Although each season is meant to be sacredsome seasons – for some teams – are a bit more sacred that others. Choose your preferred path for the Chicago Cubs in 2022, but unless they go crazy in free agency when the lockdown ends, they won’t enter the season in a situation where it’s World-Series -or-bust when evaluating on paper. It’s just reality.
But that means the Cubs aren’t losing much by taking high-risk, high-potential bets in 2022. Usually those bets come in the form of short-term, high-AVA deals in free agency, but trades can offer the same kind of risk-reward balance. And that’s why Mike Axisa caught my eye with his recent look at 10 candidates for a change of scenery at CBS Sports. The Cubs are definitely in a situation where we can be that change of scenery, after all.
Axisa REALLY caught my eye when the Cubs were listed as possible suitors for three players in particular: Ha-Seong Kim, Victor Robles and Taylor Walls. And if you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll immediately notice that not only are each of these three players in positions of need for the Cubs, they each come with rumors or past relationships.
Let’s start at the top.
Ha Seong Kim
Kim, 26, was supposed to be a do-it-all infielder for the Padres last season, his first in MLB, but other than high marks for defense, his bat just hasn’t translated from the KBO the first year: .202/ .270/.352 (70 wRC+). His expected Statcast stats will offer no excuses (.270 wOBA vs. a .265 xWOBA), so chances are it was just a really bad year with the bat. Full stop. And with the Padres possibly in salary-saving mode, they could be very eager to leave Kim, who also happens to be blocked in San Diego by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., third baseman Manny Machado and second baseman Jake Cronenworth. In other words, the Padres have a (so far) unproductive hitter with no room to play him – which is an ideal change of scenery type.
So where are the Cubs from? Well, for starters, you might recall that the Cubs were among Kim’s most serious suitors when he left South Korea last winter. And while it hasn’t worked out for him at home plate yet, he’s still young and has only had one season of experience in American baseball. If there were parts of his offensive game the Cubs loved back then, it’s not hard to imagine additional major league experience and a different organization helping out. (Keep in mind that the nature of scenery change types is that they come with warts and are by definition low probability situations. You’re not giving up on the farm, and that’s the point.)
Most important in this discussion, Kim was an outstanding defenseman at second base (148.0 innings, 5 DRS), third base (165.2 innings, 4 DRS) *and* at shortstop (260.0 rounds, 9 DRS) last season. And the Cubs have been known to look to improve their interior defense — which could have cumulative effects with a contact-oriented pitching staff. If you can get Kim into the mix, while moving him around a rotation in the field with Nick Madrigal, Nico Hoerner and Patrick Wisdom, you may be able to put each player in a better position to succeed at the plate while still really improving your defense on a daily basis.
AND ANOTHER THING, the Cubs have been talking about trades for a while that can save the Padres money (a new rumor popped up the other day). And while Kim isn’t particularly expensive ($6 million in 2022, $7 million in 2023, $2 million buyout in 2024), the Padres would love to have that money available to spend this season. If the Cubs believe in the gauntlet, that could make a lot of sense (especially if the Cubs could have Kim in the deal, since they’re taking the salary…).
Not too long ago, Victor Robles was one of MLB’s highest-ranked prospects (as the consensus top 10 for several years). But his career just didn’t turn out the way the Nationals had hoped. Not offensively. Not yet, at least. The good news is that the 24-year-old Robles is still very young and can play quality defense in center field, which lowers the bar for how much he needs to contribute in attack in the first place. The bad news is that his exit speed has been in the bottom 1% in the league for the past two years and it’s not even like he’s a low power, high contact type either (rate withdrawal of 23%, average of 0.203 last season).
But hey, you’re not the “change of scenery” type if all goes well, so no surprises here.
There are some glimmers of hope. Beyond the high-end pedigree, quality of center field defense, and remaining youth, Robles actually hit .306/.385/.576 (155 wR+) in about 100 APs at Triple-A last season. Yes, that means the Nationals demoted him to end the year. And Cubs fans should be no stranger to the benefits of a Minor League reset, which worked to varying degrees with Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ (among roughly a million other big leaguers) early on. of their career.
