The title could have said “steal” instead of “acquire” given the lopsided nature of this deal. There have been a few analysts who are trying to project this deal for the San Diego Padres in a positive light, but I just don’t see it. The Padres traded top first base prospect Anthony Rizzo and pitching prospect Zach Cates to the Chicago Cubs for Kyung-Min Na and Andrew Cashner. The Cubs will place Rizzo in AAA to start the season, and Bryan LaHair will be the starter at first on Opening Day. The Cubs, of course, are no longer in the race for Prince Fielder and are going all out in their rebuilding process.
Kyung-Min Na is the least notable player in this deal, and the outfielder has very little power and owns a career .335 on base percentage in 519 minor league plate appearances. Na is a very athletic player who is definitely a plus in center, but he has absolutely no contact or power. He has hit .244 in 519 PAs in his minor league career with no home runs and just 16 total extra base hits. Na does have speed, but he is a poor baserunner overall and gets caught 37% of the time. He does possess a good batting eye, but that does little good when he can’t do much else at the plate. I doubt he ever makes the Majors, which means that there is even more pressure on Andrew Cashner to produce.
The other lesser prospect in this deal, Zach Cates, isn’t exactly a throw-in piece like Na. He is a hard-throwing pitcher with upside, and his 3.23 FIP last season indicates that he did indeed pitch considerably better than his 4.73 ERA. His first season yielded 4.04 walks per nine, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for a first year pitcher in the minors. Cates has intriguing upside and is a definite sleeper, but he really does need to refine his control.
Andrew Cashner is the big piece coming to the Padres, and he has a terrific fastball and a devastating curve. However, he has walked four batters per nine innings in 182 minor league innings. Cashner has the ability to get the strikeouts going, but he is better suited as a reliever. The Padres have to at least believe in him as a starter, because trading a top hitting prospect and a decent, young pitching prospect for a reliever isn’t worth it. The Padres are better than the Cubs at handling pitchers, but that truism is only true to a certain extent.
Although Anthony Rizzo is one of the top hitting prospects around, there are still holes in his game. His swing has too much of an uppercut, and Rizzo thus struggles quite a bit against pitchers with effective fastballs. His bat speed is also below average, but there is no doubting Rizzo’s power. He averages 24 home runs every 140 games and owns a career minor league triple slash of .296/.366/.514. Rizzo has had a wRC+ of 149 and 120 in the past two seasons and an ISO of .320 and .217 in those two seasons.
Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have both been on the same team as Anthony Rizzo and must really rate him highly. That’s quite a bit of confidence, and Rizzo’s plus defense should allow him to become a league-average first baseman. Cashner looks more like a quality set-up man, and that’s not nearly enough. Na does have upside with his defense, but his ceiling is that of a Major League fourth outfielder. Combine that with Cates having the advantage over Na, and you get a deal that leaves more to be desired on the Padres part.
Anthony Rizzo is far from a sure thing, but he is the closest thing to a sure thing in this trade. Cashner can throw hard, but he isn’t the model of health and really struggles with his control. I can definitely see him being that solid piece in the bullpen that the Padres covet, but they really should have received more out of a deal involving a top 50 hitting prospect. This was a savvy move by the Cubs to say the least, and their fans have to be happy with this move and the overall job done by the new front office in Chicago. My advice to Padres fans is to cross your fingers and hope Cashner can successfully make a switch to the rotation; that’s what the Padres are banking on (I hope) by making this trade.