The Rundown: Cubs May Be Punting on Castellanos, Trout Gets Third MVP, Braves Grab Closer in Free Agency

Like last winter, the Cubs are in a bit of a bind when it comes upgrading their roster. It was hoped that jettisoning the $53 million bulge that included the expiring contracts of Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, and Brandon Kintzler would allow them to make a few upgrades in free agency. More hope, it was thought, could be found in lancing a couple of warts like Addison Russell and Albert Almora, Jr., giving the Cubs an extra few million of just-in-case-money for late-winter free agent bargains. In nautical terms, the first group of players refers to the jetsam and the second refers to the derelict.

Stay with me. Jokes aside, there’s a theme here.

With an extra $57 million lying around, the Cubs could re-sign Nicholas Castellanos and find themselves a decent starting pitcher along with a competent veteran reliever or two. Even with projected arb raises reducing a good 35% of that windfall, the Cubs seemed to be in a decent position to make upgrades at key positions and still have enough money to bring back Nicky Two Bags.

Not so fast.

The recent polar vortex hovering over the Midwest got a little chillier yesterday when Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reported that Epstein is unlikely to bring Castellanos back (subscription required), and turned downright inhumane when Sharma also indicated that the Cubs are expected to retain Almora, who is coming off one of the more wretched seasons in recent outfield history.

Using maritime terms again, that makes the North Siders flotsam. It also means that, at least for Cubs fans, this winter could potentially be the worst the Great Lakes region has seen since the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Granted, missing out on Young Saint Nick, as agent Scott Boras refers to his free agent outfielder, means the Cubs probably won’t trade Kyle Schwarber. Believe it or not, he was every bit as scorching hot as Castellanos was in August and September.

One of the prime reasons for keeping Schwarber over Castellanos is that the power-hitting left fielder probably has more value to the Cubs than he does to other teams, thereby suppressing his return in trade. But that’s likely true of all of the players the Cubs may or may not make available except Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras. Navigating the icy winter waters in an overly stout vessel while relying solely on possible trades to get a little leaner has the potential to leave the front office rudderless.

Are we destined to see the Cubs attempt to get back to the playoffs with basically the same group of players that kicked off last season’s miserable stretch run? Do we have to go back to trying to decipher if the Cubs are defined by their division-best 51-30 home record or their division-worst .407 pace on the road? And do we walk on eggshells until Baseball Prospectus releases what is likely to be an even worse projection than PECOTA gave them last year? What, for the love of Daniel Descalso, is going on here?

Theo Epstein said he has always known this day was coming, that he has been ready for it and eagerly anticipates the challenge of keeping his team competitive through what is frightfully close to becoming a four-year post-championship famine.

Three years ago the Cubs were supposed to be what the Astros are now; a team with a great, young nucleus and a farm system that is continually producing big league-ready players. That North Shore yacht club looks a lot more like a submarine swab crew right now, and though the front office has made a number of internal upgrades to the player development side of the organization, fruit-bearing changes in homegrown talent are at least a couple years away. With the team trying to reduce payroll and with a core that may be immovable based on need versus value, it’s entirely possible that this offseason will bear a strong resemblance to the last.

Cubs News & Notes

Today’s Theoretical KB Trade

The Reds are up today, and though trading it’s always a bit more complicated with division rivals, the two teams have history. Epstein’s second trade after taking over the Cubs was moving Sean Marshall for Travis Wood. Around here, we don’t talk about the first trade Theo made, by the way.

Using WAR alone, it’s a pretty even trade. The Reds would probably want Contreras more than they’d want KB, and Chicago gets all of Cincinnati’s Cub killers.

Friday Stove

Mike Trout won his third AL MVP award last night, slightly edging Alex Bregman. Cody Bellinger was the NL selection.

The Braves signed former Giants closer Will Smith to a three-year deal worth $39 million that includes an option for a fourth year at $13 million or a $1 million buyout.

Interestingly enough, Atlanta has been linked early and often to another San Francisco pitcher: Madison Bumgarner.

The Padres are also rumored to be heavily interested in Bumgarner.

Smith’s contract could bode well for Brewers’ free agent reliever Drew Pomeranz.

Yankees third baseman Miguel Andújar is drawing trade interest.

Two of the 10 players who received a qualifying offer this year have accepted. José Abreu will remain with the White Sox and Jake Odorizzi will stay with the Twins. Both players will earn $17.8 million on one-year deals in 2020.

Extra Innings

If the Cubs find a way to win it all in 2020, next November will be quite the fun time at Murphy’s Bleachers.

They Said It

  • “This was coming. It’s not like it was going to be one generation of players, and that’s it. We knew when a lot of our best players were cost-controlled, those were the years we could squeeze the most amount of talent on the roster, and there would be difficult decisions and change ahead at some point. We’re just rapidly approaching that time. That’s all.” – Theo Epstein

Friday Walk Up Song

Same Changes by Sam Phillips, also known as “Theo’s Theme.” Phillips does a hell of a job of channeling the Rubber Soul-era Beatles with this wonderful song. You may also recognize the former Christian Contemporary singer as sadistic badass Katya in the movie Die Hard With a Vengeance.

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