For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been speculating a lot about trades the Rockies could make. We even made fake ones ourselves! If there’s a lesson to take from the abundance of trade articles lately, it’s that there’s an abundance of trade possibilities still out there, especially concerning the Rockies’ three outfielders that have each drawn attention from other clubs. Continuing out speculations, here’s a possible that is both feasible and would help both teams:
The Rockies should trade center fielder Charlie Blackmon to the Cubs for Jorge Soler.
Both players might come with low-minors players attached. To a large degree, those players are interchangeable, so let’s focus on the biggies.
Let’s start with the availability of both players. Recently, Jeff Sullivan wrote about what the Cubs might do with Jorge Soler (a commenter even proposed the trade under discussion here). It’s not that the Cubs have to move Soler; instead, it’s that trading him for a center fielder will allow the team to maximize the talent of their newest acquisition, Jason Heyward. Heyward is the best defensive right fielder in baseball. He might not be the best defensive center fielder in baseball, even with Wrigley’s favorable dimensions. That’s why it might make sense for the Cubs to move Soler, keep Heyward in right field, and find a new center fielder.
What the Rockies would have in Soler, 24, is a young and talented player with a boatload of potential who would replace Carlos González in right field (assuming that he's also traded). The thing about potential, however, is that it’s unrealized by nature. Soler has a lot of variance that the Cubs might not want in their lineup at the moment, but that the Rockies should be willing to obtain. In 24 games in 2014, Soler hit .292/.330/.573. In that small sample, Soler’s power, his calling card, was on display. He hit five home runs in 97 plate appearances and posted an excellent .281 isolated power (ISO; slugging percentage minus batting average).
Soler’s 2015 was not nearly as good. In 404 big league plate appearances, he hit just .262/.324/.399. He dingered just 10 times, his ISO fell to .137 and, troublingly, his strikeout rate rose all the way to 30 percent. In other words, he struck out about as often as his current teammate Kris Bryant, but his power numbers more closely resembled Johnny Peralta’s. The argument against the Rockies’ acquiring Soler is that the team doesn't need another position player who doesn’t walk much and strikes out a lot.
What makes Soler so attractive is what he did when he managed to put the ball in play. In 2015, he had an easy to believe .361 batting average on balls in play (BABIP; strikeouts and home runs are discounted from this). It's a high BABIP that doesn't come with caveats because it was propped up by a line drive rate of 27.8 percent. Among players with at least 400 PA’s, that was tied for third in all of baseball. In securing Soler, the Rockies would be banking on improved plate discipline, a lot of line drives, and, ideally, an uptick in fly balls that would result in more home runs.
In terms of contract, Soler, by virtue of his free agency signing from Cuba, is already earning a salary that approximates a first year arbitration salary. He’ll make about $3.6 million over the next two seasons and $4.6 million the following three. Soler’s contract expires after the 2020 season, when he’ll be 28 years old. The quirk of Soler’s contract is that he’ll be able to opt-out of his remaining salary and into the arbitration process after 2017. If he realizes his potential, the Rockies would only have about three years of relatively inexpensive Soler. Still, he has a bright enough future that it would be a risk worth taking.
If the Cubs traded Soler for Blackmon, they would be exchanging a high variance outfielder for someone who is, at this moment, the better baseball player and the safer bet to provide solid production on a daily basis. I’ve written a lot about Charlie Blackmon this season. The primary takeaway is that Blackmon modified his approach at the plate in 2015 by swinging less. This resulted in a moderate increase in walks, which was accompanied by an increase in on base percentage. His walk rate is still below league average, but his strikeout rate also remains better than average.
Not only that, but Blackmon demonstrated in 2015 that he can handle center field duties. If he can manage Coors Field, Wrigley won’t be an issue. He also stole 43 bases in 2015 and continued his all around plus base running—FanGraphs has pegged his base running as worth more than three runs each of the past three seasons.
Blackmon is set to enter arbitration for the first time prior to the 2016 season. MLB Trade Rumors estimates that he’ll collect $4.5 million. He’ll be a free agent after the 2018. The Cubs would get Blackmon through his age-31 season, encompassing what might be the tail end of his prime, at a price they can certainly afford and without committing to anything long term.
In all, Blackmon is a well-rounded ballplayer who would fit defensively, allow the Cubs to maximize Heyward, and could slot in pretty much anywhere in the Cubs already intimidating lineup.
Speaking of lineups, the acquisition of Blackmon would result in a one through eight consisting of Blackmon, Miguel Montero, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, and Jason Heyward.
The Rockies would enter 2016 with an outfield composition, from left to right, of Corey Dickerson, Brandon Barnes, and Soler. Barnes would be keeping the seat warm for David Dahl.
In sum, Blackmon fits the Cubs right now because he’s an additional piece that fits well on an already immaculately constructed roster. Soler is a bit of a gamble, but if things break right for him, he might end up being a star-level slugger in right field who the Rockies would have under team control throughout his 20s—a natural CarGo heir.
This seems like an even and plausible trade that would be a win for both sides. The Cubs can have the 2016 World Series—the Rockies will take it in 2018.