Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Cubs have acquired a left-handed pitcher at the trade deadline.
As Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish so kindly points out, the Cubs had acquired three left-handed pitchers over the last two trade deadlines: Mike Montgomery, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana.
Today, they made it four. The Cubs and the Detroit Tigers have agreed to a deal that will send left-handed reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila to Chicago in exchange for two prospects — Jeimer Candelario and Issac Paredes — and a player to be named later or cash. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports was the first to report that the trade was close.
The Cubs find a set-up man for Wade Davis... and his potential replacement
Wait, didn’t the Cubs only trade for one reliever? Yes, but there’s a reason why so many teams value team control so highly. Justin Wilson isn’t a free agent until after next season, meaning the Cubs are gaining his services for 1 1⁄2 years. So he’ll be able to pitch out of the bullpen for the remainder of 2017 while also returning to the team for what is likely to be another postseason run in 2018. The only difference, however, will be his role.
The Cubs currently employ Wade Davis, who is one of the best in the closing business. Acquired in a trade from the Royals over the offseason, Davis was named to his third consecutive All-Star team this year, and he has posted a 2.06 ERA and a 50:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.20 FIP) over 35 innings pitched, saving all 21 of his opportunities. There’s absolutely no reason to take him out of this role, even with a new, shiny reliever in the fold.
The rest of the Cubs’ bullpen has been good this year — they rank 10th in the Majors in fWAR — but they have just two left-handed arms: the aforementioned Montgomery and Brian Duensing. Why not add one of the best lefty arms on the market to fill this “void?”
That’s exactly what Chicago did. Wilson is another dominant reliever armed with a great heater. He has a 2.68 ERA in 40 1⁄3 innings pitched this year, but 55 strikeouts to just 16 walks speaks more about his dominance. Wilson’s strikeout rate has climbed by over 10 percentage points over the past year, and the Tigers gave him the opportunity to close regularly beginning in May.
Wilson won’t close in Chicago this year, but Davis is a free agent this offseason, giving him the opportunity to do so next year if the Cubs wish. Wilson is on a one-year, $2.7 million deal this year, a figure that will surely increase as he heads into his final year of arbitration. Nonetheless, he will be a relatively cheap closing option in 2018 that will be of huge value to the Cubs.
Talking only about Wilson, though, would be leaving out half of the Cubs’ return in this trade.
Alex Avila is the second piece the Cubs got, mainly to serve as the backup catcher going forward. The Cubs had a backup catcher — Miguel Montero — but they designated him for assignment after he called out Jake Arrieta to the press. Avila has been useful this year, slashing .271/.392/.472 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI over 263 plate appearances. His 1.9 fWAR is the highest mark he has posted since 2014, and his 133 wRC+ is his best since 2011. He is a free agent this year. He’s not a great receiver — Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA has him costing the Tigers nearly eight runs this season — but he’s still a valuable player to have on a roster.
While Wilson is the headliner in this deal, Avila should not be discredited. He will fill a real need in Chicago and could end up being a very important piece for them in this pennant race. As they take over the NL Central, the Cubs aren’t resting on their laurels, nor are they counting on an easy trip through the postseason. With these moves, Chicago is showing that they aren’t taking anything for granted, and that they don’t intend to wait for another drought before repeating in the World Series.
The Tigers break the ice on the relief pitching market
Brad Hand, Zach Britton and Wilson have been considered the “big three” relievers in this trade market — all elite, and all with at least one additional season of team control after 2017. This trade makes the Tigers the team to break the ice on this market, as the Padres and Orioles seem to be waiting for the perfect deal before moving their coveted pieces. Detroit got a nice return for Wilson, which could set some of these other trades in motion.
Candelario was rated as the Cubs’ number one prospect by MLB Pipeline, although it should be noted that Chicago has dealt many of their top prospects in recent deals for Chapman, Davis and Quintana, depleting their system somewhat. Overall, he was listed as number 92 on the Top-100 list.
The 23-year-old third baseman and first baseman has been blocked in Chicago by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, respectively, though he could be Major League ready right now. Calendario has 50 plate appearances of big league experience in both 2016 and 2017, but it would be unfair to judge his .136/.240/.250 line on those alone.
His Triple-A numbers tell more of the full story. Calendario is slashing .266/.361/.507 down there, with 12 home runs and 52 RBI over 330 plate appearances. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report suggests that Calendario could become a 20-homer player with average defense at third base. That isn’t the next coming of Bryant, but it’s plenty valuable.
Paredes isn’t even a throw-in, either. Rated as the Cubs’ number ten prospect, the 18-year-old may come with more upside (as well as more risk) than Calendario. The shortstop is currently at Class-A South Bend, where he is hitting .261/.341/.399 with 7 homers and 49 RBI over 380 plate appearances. Scouts believe that Paredes probably won’t stick at shortstop because of his speed, but he has a good enough arm to play just about anywhere else on the infield, including second or third base. He does have some pop and is projected to be Major League ready in the 2020 timeframe.
The Tigers took quality over quantity here. Wilson alone may have been able to fetch them a collection of three to four prospects, but they decided to package him with Avila to make a deal for some seemingly better players, with higher upside than most of the other prospects we’ve seen moved this season. This looks like Detroit embracing the rebuild, and starting to plan their next competitive window for some point in time beyond 2018 or perhaps even 2019. Anyone want a Justin Verlander?
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow Devan on Twitter @DevanFink.