Over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs added yet another elite talent to a collection that was already the best farm system in baseball, giving them perhaps the best collection of hitting prospects in one farm system that we've seen in decades. Perhaps you heard the deal, but the gist of it was that the Cubs send two starting pitchers, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, to the contending Oakland A's, who sent back their top prospect, shortstop Addison Russell, along with outfield prospect Billy McKinney and veteran starter Dan Straily. Russell and Samardzija were the big pieces, with the latter signaling a willingness on A's GM Billy Beane's part to go for a title with a strong team while the former adds not only additional elite talent to the Cubs system, but yet another infielder for whom they need to find time.
Much was already being made of the potential logjam awaiting the Cubs once all of their prospets reach the major leagues. With current major leaguers Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo under control for a few years and experiencing rebound seasons, the Cubs were already going to have to get creative to find a way to get Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Schwarber all into the same lineup along with the established veterans. Positional dominos seem like the only answer, with Baez shifting to third base, Bryant sliding to a corner outfield spot, and either he or Schwarber having to learn to play right field (instead of left) if Schwarber can't remain behind the plate. The Cubs haven't shifted anyone yet, but if everyone were to remain in their place and everyone develops to their potential, we can read the writing on the wall about how to get everyone in the same lineup.
Now, adding Russell to the mix, things get even cloudier.
Russell is a natural shortstop and is a better defender than Baez. If given the choice between the two, the Cubs would likely keep Russell up the middle and slide Baez elsewhere. This, of course, could all be moot if Starlin Castro remains in town.
The Cubs are not worried about such problems, however, and rightly so. Where everyone will eventually play has been a source of extreme panic for Cubs fans over the past year, and the addition of Russell to the mix only further clouds the future picture. The fact is that Rizzo, Castro, Baez, Bryant, Russell, Alcantara and Schwarber can't all play at the same time, unless some major positional changes are made. It's also unlikely that all of them will reach their potential.
We love to get excited about prospects - no one more so than me - but it's a simple truth that we get over-excited about prospects, often touting them as sure things when, by their nature, they are anything but. Rizzo and Castro have established major league track records and can be counted on, but the remaining five, along with other prospects like Albert Almora, who is even further away, can't be relied on with any kind of certainty.
Which could give the Cubs options. Perhaps their plan is to assemble all of these players together, give them all a chance to play at the major league level knowing that a few of them won't pan out, leaving themselves with a pretty good crop of prospects who did reach their potential and plenty of at-bats to go around. I doubt this is their plan, but it's possible.
More likely, however, is that the Cubs will do their due diligence in self-evaluating, both of their own players and the trade market, and use these assets to fill in the blanks as these players reach the major leagues. That blank, as any Cubs fan will tell you, is starting pitching.
The Cubs are going to have to add some starting pitching from somewhere. They know that. That does not, however, mean they should have taken a lesser return for Samardzija and Hammel. In the market that existed a few days ago, Russell was the biggest, most talented piece made available to the Cubs. They rightly accepted him into their system and will figure out the rest later. At some point, the Cubs will flip some of their assets, whether it's prospects or veterans, for pitching, and the more assets they have, the better they can do in those trades. On this market, there was no bigger asset available than Russell.
One possibility that seems to have gotten stronger with the addition of yet another young shortstop is the eventual trade of Castro, whose value has never been higher. Castro has his flaws, but there will be plenty of suitors for a 24-year-old three-time all-star who can play up-the-middle. If they are willing to trade in-division, the Cubs could find a trade partner in the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have inserted themselves back into the race and desperately need an upgrade at shortstop. A trade with them could net, at minimum, a pitcher like Nick Kingham, or perhaps even a Tyler Glasnow, though the Pirates are extremely frugal with their top prospects as trade chips, instead choosing to deal from their exceptional depth rather than their high-end assets. Still, that's just one speculative possibility of how the Cubs can add pitching down the road. Finding trade partners for young talent, be it Castro, Rizzo or any of their hitting prospects, won't be the challenge for the Cubs. Evaluating their situation internally is where this plan will succeed or fail, but their recent track record of evaluation suggests that the decision making is in good hands.
We don't know how this will play out, but adding yet another elite piece of talent to the equation can only help their organizational flexibility when the time comes to make a move specific to the needs of the major league team. Right now, there appears to be a logjam coming, but no team has the collection of talent that the Cubs can offer, and using that collection as currency is an excellent way to provide options in the future.