Chicago Cubs acquire Mark Grace-like first baseman in Alfonso Rivas

On Monday, the Chicago Cubs sent Tony Kemp to the Athletics in exchange for Alfonso Rivas, who’s already drawing early comparisons to Mark Grace.

While the majority of Monday’s news surrounded the bombshell that was the Houston Astros, the Chicago Cubs made their first big-league transaction of the offseason. To this point, all other signings have been non-guaranteed contracts in the form of minor-league deals. The Cubs sent Tony Kemp to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Alfonso Rivas. Kemp, 28, was acquired at the trade deadline last year in exchange for Martin Maldonado, who was acquired for Mike Montgomery just two weeks earlier. Does anyone have a Venn diagram?

Had Kemp remained with the team, his playing team was unclear after he limped to a .158 batting average in 44 games last season. The Cubs have a log-jam at second base, even after Addison Russell‘s departure, and Kemp was the odd man out. He’ll now have a chance to stick with the Athletics, where second base appears to be a wide-open competition among the likes of Chad Pinder, Sheldon Neuse, and Franklin Barreto.

So what are the Cubs getting in Alfonso Rivas?

Rivas, 23, was ranked as the 24th best prospect in the Athletics’ organization entering last season and is projected to be ready by 2021.  He played across two levels of the minors in 2019, skipping Double-A entirely, and slashed .292/.387/.423 with nine home runs and 60 RBI in 122 games. The majority of Rivas’ year was spent at High-A Stockton and played the final eight games with the Triple-A Las Vegas outfit.

He’s expected to start the 2019 season at Triple-A Iowa and will compete for the starting gig against Jerrick Suiter, who was selected in the 26th round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The now 26-year-old has struggled to climb up the rankings, and Iowa may be his last shot in professional baseball. Rivas’ long-term future with the Cubs is already uncertain as he was in a similar situation in Oakland as he now finds himself in Chicago.

“A fourth-round pick out of Arizona in 2018, Rivas is a .290 career hitter in 183 minor-league games. He is best known for his strong defensive work — but Oakland is well set at first base with Gold Glove-winning Matt Olson. A’s director of player development Ed Sprague told The Chronicle after the season that Rivas is “Mark Grace-like” at first base.”

As noted, the Cubs are set with Anthony Rizzo for the near future, as the 30-year-old lefty is entering the first of two club options and should be in line for an extension when the time is right. First basemen have far less wear and tear on their bodies, solely for the fact that they don’t have to move as much in the field, so Rizzo has the potential to be with the Cubs well into his 30s.

Next: Why can’t team make Liberatore-type trade?

Don’t be surprised to see the Cubs flip Rivas at the deadline if he’s performing well at Iowa for pitching help, should the team find themselves in the running for the division.

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