At this point, the front office super team of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer has most of the North Side of Chicago on board with their plan to build the Chicago Cubs from the ground up. It’s been an extensive process in building up a farm system that lacked pretty much everything, with the organization seeing a transition to one of the most poorly developed franchises, in terms of minor league talent, a few years ago, to now boasting one of the top farm systems in the bigs.
One of the keystone moments of the front office regime was the trade that brought Anthony Rizzo to Chicago, while sending out top, and perhaps only, pitching prospect Andrew Cashner. It was seen as a popular move at the time, as Rizzo was an up-and-comer at a position the Cubs needed a potential starter, and they shipped out an arm with high upside but with major concerns surrounding his health.
Rizzo has already established himself as a fan favorite and earned a contract extension that will keep him in Chicago until at least 2019. However, he’s coming off of a rough year and is off to something of a quiet start this year, though his stock is certainly pointing up after the misery of 2013. Nonetheless, is it too early to look back at the trade and call it a miss for the front office? It’s certainly possible, when looking at the organization in a more broad sense.
In part of 2012, a full 2013, and part of this season, Rizzo has clubbed 39 home runs total, maintaining a .251 batting average and getting on base at a .331 clip. He ran into plenty of bad luck last year, with a .258 BABIP, but still managed to record 65 extra base hits. His struggles against lefties are well documented, as he hit just .189 off of southpaws last year, striking out 44 times in 216 plate appearances. It’s important to acknowledge the plus defense he brings to the position as well, as a career .996 fielder at first.
Then there’s the Andrew Cashner side of things. In his first full season as a starter with the San Diego Padres in 2013, Cashner was quite a success. His strikeout numbers were down off of what he’d done as a reliever, but his walk numbers were also down, averaging just 2.42 free passes per nine. He went for a 3.09 ERA and 3.62 xFIP. Say what you want about playing his home games in a pitcher’s paradise, but his walk rate (over 52 percent in 2013) indicates he could have that type of success most anywhere.
Cashner’s velocity is down from early in his career after some injury issues, but he’s still living in the mid-90s with his fastball and mixing in a deadly slider. A guy that initially projected as a potential closer for the Cubs, Andrew Cashner is starting to look like the real deal as an impact arm in the rotation, as long as he can stay healthy. That cloud still looms, but all looks good as of right now.
The question for the Cubs is whether or not that deal in sending Andrew Cashner to San Diego for Anthony Rizzo is something they could live to regret. The Cubs have built up their pitching throughout the organization, but it’s still lagging well behind the bats they’ve assembled in the system. That’s the main reason that there’s room to question the move. If Anthony Rizzo cannot become the superstar first baseman that the Cubs hoped they were getting when they shipped off Cashner to get him, there could certainly be some remorse on the part of Hoyer and Epstein.
At this point, though, it may still be just a touch too early to tell.