By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) The downside to having a farm system rife with developing talent is that good players are impossible to hide.
As the Cubs continue in their quest to add veteran starting pitching to a contending team, sources tell 670 The Score that three names keep coming up in any preliminary trade talk: Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. They are 21, 22, and 23, respectively, and all have already shown what they can do at the major league level, so this should come as no surprise at this stage.
What we don’t know is how the Cubs’ internal projections for players diverge from what has been said publicly, and that applies to Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach, too, who have been reported to be the more preferred bargaining pieces. “Transparency” serves team purposes, too, with cards still held close.
But it’s harder than ever to keep trade partners from knowing as much as you do about players, with objective data and video allowing for more reliable scouting than ever across the game. General managers can’t artificially inflate value like they used to by leaking opinions to handpicked writers in the rough equivalent of pump-and-dump stock schemes. The days of such easy bluffing are long gone, obviated by independent scouting eyes and every performance accessible in a click.
That’s a big reason why the Cardinals’ front office’s hacking of the Astros’ computer system has created demand across baseball for severe penalties. Teams like the Cubs so heavily invested in complex computer-driven personnel operations understand that proprietary knowledge is especially important, as the amount of available information on players and ease of sharing it has leveled the field.
It applies to team-designed statistical models that divine specific conclusions from numbers and, much more significantly, what is known about the players as people — the “makeup” component so critical to development and so frequently the subject of internal discussion. The thought of opponents spying on those communications was particularly galling to executives aware of the damage that could do.
That has to be the area where a team holds an exploitable advantage by knowing its kids better than anyone. No potential trading partner has that kind of intel about who that guy really is, despite all the data.
And this is exactly when it matters, the approach to the trading deadline for those looking to strike deals ahead of the market to solidify a roster for a playoff run. It crept up on the Cubs more quickly than some imagined, but they are here indeed, when the “good problem to have” of so many accrued assets meets another stage of inevitable resolution.
Whether the Cubs can part with something other than what they believe to be a core prospect is unclear and would be spun after the fact, regardless. But they’re going to have to give something up to get something.