Breaking Up the Big Four?
Also: A disappearing fastball and Alex Bregman's monster months
Ben Bailey · September 15, 2019 · 4m ·

With talk of big changes coming to the Cubs next season, I thought it would be interesting to take a break from the pennant race and see how the Cubs could reshape their roster during the offseason. I'm not suggesting the Cubs should trade any of these players (trading any of them would be painful), but it could be necessary to get the type of roster shakeup the front office seems to want.

The Baseball Trade Values site assigns low, median, and high estimates of trade value for players. I looked up their estimations for the Cubs’ four core players.

Willson Contreras: 3 arbitration years (1-3), 19.1, 22.1, 25.2

Kris Bryant: 2 arbitration years (3-4), 18.7, 22.2, 25.6

Anthony Rizzo: 2 14.5M team options, 22.2, 29.1, 36.1

Javier Báez: 2 arbitration years (2-3), 35.6, 42.6, 49.7

There are so many things to consider when deciding which player would be best to trade. All the players have intangible value to the Cubs: It's hard to account for what Anthony Rizzo brings to the team as the unofficial captain. Kris Bryant and Javy Báez are faces of the franchise, and Contreras is the heartbeat of the team.

If you want to consider contracts, Bryant will be the most expensive player, which is reflected in the value estimates. Contreras has the most years of team control left, while Rizzo has two team options before he'll get a large pay-day after previously signing a club-friendly extension. Báez seems like the best and most likely candidate for an extension, but the team hasn't been able to get it done yet.

All four have had injuries this year, some more concerning than others. Báez’ aggressive play style is always concerning, and this season he's dealt with a recurring heal injury. Bryant is going through his second year of a recurring injury that's kept him from reaching his MVP ceiling again, though his knee injury this season seems much less problematic than last year's shoulder injury. Rizzo has missed time with a back injury for the last few years, and Contreras has hurt his hamstring a couple times as well.

It may come down to who is available on the free agent market to replace the traded player. Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal could be a good fit for the Cubs—he can play at first base or catcher. Anthony Rendon will be one of the best free agents of the offseason, and it seems unlikely the Cubs are a good fit for him, though they could opt for trading Bryant to restock the farm system and signing Rendon as a replacement.

There's no clear answer as to which of these four players the Cubs would or should trade, but I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them traded this offseason. Theo Epstein seems desperate to restructure the organization, and it could take a dramatic trade to do it.


Hey, look at this reliever

A little over a year ago, Fangraphs alumnus Jeff Sullivan called Colin Poche the most unhittable arm in the minors. This was just after Poche was traded to the Rays. So far this season, he has a 4.96 ERA, with a 4.32 FIP. While those numbers are certainly not great, the more granular numbers suggest he's been a bit unlucky; his xWOBA allowed is the 19th-lowest in baseball (minimum 100 batters faced). Looking at his individual pitches, it seems that his fastball is the key to his success. According to Statcast, it has the most “rise” of any four-seam fastball, and it shows:

Similar to Josh Hader, it seems like hitters can't pick up the fastball out of his hand. The results haven't quite caught up to the underlying numbers yet, but Poche has one of the best rising fastballs in the game, and at this rate he'll be deceiving hitters with high heat for seasons to come.


Leaderboard check-in

I was browsing the WAR leaderboard since August 1st to see where Nicholas Castellanos ranked (18th), when I saw something surprising: Alex Bregman has produced 3.2 wins above replacement in the last 1.5 months. The next three highest are Marcus Semien, Anthony Rendon, and Nolan Arenado, all tied at 2.5 fWAR. To put that in perspective, the difference between Bregman and the next best player since 8/1 is the same as the difference between the second-best and fifteenth-best players since that date. I still believe Mike Trout should be the American League MVP, but it's impressive that Bregman has overtaken Cody Bellinger in just a few months.


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