With recent trade, Cubs betting big on revamped player development system
As the Cubs try to improve the long-term health of the organization while maintaining expectations of fielding a competitive team in 2021, they’re also placing a premium bet on the revamped player development system.
The Cubs have spent the last couple years overhauling that department, moving Jason McLeod to baseball operations and promoting Matt Dorey to vice president of player development last fall. They also hired Craig Breslow to serve as the director of pitching and promoted Justin Stone from hitting consultant to the director of hitting.
The year since those moves has been fraught with uncertainty and oddity amid a pandemic that shortened the MLB season and eliminated the minor-league season entirely.
Still, the Cubs feel so strongly about their current player development infrastructure that they rolled the dice on four young prospects years away from the big leagues in return for Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini.
Reginald Preciado (17), Owen Caissie (18) and Ismael Mena (18) are all teenagers and Yeison Santana just turned 20 this month. Only Santana has made his professional debut and he topped out at rookie ball in 2019.
Jed Hoyer views the influx of the four young players as a jolt to the Cubs farm system and is excited to see what they can do in the organization.
While many in the media and fanbase expected the Cubs to acquire a package of players buoyed by talent that was closer to big-league ready, this was the best trade Hoyer’s front office felt they could make in exchange for Darvish and Caratini.
“By far the most appealing deal that we talked about was being able to acquire the depth that we [did] with this deal,” Hoyer said. “I love where our player development system and our high-performance system is right now. Getting four 17-18-year-old kids, getting them into our system and getting them stronger and then having them work in our hitting infrastructure — I’m really excited about it.”
Hoyer knows it will be years before this deal can truly be graded and the final judgement will be depend heavily on how these players develop in the Cubs’ system.
But the team also doesn’t need all four players to become impactful players in Chicago for the deal to bear fruit. Because the Cubs are so confident in their player development system, they believed adding the four young players in this deal was a major step toward boasting the “prospect currency” they seek.
“Value is derived in many different ways,” Hoyer said. “You can derive value through guys getting to the big leagues and having success and you can derive value from guys becoming really good prospects and being able to use those guys to supplement our major-league roster.
“When you’re a healthy organization, you have tremendous depth in the farm system and when that depth comes up and is able to play for us — like a Willson Contreras or a Kris Bryant or a Javy Báez — that’s fantastic. But it also can go in the other direction, which is what [Padres GM] A.J. Preller just did. When you’re ready to compete and you have the bones of a competitive team, you can supplement that.
“When you look back on the number of trades we made over the last six years, we sort of kicked off this window by trading for Dexter Fowler and trading for Miguel Montero and making moves like that. Ideally, you get a couple guys and they get to the big leagues and that would be fantastic, but that’s not the only way to derive value from a deal. Prospect currency is always valuable and always lets you transact in the direction you want to transact and I feel really good about this return in that regard.”