Cubs-O’s Swap Youngsters

The Deal
The Cubs traded two-time organizational No. 1 prospect Felix Pie, a 23-year-old center fielder who will enter spring training with no minor league options remaining, to the Orioles for lefthander Garrett Olson and minor league righthander Hank Williamson.

The trade, at least superficially, mirrors the Cubs’ January 2006 trade of Corey Patterson, who like Pie was at one time regarded as Chicago’s center fielder of the future. The Cubs’ trading partner three years ago? The Orioles, of course.

The Young Players
Orioles team president Andy McPhail was familiar with Pie from his days with the Cubs, so it makes sense that he would target the potential five-tool talent in trade. Pie has batted just .223/.284/.331 in 260 big league at-bats spread across the past two seasons, though the lefthanded batter hasn’t been given the consistent playing time required to prove himself. Part of the reason has been his struggles versus lefthanded pitchers, who also were a source of vexation in the minor leagues. In 52 plate appearances, he’s batted just .106/.192/.106 against big league southpaws. But in terms of overall production, it’s been a different story in Triple-A, where Pie has hit a steady .300/.353/.478 in 1,123 at-bats, while showing a quick bat, solid power, strong range and above-average speed—though his stolen-base success rate in the minors stands at just 63 percent. He also throws well enough that he could profile as a right fielder if he builds on his lean 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame. A native of the Dominican Republic who signed with Chicago in 2001, Pie batted .304/.328/.429 in 56 at-bats for Licey of the Dominican League this winter.

Like Pie, Olson has struggled to establish himself in the big leagues. On the heels of a 7.79-ERA-in-seven-starts performance with the Orioles in 2007, the 25-year-old Olson scuffled through the ’08 season, taking 26 starts and going 9-10, 6.65 with 83 strikeouts, 62 walks and 17 home runs allowed in 133 innings. A supplemental first-round pick (48th overall) in 2005, Olson breezed through the minors, reaching Baltimore little more than two years after leaving Cal Poly. As a lefthander who has been too generous with walks and who is geared more toward power—an 88-92 mph fastball and a low-80s slider—than finesse, Olson may ultimately fit best in the bullpen. The problem for now: big league lefties have seen him as well as righties have, batting .302/.392/.396 against him in 171 plate appearances.

An Orioles’ 14th-round pick from San Jacinto (Texas) JC in 2007, Williamson has spent all but 6 1/3 innings of his pro career in short-season ball, where he’s compiled a 4.00 ERA and a strong 110-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90 innings. The 23-year-old righthander features a pro body (6-foot-5, 233 pounds) and has pitched in the low 90s at times.

Quick Take
The Cubs simply didn’t have room for both Pie and free agent pickup Joey Gathright on their bench, so they decided to cash in the former, who as noted is out of options, for a pitcher (Olson) who can help round out their staff in 2009. Meanwhile, the acquisition of Pie gives the Orioles a potentially elite defensive alignment in the outfield, with Pie in left, Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis in right. The pairing of shortstop Cesar Izturis (a free agent sign) with second baseman Brian Roberts ensures that Baltimore will be defensively sound up the middle, too.

<< Trade Central 2009