The Cubs and Dodgers struck a deal that we typically see ahead of the 40-man deadline in November, with Dodgers reliever Yency Almonte headed to Chicago along with 40-man prospect Michael Busch in exchange for two high-upside, low-level prospects in LHP Jackson Ferris and OF Zyhir Hope.
The Dodgers high-profile active roster and consistently strong farm system puts them in a perpetual roster crunch. They sent infield prospect Jorbit Vivas (40-man) to the Yankees in exchange for Trey Sweeney earlier this offseason.
This trade is a bit different, however, as the Dodgers were not going to move Busch for the sake of roster flexibility. Just Baseball’s No. 86 overall prospect, Busch had long been speculated as a trade candidate for the Dodgers as the 26-year-old simply did not have a path to consistent at bats in Chavez Ravine.
With defensive limitations and his age, Busch was not quite valuable enough to headline a major trade package, but was too valuable to just move in a lesser swap, forcing the Dodgers to be patient and creative.
Busch has produced at every stop, but really proved to be ready for consistent big league at bats in the 2023 season, hitting .323/.431/.618 with 27 home runs in 93 Triple-A games. He also upped his walk rate by 4% and slashed his strikeout rate by 7%. He saw sporadic playing time with the Dodgers in 2023, never really getting the chance to find his footing.
After playing more second base in years prior, Busch predominantly played the hot corner in 2023. His defense has improved plenty since bing drafted, but his feet are still a bit heavy and the arm is just strong enough for third. The plan could be for Bush to see some action at first base as well, however he has only made 17 starts at the position since being drafted.
Even with limited reps at the position, Busch projects best at first base, offering enough versatility to be serviceable at third base and second base in a pinch. He is capable of making the routine plays, with Defensive Runs Saved likely to be more generous to him than Outs Above Average with his footwork.
Regardless, Hoyer acquired Busch for his left-handed pop and he has plenty of it. His 90th percentile exit velocity of 105 mph is a tick above big league average, while running a chase rate below 20%. Blend his patience and power with an average feel to hit, and it’s easy to get excited about Busch’s offensive upside.
Big league ready with the ability to hit 20-25 homers and get on base at a strong clip, Busch immediately slots into the No. 6 spot in the Cubs farm system, but more importantly, he will likely slot right into the Cubs Opening Day lineup.
Yency Almonte is an intriguing relief flier coming off of a down year in 2023.
The 29-year-old has pitched in parts of six MLB seasons, but it was his lights out 2022 where he really made a name for himself. In 35 1/3 innings, he pitched to a 1.02 ERA, before struggling to a 5.06 ERA last season. The difference between the good and bad seasons for Almonte has been as simple as his walk rate being under 8%.
As for the Dodgers return, it seems as though waiting to part with Busch at the right time could pay dividends for them down the line. As more free agent dominoes began to fall away from the Cubs, they became the perfect trade partner.
Busch becomes a lot more intriguing of an infield option when Jeimer Candelario is off of the market and the asking price for Isaac Paredes via trade or Matt Chapman via free agency is perhaps steeper than expected.
After a quiet start to the offseason, the Cubs have made it clear that they want to get better for 2024, signing impressive Japanese left-hander Shota Imanaga less than 24 hours before acquiring Busch and Almonte.
Boasting one of baseball’s stronger farm systems, Jed Hoyer was able to piece together an intriguing enough package of lower level prospects to pry Busch away, without parting with any of the team’s five top 100 prospects.
The two teams were seemingly the perfect match as the Dodgers were able to acquire ample upside to justify parting with Busch (along with Almonte), while the Cubs did not necessarily have to part with any of their blue chip prospects. Only a few farm systems are deep enough to be able to pull off a trade like this without tapping into their top 6 or 7 prospects.
That said, Ferris will instantly slot in as the Dodgers top left-handed pitching prospect and in the back of their top 10. A second rounder in 2022, Ferris signed for first round money earning a $3 million bonus to forgo his commitment to Ole Miss.
Standing at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Ferris already sits 93-95 mph with his fastball, touching 97 mph with good extension and carry. He leaned on his fastball heavily in 2023, using it more than 60% of the time while still overpowering Low-A hitters to the tune of a 33% strikeout rate.
Both of Ferris’ breaking balls have a chance to be above average offerings with his sweepy slider flashing plus. Averaging 17 inches of horizontal break, Ferris can pick up really ugly swings from hitters when he gives the pitch a chance.
The challenge for Ferris is that he only landed his secondaries for a strike 50% of the time in 2023. He will likely be assigned to High-A for his age 20 season with the stuff to make him a middle-rotation arm if he can find the zone more consistently. That is still a relatively big if, which is why the Cubs were comfortable moving the projectable southpaw for 2024 help.
The second piece headed over to the Dodgers is even more of a project, but an extremely fun one at that. The Cubs drafted outfielder Zyhir Hope in the 11th round of the 2023 draft, signing him away from his UNC commitment with a $400,000 pay day.
Just 18 years old, Hope is extremely raw, with an aggressive approach at the plate. He boasts double-plus speed and flashed some surprising impact in his cup of coffee at the complex. His wheels and defensive potential in center field help elevate his low floor some, but Hope is an exciting challenge for the Dodgers player development.
With these types of trades, it’s typically more likely that the team who acquired the MLB talent or near-MLB ready talent makes out a bit better just based on the probability of prospects panning out. Assessing the value of prospect swaps like this one can sometimes be as simple as a sliding scale of volatility vs. proximity of the unproven commodities being exchanged.
In this instance, Busch offers a higher likelihood of being an MLB piece in at least some capacity, but his ceiling is somewhat capped. With the Dodgers acquiring two prospects who have not played above Low-A, the range of outcomes are naturally going to be wider, placing added importance on acquiring as high of a ceiling as possible.
Essentially, if a team is going to take on risk, the potential reward needs to be worth the gamble. On the flip side, if a team is willing to give up two young and exciting pieces who are far away, the player(s) coming back should have a relatively high probability of contributing at the big league level. In this swap, it’s safe to say both teams achieved just that.