Zach Britton

Yankees get Britton, where do the Cubs go from here?

Yankees get Britton, where do the Cubs go from here?

Despite the Cubs glaring need for a reliever like Zach Britton, MLB Insider Jon Heyman of Fancred is reporting that the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a trade sending Britton to the Bronx. 

The deal will reportedly include pitcher Dillon Tate, the Yankees No. 9 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Now that Britton, arguably the best remaining reliever left on the market, is heading to New York the question becomes where do the Cubs go from here? Names like the Blue Jays J.A. Happ and the Rays Nathan Eovaldi have been linked to the Cubs throughout the month of July, but both are starters - which the Cubs do need - but the bullpen is still in need of an extra arm. 

Padres lefty-reliever Kirby Yates could make sense for the Cubs, making slightly over $1 mil via arbitration this season and is under team control through 2020. The 31-year-old Yates boasts a 1.40 ERA while striking out 50 batters and only walking 11 this season. Yates also happens to be throwing harder than he ever has through his four seasons in the MLB, topping out at 94.4 MPH, per Fangraphs

The Cubs could try and swing another cross-town trade for reliever Joakim Soria, who is having a solid season as the White Sox' closer with 15 saves and a 2.63 ERA. Another intriguing name from the South-Side would be starter James Shields, who despite his 4.26 ERA, is averaging a little over six innings per game for the White Sox and would be a quality innings-eater for the Cubs. 

The issue with Shields is that he is owed $16 million next season and with the Cubs already pushing up against the luxury tax, they would need the White Sox to eat a large chunk of salary - something that would cost the Cubs more in terms of prospects. 

The sad reality of the Cubs situation is despite the club needing impact arms, to acquire those arms teams want elite prospects or young, established players back in return. The Cubs farm system does not have anyone like Gleyber Torres or Eloy Jimenez to sweeten trades and the team is reluctant to move players like Ian Happ, Addison Russell, or Victor Caratini as it would drastically hurt their roster depth. 

With a week separating the Cubs from the July 31st non-wavier trade deadline, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the front office will have to get creative with their search for pitching depth. But the big trade target in Zach Britton is off the board, leaving the Cubs with few impact trade options. 

Why the Cubs should not go all-in on a Jacob deGrom trade

Why the Cubs should not go all-in on a Jacob deGrom trade

Eighth inning. Two outs. 3-2 Cubs lead in Game 2 of Saturday's day-night doubleheader.

That's when it became clear the Cubs were not going to be trading for Jacob deGrom.

OK, that's an exaggeration. 

But when Pedro Strop gave up a seeing-eye single to Cardinals infielder Yairo Munoz just past the outstretched glove of Ben Zobrist, it was another reminder just how important both Javy Baez and Addison Russell are to the Cubs' success.

Munoz's single tied the game and the wheels fell off from there as the Cardinals scored 3 more in the ninth for a 6-3 win.

Remember, Baez had been ejected from the game in the fifth inning for throwing his helmet in frustration to a check swing call.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Joe Maddon said. "...Listen, I'm not gonna deingrate Zo at all — it's just a play that Javy might've been able to make."

Many have wondered how Baez's arm, athleticism and flair would play at shortstop for good, but the simple fact of the matter is the Cubs defense is a huge weapon when Baez is at second and Addison Russell is at short.

That defense is what the Cubs can hang their hat on and project to show up every single day in October. By nature, the offense will always come and go (especially facing the best pitchers in the game) and the Chicago pitching staff is filled with question marks.

So how do the Cubs acquire a starter of deGrom's caliber and years of team control without giving up a piece like Russell in return?

All of that is a long-winded way of gaining some perspective on all the Cubs fans who want their team to go out and get deGrom.

The Cubs couldn't get the Mets ace and NL Cy Young candidate without severely weakening another aspect of their big-league team. There simply isn't enough top talent in the way of prospects for the Cubs to pry deGrom and his 2.5 years of team control out of New York.

There are no Eloy Jimenezes or Gleyber Torres's left in this Cubs system. The Cubs had zero prospects in the Top 50 midseason list released by Baseball Prospectus earlier this month.

"We're in a more difficult position to [make a big-name trade]," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Sunday. "I don't think it's impossible. But certain years lend themselves to being able to participate in more hands.

"Other years, because of the way your prospects are performing or because of your desire to keep growing the farm system or just the nature of what's available and how much you need, you have to be more selective. We're hopefully pursuing lots of different things, but I think in terms of what's realistic for us, we have to be a little bit more targeted, more selective and a little more opportunisitc.

