he has a 2022 ETA. He’s a four-pitch pitcher with a 55-grade fastball, 55-grade curveball, 50-grade cutter, and 50-grade changeup, so he may be able to stay a starter as he develops. He started the year in High-A ball, but he was called up to AA after pitching to a 1.25 ERA in four starts. In 11 AA starts, he has a 2.43 ERA, 2.38 FIP, and 23.0% K-BB%.
The Cubs sold off all of the big pieces, but they also moved on from Joc Pederson, Andrew Chafin, and Jake Marisnick. In these three trades, they were able to net first baseman Bryce Ball (for Pederson), outfielder Greg Deichmann (Chafin), and pitcher Anderson Espinoza (Marisnick).
Ball was the Braves’ 12th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Deichmann was the A’s 9th, and Espinoza was the Padres’ 9th. According to FanGraphs’ updated prospects list, Ball ranks 24th in the Cubs’ organization, while Deichmann ranks 20th. The Espinoza deal still hasn’t been fully updated, but his 40+ FV is on par with both Deichmann and Ball.
The Cubs have now built one of the deeper farm systems in baseball, ranking 9th in the league according to FanGraphs. They don’t have the can’t-miss prospects you wnat at the top of the system, although Brennan Davis is getting there, but their future is much, much brighter than it was a year ago.
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