On Tuesday afternoon, the Cubs and the Orioles kicked off the July trading season early with a new-age swap that sent right-hander Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for right-handed starter Jake Arrieta, reliever Pedro Strop, and international bonus pool money.
For the Cubs, the question in this deal, as in all deals, is if it helps pick up the pace of the ongoing rebuilding process that saw the team bottom out at 101 losses last year. The Cubs are playing at a 91-loss pace so far this season: Did anything happen in this deal that will bring Chicago the players that will be part of the next great Cubs team?
The answer is an unqualified maybe, the outcome depending on what the Cubs do with the additional international bonus money they received in the deal. Under the new scheme, teams are limited as to how much they can spend on players in places like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, but the money they've been allocated is tradeable. Before we get to the consequences of that, let's look at the major leaguers.
Scott Feldman isn't really anything special -- he's a frequently injured pitch-to-contact righty with a career 4.81 ERA entering the season whose fastball sits at about 90 mph. He happened to run into a good season, as pitchers sometimes do, but putting him in the AL East is a recipe for bloody carnage. Even had he not moved, Feldman's bubble could have burst at any time, and by jumping out early the Cubs really did live up to the old baseball adage, "Trade ‘im while he's hot." Indeed, Feldman's ERA in June was 4.75, so the warning signs were there.
Clevenger is a 27-year-old lefty-hitting catcher who averaged .310/.372/.429 in the minor leagues. He's a contact hitter with little power (just 26 home runs in 2,322 professional plate appearances) who will make for a suitable backup/pinch-hitter -- if teams were still willing to use their extra catchers as pinch-hitters, Smoky Burgess style.
In return for this plate of strictly vegetarian hors d'ouevres, the Cubs received Arietta, a 27-year-old pitcher who, in fairly typical Orioles fashion, promised much but, as Bob Dylan might have put it, nothing was delivered. The 2007 fifth-round pick twice appeared in Baseball America's top 100 prospects list. Arrieta entered the 2010 season with 268 strikeouts in 264 professional innings, some control problems, and a fastball that sat in the low 90s with "the action to generate swings and misses." That hasn't happened with any consistency in the major leagues, while the walks have continued to be a problem. The best you can say is that Arrieta still has the elements to succeed, that for all the good things happening in the Orioles organization these days they still have haven't figured out how to turn a pitching prospect into a quality major leaguer, and that sometimes a change of scene and a few tweaks is all a pitcher needs to break through.
Pedro Strop is a 28-year-old fringe reliever with mid-90s stuff. Important note: His name does not rhyme with flop, which he has this year, but hope, which is remote, or Herbert Bayard Swope, who was better at his job than Strop is at his but is just as obscure now as Strop will be in a few years. Then again, pitchers are variable, and maybe the Cubs can tame Strop's wildness and get a closer-type reliever out of him. He has a few other qualities going for him -- a sinking fastball that, until this year, made him very tough to homer off of. It's more than likely that acquiring Strop will be like drinking Marmol Lite, but as with Arrieta there are at least reasonable qualities to dream on.
What's truly intriguing is the international draft dough that the Cubs received. They picked up slot 3 and 4 money, or nearly an additional $400,000. As a rebuilding team, the more the Cubs can spend in international signings the better, so to the extent that the deal helps them circumvent the new limitations on spending the deal is a win for them. The greater the intake, the more stones turned over, the greater the chance the Cubs have of uncovering the players who will take them to their first World Series win since the Theodore Roosevelt administration.
In a separate deal, the Cubs sent $200,000 in international draft money to the Dodgers to get them to take Carlos Marmol off their hands. They also swapped minor league second baseman Ronald Torreyes, a precocious (he's a 20-year-old playing in Double-A) but light-hitting player, to the Astros for their slot 2 and 3 money. That brings them $784,700 in additional international draft money. They're up nearly $1 million on the day, even after having to give away a chunk of their proceeds to get rid of Marmol/acquire the earthly remains of Matt Guerrier.
Viewed solely in terms of the deal with the Orioles, the Cubs gave up a starting pitcher of transient value to get a couple of speculative pieces and some bonus money. Taken that way, the deal is probably a bit disappointing, but viewed as part of a greater shuffling designed to trade known quantities for players with upside, be they failed Orioles or as yet unidentified foreigners, the only correct response is to withhold judgment indefinitely.