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Can a Trade With the Cubs Reunite the Royals With an Old Friend?

Let's head to the North Side of Chicago to find something out of the burning ruins of what once was thought to be an emerging powerhouse.

Welcome back to the 29 trades in 29 days series. Every day, I will be taking a look at a new MLB team in an effort to find a trade package that makes sense for the Kansas City Royals to hypothetically pursue. For some ground rules and an example, check out the first installment of the series. Today, let's continue our run with the National League Central as I examine a possible trade involving the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs went from a potential dynasty that could’ve made multiple World Series with their core of Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Wilson Contreras, and Kris Bryant to now being on the outside looking in. Just taking a quick look at the Cubs' roster, there’s not much value in it outside of Contreras and Ian Happ. Given those two’s former pedigrees, it’s unlikely that Chicago would trade either of them for prospects outside the top 10.

The Cubs have two things working against them when it comes to their rebuild: a lack of game-changing major league talent and a lack of pro-ready prospects to kickstart the rebuild. There are also too many holes on the roster to just throw money at them and see what works because quite honestly, the Cubs would need to spend $150 million-plus this offseason to contend for a playoff spot. They (smartly) traded away almost everything with value last season, which leaves the cupboard on the bare side.

Underneath all of that, there is one player that’d I wouldn’t mind the Royals taking another look at.

The Trade:

Chicago Cubs Receive: SS Jeison Guzman, SS Lucius Fox, RHP John McMillon

Kansas City Royals Receive: 1B Frank Schwindel

The Royals had a choice to make in 2019 between Ryan O’Hearn and Schwindel, with the team keeping O’Hearn and giving Schwindel his walking papers after only six games. After not playing in last year’s COVID-shortened season, he signed with the Oakland Athletics and played in just eight games for them before being claimed off waivers by the Cubs. This is where the story gets weird, as Schwindel proceeded to put together a 56-game stretch where he hit 13 home runs, drove in 40 runs and put up an OPS of 1.002.

This was truly an out of nowhere season, which is why I’m willing to give up three prospects for Schwindel but am not willing to put any elite prospects on the table. With most of the Cubs' highest-rated infield prospects stuck in Rookie and Single-A ball, Fox gives them someone who played in Triple-A last season and could theoretically get some playing time in a paper-thin Cubs infield.

Guzman is the player that offers the most upside in this trade and he’s a little further along than the other Cubs prospects, making his way up to Double-A as he’s started to undergo the development from being a primary shortstop to adding in some outfield reps to work on becoming a versatile utility player. The feel around Guzman is that while his glove and arm can certainly play at the MLB level, his bat will need to see a noticeable uptick. At his highest potential value, he offers the Cubs a potential Brock Holt-type player that can fill in around the diamond while offering plus defense at any position he plays.

McMillon is a throw-in player simply because the Cubs need pitching and even though his ERA was not pretty, the fact that he averaged over 16 strikeouts per nine innings last year in the minors could be appealing to a team like the Cubs, who sold all of their useful bullpen arms during the trade deadline. McMillon probably won’t be ready to play in MLB next season but if he figures out his control and improves his walk rate, he could be an interesting player to watch in 2023 Spring Training.

The Royals, with this move, are essentially buying back a player they probably gave up on too quickly. It's also possible that O'Hearn receives his walking papers this offseason. If he does, this trade would make a lot of sense for the Royals as it gives them versatility at first base and/or designated hitter and Schwindel possesses a little more potential versatility than O’Hearn, giving him some possible corner outfield reps.

Also, before you shout that Nick Pratto is a lock to make the Royals' roster out of Spring Training, here's your reminder that Pratto hit .259 in Triple-A this season. While not terrible for a first go-around, it isn’t the type of average that guarantees he will be able to hit major league pitching. Pratto is going to be given every single chance to make the roster out of Spring Training, but don’t be surprised if he still needs a bit of additional seasoning in Omaha before getting called up.

Even if Pratto does make the roster, the Royals should be under no obligation to make room for Carlos Santana’s bat in the lineup. Schwindel — who’ll be making less than a million this year — will be a more cost-effective option. While straight-up releasing Santana isn’t ideal, there are other options to get him off of the roster and clear up space for younger & more promising talent.

For the Cubs, this trade allows them to make a return on their "investment" and frees up the space on the roster for them to pursue a more proven first baseman in the offseason like Brandon Belt or Freddie Freeman. The Cubs have proven they are more than willing to throw money around to put a winning team together, as they were in the top 10 in payroll from 2016-2020. They might elect to just skip the tedious rebuild and go buck wild in the offseason. 

These are two teams that operate at opposite ends of the payroll scale, but this trade allows the Royals to nickel and dime their way back to a player that has shown that he can hack it at the MLB level.

Read More: How Will Jorge Soler Be Remembered as a Royal?