The Chicago Cubs were looking for a first baseman, and they got one on Friday, but not one of the ones you were thinking of. The team acquired Anthony Rizzo, along with pitcher Zach Cates, from the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na.
Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are plenty familiar with Rizzo, as he was initially traded from Epstein’s Red Sox to Hoyer’s Padres last winter in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. He was handed the starting job at first and struggled out of the gate, posting just a .523 OPS in 153 plate appearances in the majors. He caught fire after a demotion to AAA Tucson, where he hit .331/.404/.652 in 413 plate appearances. The trade effectively pulls the Cubs out of the running for Fielder, and ensures that Carlos Pena will have a new home in 2012. The trade makes sense for the Cubs, considering that the Padres had a logjam at first base after acquiring Yonder Alonso from the Reds last month in the Mat Latos deal. A couple of weeks ago, we wondered what exactly the Padres were doing. Now, we know.
Now, the other particulars in the deal. First, we’ll discuss Cates, who is heading to Chicago along with Rizzo. He spent 2011 with Fort Wayne of the Midwest League, and had a 4.73 ERA in 118 innings, walking 53 and striking out 111. He allowed just four home runs, and the Cubs might be able to get something out of him with his strikeout ability and the way he limits his home runs.
Andrew Cashner was injured for a good bit of 2011, pitching in a total of just 24 innings in the minors and majors. He spent a good bit of 2010 in the majors, and struck out 50 while walking 30 in 54 1/3 innings. As a starter in the minors in 2010, he threw 57 innings and struck out 59 while walking just 15. His ultimate future may be as a starter, though his big fastball may entice the Padres to keep him in the bullpen.
Na is very young, just turning 20 last month. The Korean spent time at four levels in 2011, stretching from the Cubs Arizona Summer League team up to the AA Tennessee Smokies. His cumulative line for the season was .268/.358/.312 with 20 stolen bases in 311 plate appearances. His plate discipline his strong, but had no power whatsoever to speak of. That could come along with age, though.
I think the Cubs did well in this deal to get their first baseman of the future without giving up any top ten prospects, though the loss of Cashner could hurt. I had a feeling Rizzo would wind up with the Cubs, and that he did.
UPDATE: Hoyer has announced that Rizzo will be starting the year at AAA, with Bryan LaHair starting at first base to start the year. LaHair had a 1.070 OPS and 38 homers last season for AAA Iowa, but is also a 29 year old who has spent parts of the last six seasons in AAA. Not sure what the prevailing logic is on that one….