The concept of a “challenge trade” is one that fascinates me. For those unfamiliar, organizations rarely make the intriguing prospect-for-prospect trade. The idea behind the move is all too common of a sentiment for Cubs fans harkening back to the mid-2010s when so many Cubs shortstop prospects for New York Mets starting pitching prospect trades filled articles from media sources. In a vacuum, it makes sense for an organization to move a player from a position of strength to fill a need by swapping that player with an organization that is trading from their position of strength. Rarely do these trades come to fruition with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Miami Marlins Jazz Chisholm for Zac Gallen deal being the most notable in recent years. Media sources indicated the Los Angeles Angels and Miami Marlins discussed a similar challenge trade with a swap of outfielder Brandon Marsh for starting pitcher Max Meyer. Ultimately, it hasn’t happened, but could an organization like the Chicago Cubs entertain the idea with their depth of minor league outfielders, especially with a club stocked up on young starters like GM Carter Hawkins’ old stomping grounds in Cleveland? It was an intriguing question and one that I posed to Willie Hood of Guardians Baseball Insider (GBI).
Make sure to check out GBI’s full write-up of the trade.
The Trade Offers
After positive feedback from GBI that they were interested in discussing players, I identified the Guardians farmhands I’d most like to bring into the Cubs organization. I didn’t shoot for the moon since both North Side Bound (NSB) and GBI both planned to make these deals as realistic as possible. The cost for players like Nolan Jones and George Valera would be astronomical. Would I want the Cubs to part with Cristian Hernandez or Brennen Davis? Most definitely not. Examining the Guardians system, several players stood out who could fill a need in the Cubs organization: Tanner Burns (RHP), Jose Tena (SS/2B), Logan Allen (LHP), and Xzavion Curry (RHP). The reigning GBI Pitcher of the Year, Logan Allen, was clearly off the table, but Burns, Tena, and Curry all intrigued as potential players in a deal.
I immediately threw out to Hood with GBI that Burns and Tena were the players I’d like to hear more about regarding availability in our challenge trade. The response was that both could be on the table, but GBI was most intrigued about a swap of either player for Pete Crow-Armstrong (PCA). I don’t blame them. North Side Bound ranked PCA 4th in the system and I put a 55 grade on the centerfielder and ranked him 2nd. In discussions with the NSB team, we’d be willing to move PCA, but the price would be high. Ultimately, I relayed that it likely wasn’t a good match.
Hood with GBI identified the Guardians would be most interested in the outfielders in the Cubs system. PCA, Nelson Velazquez, and Alexander Canario all piqued their interest. Nelson Velazquez finished the season on an absolute tear and should be in Wrigley Field in 2022. He wasn’t untouchable in trade discussions, but our NSB team felt we needed to be wowed to move him when he was so close to making an impact at a major league position of need. Our first serious discussion that went for approval with each team’s “owners” (the senior members of NSB and GBI) was a swap of Alexander Canario for Tanner Burns. Our NSB team signed off, but it didn’t make it past the GBI ownership. No deal.
The GBI team had serious concerns about Canario’s on-base percentage not fitting in with the players that Cleveland typically targeted. Canario intrigued the GBI team with his overall skill set, but they weren’t willing to move Burns, who they viewed as relatively high on Cleveland’s starting pitching pecking order. From there, each side threw out trade offers that didn’t resonate with the other. The deal appeared to have stalled, but there was still interest in getting something done. I revisited a player who I had ID’d earlier, Xzavion Curry.
Outfielder Alexander Canario for righthander Xzavion Curry
The 5’11”, 190 lb righthander doesn’t appear imposing on the mound, but his repertoire is plenty frightful to batters. Similar to Caleb Kilian (from the Giants) and many Cleveland starting pitcher prospects, Curry is a “command+” arm. He displays exemplary control and command of his arsenal. His 1.5 BB/9 innings (4.2% BB-rate) paves the way for his success, but his 11.33 K/9 (32% K-rate) demonstrates that he’s hardly a finesse pitcher. Curry has swing-and-miss stuff. His over-the-top delivery makes his 91-94 (T 96) mph fastball eat batters up when thrown at the top of the strike zone. Baseball America’s Geoff Pontes recently discussed Curry as a pitcher with an intriguing analytical profile. In the piece, Pontes specifically calls out multiple metrics that bode well for Curry to succeed long-term. “Curry’s combination of fastball spin efficiency, release height, and flatter vertical approach angle allow [sic] his four-seamer to generate whiffs at an above-average rate while inducing very little productive contact,” Pontes said. Pontes described Curry as having mid-rotation upside later in the piece. Curry finished the year with a brief and successful stop in AA. The 23-year-old righthander should expect to start in AA in 2022.
It wasn’t easy to move Canario in this deal. Immediately after the August trade to the organization, the Cubs promoted him and watched him blast home runs to all parts of the field for South Bend. He’s a joy to watch and could improve even more if he takes to hitting instruction designed to address strikeouts, similar to Velazquez and Jordan Nwogu did in 2021. Todd Johnson was the “high-guy” on Canario, ranking him 9th in his Prospect Rankings. According to Todd, “[Canario] still has lots of room to fill out and has some loud tools according to MLB Pipeline. The biggest thing that I saw was that he was pushing it instead of relaxing after a quick start. He’s just an extremely raw hitter right now. Good on defense, but the hitting will come around when he stops pressing.” Ultimately, with Velazquez a level ahead, Jordan Nwogu and Owen Caissie a level behind, and PCA and Alcantara behind them, Canario felt like a player who could move in the right deal. It wouldn’t hurt the overall depth of the organization’s outfielders.
Pursuing a Challenge Trade
It was a real pleasure to explore a mock prospect-for-prospect trade with the GBI team. What do you think? Would you do this trade? For a full wrap-up from their perspective on the trade, make sure to head over to read GBI’s post. With the depth of the Cubs’ system, the organization should leave no stone unturned in their attempt to add more talent. A creative avenue like a challenge trade offers a team that has invested heavily in their scouting and player development infrastructure to take a real chance to add impact prospects.
Featured photo of Alexander Canario by Todd Johnson