The Chicago Cubs aren’t looking to start a new World Series drought any time soon. The team proved it once again has its eyes set on another ring this year, picking up reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila in a trade with the Detroit Tigers, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. The Tigers will receive infielders Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Paredes and a player to be named later in the deal.
The 29-year-old Wilson is having a strong season with Detroit. Over 40 1/3 innings, Wilson has a 2.68 ERA. His walk rate has shot up this year, but he’s offset that by raising his strikeout rate by nearly 10 percent. Wilson’s 35 percent strikeout rate ranks 16th among relievers.
The Cubs bullpen has actually been pretty strong this season. The team’s bullpen has combined for a 3.37 ERA, which is tied for fourth in the majors. Closer Wade Davis has bounced back after an injury-riddled year with a 2.06 ERA. Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop and Brian Duensing all have ERAs under 3.00. Koji Uehara has remained effective despite being 42 years old. After struggling as a starter, Mike Montgomery has been much better in a relief role.
Wilson may not have been a major need, but there’s no harm in picking up another effective reliever for the stretch run. The left hander will likely slot in as a set-up man behind Davis. Wilson has succeeded as the Tigers’ closer this season, so he could spell Davis in that role occasionally down the stretch.
The other advantage of picking up Wilson is that he helps Chicago shorten up games. That may wind up being more important to the team this time around, as their rotation isn’t as strong. After ranking first with a 2.69 ERA in 2016, the Cubs’ starters are 11th in the league with a 4.32 ERA in 2017. Not bad, but not elite.
While Jon Lester and Jose Quintana can be a dependable 1-2 punch, both Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have seen their numbers drop this year. John Lackey has been even worse, posting a 4.97 over 108 2/3 innings. Picking up Wilson gives manager Joe Maddon a way to shorten up games if one of the Cubs’ starters struggles, or is barely able to get through five innings. Having another dependable arm could keep the rest of the bullpen from tiring in those instances.
Wilson is eligible for arbitration in the offseason, and under team control through 2018. He made $2.7 million in 2016, and will likely receive a pay raise this winter. Davis, Duensing and Uehara will be free agents at the end of the year, so Wilson will help offset those loses.
After releasing Miguel Montero in June, the club picked up a solid backup catcher in Alex Avila. Avila has experienced a resurgence this year, hitting .271/.392/.472 over 263 plate appearances. Avila has generally been much better against right handers over his career, and has only received 17 at-bats against lefties this season. He’ll spell Cubs starter Willson Contreras occasionally, but probably won’t cut into his playing time too much.
Avila will be a free-agent at the end of the season. His father, Al Avila, is the Tigers general manager, so that should make Thanksgiving interesting in the Avila household.
In exchange, the Tigers picked up 23-year-old third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Candelario ranked as Chicago’s No. 7 prospect coming into the season, according to Baseball America. He’s hit .266/.361/.507, with 12 home runs, over 330 plate appearances at Triple-A.
The team will also acquire 18-year-old shortstop Isaac Paredes. He’s hit .261/.341/.399, with seven home runs, over 380 plate appearances. He ranked as the Cubs’ No. 29 prospect coming into the year, according to Baseball America. Neither Paredes or Candelario is considered one of the top-100 prospects in baseball, per Baseball America’s midseason update.
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