It appears that someone has finally woken up the Chicago Cubs. A couple of days after landing Japanese lefty Shota Imanaga — their first real foray into this offseason — the Cubs have now reportedly agreed to a fascinating trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Dodgers are sending infield prospect and former first-round pick Michael Busch along with reliever Yency Almonte to Chicago in exchange for pitching prospect Jackson Ferris and outfield prospect Zyhir Hope.
Full trade: The Chicago Cubs are acquiring third baseman Michael Busch and reliever Yency Almonte from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for a pair of toolsy teenaged prospects, left-handed starter Jackson Ferris and outfielder Zyhir Hope, sources tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 11, 2024
Almonte has shown flashes of brilliance, especially since coming to the Dodgers in mid-2022, and the Cubs are betting that they can harness his control issues (24 walks in 48 innings last season) to make him a part of their middle-relief picture. But if there’s a headliner here, it’s Busch, who entered the 2023 season as MLB Pipeline’s No. 53 overall prospect and made his big-league debut in a brief 27-game cameo with the Dodgers. That cameo didn’t go very well — he hit just .167/.247/.292 with 27 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances before being sent back down — but it was a small sample, and it shouldn’t do much to diminish his long-term outlook.
A first-round pick out of UNC in the 2019 draft, Busch has laid waste to the upper Minors for the last two full seasons thanks to his patient approach, plus pop and ability to pull the ball in the air — and hard. The lefty hit an eye-popping .323/.431/.618 with 27 homers in just 98 games at Triple-A last year, all while playing everywhere from third base to second base to both corner outfield spots. That description makes him sound an awful lot like another power-hitting Dodgers utility man: Max Muncy, who represents something of a best-case scenario for Busch in the Majors and who was largely responsible for blocking Busch’s path to a regular role in Los Angeles.
Michael Busch had 3 hits today and extended his on-base streak to 21 games. He also has hits in 7 of his last 8 games and is hitting .337 OPS .967. Oh, and he is 3rd in the PCL in doubles with 8. #dodgers pic.twitter.com/sBRH28igDU— Dodgers Daily (@dodger_daily) April 23, 2023
L.A. was never going to be able to give Busch the playing time he deserved. For the Cubs, however, the 26-year-old is a very cozy fit, a promising lefty bat that deepens and balances a very righty-heavy lineup. He also happens to play the position at which the Cubs had the most lingering uncertainty for 2024 and beyond: third base, where Busch will at the very least form a platoon with Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal and (maybe) Christopher Morel. Busch has yet to prove that he can produce at the Major League level, but at this point that’s all he has to prove, and his approach at the plate and ability to punish mistakes bode well moving forward.
Of course, acquiring a near-ready prospect like Busch doesn’t come free, and Chicago had to give up a couple of promising teenagers to get this deal done. Ferris is probably the one that will hurt the most: The second-round pick back in 2022 looked great in his first taste of pro ball, posting a 3.38 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 58 innings with single-A Myrtle Beach. With mid-90s heat and two potentially good breaking balls, all from a lefty who stands 6’4, the 19-year-old is an awfully enticing pitcher. Then again, he’s a 19-year-old pitcher with no experience above A-ball — heck, he averaged just three innings per start, and he’s never even seen a batter a third time in the same game yet.
Hope, meanwhile, is cut from the same toolsy, teenage mold, tools that made him an 11th-round pick out of Virginia’s Colonial Forge High School last summer. He put his major power potential on display in a brief rookie ball appearance toward the end of 2023, slashing .286/.419/.543 with three homers in 11 games. But there are real questions as to whether he’ll hit enough at higher levels to get that pop into games consistently, and again, he’s about to turn 19 next week. And that’s the rub here for the Cubs: As high as Hope’s and (especially) Ferris’ ceilings are, they’re very far from the big leagues, with a lot of potential pitfalls along the way. Chicago is looking to build a contender right now, and they should get considerable value from Busch in both the short and the long term. For the Dodgers, well, this is how they’ve built themselves into baseball’s model organization, shelling out big money to flesh out the Major League roster while acquiring and developing youngsters that will keep the assembly line churning.