Stacked Cubs in position to land arm

Abundance of position players leaves club with bargaining chips

February 27th, 2016

Are they going to play a rover? You wondered after the Cubs added Dexter Fowler and Shane Victorino to a roster that was already overflowing with position players.

Having signed free agents Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist in the offseason, it will be tricky for manager Joe Maddon to get the 400-plus plate appearances that Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez need to continue their development. The Cubs have a lot of other young hitters coming too, especially outfielders.

Including former Japanese batting champ Matt Murton and the versatile Zobrist, Kris Bryant and Baez, the Cubs have at least nine outfield options in the mix for the Opening Day roster. That doesn't include Matt Szczur, former Giant Juan Perez and prospects Billy McKinney, Albert Almora and John Andreoli, who will be pushing for consideration in Spring Training.

Theo Epstein and his lieutenants have spent the offseason exploring deals that would bring them them a young, impact arm, preferably one under control for multiple seasons. They seem likely to make a deal at some point, most likely before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on Aug. 1. No team is better positioned to make a splash.

Here's a look at their likely targets:

1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins

The best young pitcher in the game before Tommy John surgery, Fernandez is expected to re-establish himself this season. His value to his franchise depends on how competitive the team is around him. Fernandez is under control through 2018. The Cubs are likely to pounce if he becomes available.

2. Chris Archer, Rays

This may be a pipe dream as the 27-year-old Archer signed an extension last April that runs through 2021, including options. He's the face of the franchise and one of the faces of the game. The Cubs probably shouldn't have traded Archer away in the first place. But the Cubs and Rays have had many talks since the end of the 2015 season, and Tampa Bay's need for young hitters makes the teams a good match.

3. Sonny Gray, A's

An undersized ace, Gray's value to the Athletics is high. He's under control through 2019, so it's no wonder that Billy Beane has said he won't be traded. But things change frequently, and Epstein and Beane have a history of making deals, including the one sending Chris Coghlanto Oakland earlier this week. Beane is all about value. If the A's fall back in the American League West in the first half of the season, he might be tempted to deal Gray for a package of Major League-ready hitters.

4. Chris Sale, White Sox

Like Archer, this is probably also a pipe dream. Sale is not only controlled through 2019, but White Sox fans would be mortified by the sight of Sale pitching in the World Series for the Cubs. The Sox are looking to compete after three consecutive losing seasons, but they could consider extreme measures if the addition of Todd Frazier doesn't help them contend in 2016.

5. Julio Teheran, Braves

Teheran is 25 and is clearly Atlanta's best pitcher, with Shelby Miller having been traded to the D-backs. He's signed to a contract that has him controlled through 2020. Teheran fits well in the ongoing rebuilding effort, but the Braves have as many good young arms as anyone in their organization. The move into a new stadium in 2017 will also give them the resources to sign free-agent arms, making it a little easier to deal Teheran. Soler has been a player of interest for Atlanta.

6. Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb, Rays

Odorizzi, healthy and under control through 2019, is probably the most attractive of the pitchers who will be scouted heavily this spring. Cobb's likely return from Tommy John surgery at midseason and the emergence of lefty Blake Snell give the Rays pitching to trade. Tampa Bay has aggressively pursued Baez.

7. Tyson Ross, Padres

Eligible for free agency after 2017, Ross may be the most viable option on this list. His slider ranks along Archer's as the best in baseball. The Padres turned down dozens of offers for Ross since last July, but they could become open for business after they host the All-Star Game in July.

8. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, Indians

All three are under control through at least 2020, with Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, carrying a contract that has an option for '21. The Indians have built around their rotation, but like the Rays, they do match up well with the Cubs.

9. Jose Quintana, White Sox

Quintana is not Sale, but he is highly valued by other teams, in part because his contract has five years of control, including an option for 2020. The presence of Sale and Rodon could make him expendable, especially if 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer arrives quickly. The White Sox need corner outfielders, and they would have to listen to an offer featuring multiple prospects.

10. Everyone else

Never underestimate the Cubs' ability to identify under-the-radar arms who can turn into major additions. They did it when they got Jake Arrieta from the Orioles, and they could do it again, but the time seems right to hunt the biggest names in the game.