Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in his “Padres Insider” column today that Padres fans should expect a trade for a left-handed bat and/or reliever to come together by the end of MLB’s winter meetings. Center writes that the Padres have a surplus of starting pitching, and guys like Robbie Erlin, Burch Smith, or Eric Stults could be traded to address needs in other parts of their roster.
Of particular note in Center’s column is this paragraph:
But don’t expect them to add a left-handed bat with a 30-homer season in his resume. However, they could be adding a bat capable of 400 at-bats over the course of 2014.
The Cubs have a bat that fits that description to a T in right fielder Nate Schierholtz. Schierholtz hit right handed pitching to the tune of a .262/.300/.499 line. That OBP is less than ideal, but power is a very rare commodity on the market right now, and he his .237 ISO carried that line to a 113 wRC+.
The Cubs also have a lefty reliever in James Russell who could be used to sweeten the package for San Diego, should the Cubs be looking for more than just the pitchers listed by Center. Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod still know that system extremely well, and could target a player they think the current San Diego front office undervalues. The Cubs also, presumably, have a replacement for Russell in Zach Rosscup. And even if Rosscup is not effective, remember that Russell is your run-of-the-mill lefty reliever, and probably isn’t going to be worth more than a win or so next season. Indeed, Steamer projects him to be worth exactly 0.0 wins in 2014.
Schierholtz and Russell will both be cheap in 2014. Though Schierhotlz will be a free agent after next season, his low salary still makes him an attractive options for a team that needs 20 homer power from the left side of the plate. And Schierholtz’s power from the left side is legitimate. ESPN’s Home Run Tracker shows that each of his home runs in 2014 would have cleared the fences at Petco Park:
The Padres outfield isn’t necessarily in need of another man, but Schierholtz would find a lot of opportunities to contribute between Carlos Quentin’s injuries and days when Maybin cannot hit the right-hander the Padres are facing.
And for a cheap outfielder and reliever, what would the Cubs be getting back in return? The three starting pitchers named by Center are all pretty intriguing.
Robbie Erlin, who will be 23 next season, threw 54 2/3 innings of 4.12 ERA ball in the majors. His 5.07 ERA in AAA is concerning, but it isn’t wise to take a pitcher’s numbers from the Pacific Coast League, an extreme hitter’s league, on their face. Erlin has never been an elite prospect, but his production has always been good.
Going into 2013, BaseballProspectus ranked him the 6th best prospect in a very strong Padres system, saying that he was a low-risk prospect who would likely be a 4th starter. Erlin’s stuff is merely average (his fastball sits 88-93 mph, BP says the secondaries play solid-average), but he has very good pitchability and command.
Burch Smith saw his prospect stock rise significantly this past summer, as he finally got results out of his elite fastball velocity. In the minors, he threw 92 1/3 innings between AA and AAA with a 9.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and a 2.63 ERA. BP mentions that there are questions over whether he will be a starter or reliever due to a lack of good secondaries, but his command and fastball could make him a very good late-inning arm. Acquiring Smith would go along with the strategy of adding power arms to the Cubs system that John Arguello suggested last week. Jason Cole has video of Smith throwing here.
Eric Stults is the least attractive of the three arms being dangled by the Padres, given both his age and history of poor health, and I imagine he would have to come with another player in a trade for Schierholtz. That said, Stults is under team control through 2016 and has been quite effective over the last few years. He threw 203 innings of 3.93 ERA ball (which isn’t all that impressive in Petco, though), and makes up for his poor strikeout rates with a very good walk rate.
Given the history between the Cubs and Padres front offices, I imagine that these two teams could match up very well in trade. The Cubs FO has a lot of familiarity with guys like Erlin and Smith, as well as most of everyone else in that system, and have always been connected to the Padres when trade talks have arisen. I have no way of knowing whether such a trade is likely to happen, but if the Padres are indeed dangling those starting pitchers, I think the Cubs and Nate Schierholtz are a very strong match.