"And that's fine. Sometimes those end up being the best deals. The [Jesse] Chavez deal is an example of that. He's probabaly not a name anyone had mentioned at all. We think he's a really good fit for us. So that's [an example of] the kind of stuff we're looking to do. While participating in everything else, but knowing that most of the stuff we talked about we won't be able to get done."

It's easy to dream about this Cubs team adding a pitcher like deGrom to the front of its rotation, improving the clear weakness of this current team.

But it would come at a cost. Is it really worth it to lessen the October defense up the middle by a significant measure or weaken the team's depth for a guy who only pitches one out of every four games in the postseason?

Some might think so and there's a valid argument this Cubs team is one dynamic pitcher away from being the best in baseball. But it depends on what you have to give up to acquire said "dynamic pitcher."

Pitching is obviously important in the playoffs, but the Cubs are better off trying to make it work with the arms they have. They've already invested a ton of capital in a starting rotation that is signed through the 2020 season.

After all, they boast the best record and run differential in the NL and have opened up a 3.5 game lead in the division on the morning of July 23.

They've done all that in spite of an inconsistent rotation, even if many were calling it one of the best in baseball before the season once Yu Darvish signed.

The Cubs are in the position they're in thanks to a defense that has looked more like the historical 2016 squad than last year's up-and-down team and don't discount the incredible position player depth that has allowed Maddon to keep everybody fresh and rested. This team has been built to withstand injuries and prolonged slumps from its best players — Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant — thanks to that amazing depth.

How could the Mets trade deGrom at this point without demanding at least Russell or Ian Happ as a headliner of the return back to New York?

And from the Cubs' perspective how do they subtract pieces from the deepest roster in the league that has needed every bit of its depth this season?

The best course of action for the Cubs in 2018 is to add another bullpen piece or two (like Zach Britton) and work to get their starters back on track — or, in Darvish's case: healthy.

The track records of guys like Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana indicate they are pitching pretty well below their career norms. Even with Jon Lester due some more regression, he's still a very effective pitcher who is battle-tested and boasts a history of rising to the occasion when the lights are brightest in October.

Mike Montgomery may not have cracked the Cubs' rotation until mid-May, but he's a different pitcher as a starter (3.02 ERA, 1.18 WHIP). Tyler Chatwood's control issues have been well-documented, but he's also sporting a walk rate nearly double his previous career high, so history indicates something may click in that regard eventually.

As Epstein said, each year is different. 

The 2016 Cubs had a clear need at closer and a guy like Aroldis Chapman was enough to push the team over the top to claim the first World Series title in 108 years.

The 2017 Cubs needed a jolt and starting pitching depth and Quintana was exactly that.

The 2018 Cubs have a clear need for a reliable, front-end starting pitcher, but with no elite prospects to deal, it may just be too costly to subtract much from the major-league roster in an effort to address this particular weakness.

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

The Cubs and Orioles reliever Zach Britton are once again being linked to each other, according to Patrick Mooney of the Athletic

Despite the front office denying any big moves coming before the July 31st deadline, but the Cubs' interest in Britton from last year makes this one with the Orioles stick a bit more. And when taking a look at Britton's fit on the club, a deal involving the lefty-reliever makes too much sense not to be true. 

And according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Orioles are trying to wrap up the trade in the next few days. 

The Cubs did add reliever Jesse Chavez earlier this week, but Chavez profiles more as a swingman and less of the late-inning arm Britton has been over his eight-year career. Due to injuries, Zach Britton isn't the guy who teams saw dominant in '15 &'16 when he saved a combined 134 games for the Orioles. 

However, his 2018 numbers are encouraging for a guy coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon with a 3.68 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 14.2 IP. And when you factor in the pedigree the Cubs would be adding to the back end of the bullpen on top of his expiring deal at the end of 2018, it would make the Cubs bullpen lethal in the postseason. 

There will be other suitors for Britton who could likely offer more in terms of prospects in return, but if the Cubs are serious about adding someone like Britton, they could always dip into their MLB roster and part with a Victor Caratini-type player. Infielder David Bote has also impressed with his surprise season, showing he can contribute in multiple roles. 

But the Cubs would be solving essentially two issues with one guy in Britton, with his ability to close and experience in late-inning situations while also replacing Mike Montgomery in the bullpen, who may be staying in the rotation longer than expected. He's also an upgrade over Brian Duensing, who has been ineffective this season, and Randy Rosario who seems more like smoke and mirrors and has never pitched in the postseason. 

Jed Hoyer did say earlier this week the Cubs will be adding depth before the trade deadline, but the asking price for arguably the best available reliever remaining on the market could end up being too rich for the Cubs to stomach. But it clearly won't stop them from at least weighing all options.