For what it’s worth, ZiPS actually predicts that Robles will take a big leap forward in 2022 (86 wRC+). It’s still not where you want him to be, but it’s MUCH better than the 67 wRC+ he posted last season.
So apart from correct being a type of change of scenery on the rise, where do the Cubs fit in? Well, on the surface they arguably use a more defensive centre-back on the roster. Indeed, this idea just resurfaced the other day, when Bruce Levine and Marc Topkin reignited possible Cubs-Rays trade talks. But on top of that, the Cubs were thought to be holding out for Robles in a potential trade with Kris Bryant two years ago. He was also a post-hype prospect back then, but he’s further down that path now. So good? Or are the Cubs just happy it didn’t work out?
You might not be as familiar with Taylor Walls as the other two guys on this list because he was never really a top prospect and hasn’t been explicitly tied to the Cubs in the past. But, like Kim and Robles, Walls, 25, is a young player who plays in a premium defensive position (shortstop) and does so at an extremely high level:
DRS ’21 classification (min. 350 rounds)
1. Carlos Correa: 20
2.Andrelton Simmons: 15
3. Isiah Kiner Falefa: 10
t-3: Taylor walls: 10
5. Trevor’s Story: 9
Walls was one of the highest-rated defensive shortstops by the DRS last season, and that goes for UZR/150 as well (4.1, 6th in MLB). Axisa thinks Walls could be more than a super utility player if given the keys to a full-time shortstop job and that he ‘could be more valuable to the Rays as a trade token’ than a role player.
Like everyone else on the roster, the offense isn’t quite there yet for Walls (80 wRC+), but 2021 was just his first year on the series and he’d been a solidly over the top hitter. average in every Minor League stoppage before that. , even if they are slightly older at each of their levels than what you would normally associate with a top prospect:
Low-A: 137 wRC+ (21)
High-A: 123 wRC+ (22)
Double-A: 135 wRC+ (22)
Triple-A: 125 wRC+ (24)
Reflecting on his data and rankings, it seems Walls was just one of those guys who was overlooked due to the missing 2020 MiLB season, and ousted as a role player in Tampa Bay. Of course, the Rays don’t usually let guys like that go – especially when they’re in pre-refereeing – so obviously that’s not all. Either way, ZiPS is projecting an 81 wRC+ for Walls in 2022, and he won’t be a free agent until 2028.
Oh, and don’t forget: The Cubs and Rays were also rumored to be traded together this offseason. It was about a different player, but you never know how these things can evolve. Maybe that expands to include someone like Walls?
While these three players are the only ones whose endorsements explicitly include the Cubs, it’s hard not to look at this list and start thinking about other low-cost candidates (that’s what happens when the Cubs have vacancies at almost all positions around the diamond).
For example, Miguel Andujar was the 2018 Rookie of the Year finalist and one-time potential target for the Cubs (there were rumors of a Schwarber-Andujar trade at the time). Would the Cubs exploit it to provide a more contact-oriented counter for Patrick Wisdom at third base (Andujar has a 16.3 percent career strikeout rate). He’s only 26 and under control for three more seasons. Not sure about the glove or the health, though.
JD Davis, 28 years old, is a little older, but he is still having a very good season on the plateau (130 wRC+), despite a high withdrawal rate (32.1%). The Mets’ offseason additions appear to imply a willingness to leave Davis, which is in check throughout the 2024 season. Perhaps he fits the Cubs’ weaker, but still possible, short-term window. ? Again, questions on defense, though.
Carter Kieboom, 24, is yet another third baseman on the roster, and one who has also been connected to the Cubs in the past (he was the other post-hype prospect target for the Cubs in the 2020 and 2021 offseason ). He’s been brutal offensively in the major leagues so far, but he walks around and raises the ball quite a bit. Moreover, his expected stats have been stronger than his actual numbers over the years. Again, scenery change types always come with warts.
And the list continues.
We’ll have to see if the Cubs actually/finally land one of those low buy/post-hype/change of scenery types, but I have to say now’s the time to do it and they’re pretty intriguing names , in context of these types of players.