Of the four players long considered the lifeblood of the team – Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez , Kris Bryant, and Willson Contreras – which could the Cubs least afford to lose and who would fill their places on the roster? Each is an all-star and near the top in all of baseball at his respective position. It’s no secret that the areas the team needs to improve most is the rotation, bullpen, and roster depth. But is giving up Bryant or Contreras, for instance, to address those concerns worth replacing each with a less valuable player?
There are plenty of options available at third base this season and each would require a layout of cash only. At the top of the list is Anthony Rendon, but Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas aren’t bad options either. The problem is that the Cubs don’t appear to have the type of financial flexibility it would take to land any of those three.
If the front office trades Contreras, Victor Caratini could slide in as starting catcher and and the team could bring in a veteran backup on the cheap until Miguel Amaya is ready to join the team. But Contreras is arguably the best catcher in baseball, and the Cubs are a weaker team without him. Certainly teams have asked about Contreras, and the price must be beyond exorbitant, because free agent catchers have been the early winners in free agency so far.
On the outside of the core four, it has been mentioned that Kyle Schwarber likely has more value to the Cubs than he does to another team, so any return for the power hitting left fielder would probably be minimal. Further, Schwarber might be on the verge of a breakout season, so is he someone that the Cubs should be intent on moving?
Ian Happ presents an opportunity to be moved because he possesses similar skills to a number of other players on the team. But Chicago needs a replacement for Ben Zobrist, and having not yet reached arbitration, Happ represents a cheaper and more skilled option than finding a veteran in trade or free agency.
Albert Almora Jr., Daniel Descalso, Tony Kemp, Jason Heyward, and Addison Russell are all pretty much immovable due to poor performance or lack of interest, and Russell could be non-tendered before tomorrow’s 5 PM deadline.
That doesn’t leave many players left whose subtraction from the roster via trade would help the Cubs. José Quintana is probably at the top of the list, because he is entering the final year of his contract and makes a relatively inexpensive $10.5 million. But if the Cubs move Q, they need to find two starting pitchers rather than just one this winter.
To say that the front office needs to be creative this winter to add wins to a team that choked away a possible playoff berth over the final two weeks of the 2019 season is the understatement of the winter. December is here, and it is traditionally baseball’s busiest transactional month with the Winter Meetings just a week away. I suspect we’ll see where this team is headed very shortly.
Cubs News & Notes
- By “trusting the process” the Cubs hope to land a starter and some bullpen help without overpaying.
- That said, the front office can’t afford to make a mistake in trade or free agency when it comes to finding a fifth starter or a reliever or two.
- Could Howie Kendrick be an option for the Cubs this winter? He’ll be 37 in 2020, and though his versatility could help the Cubs, Happ remains a cheaper option.
- What about Donaldson? Obviously the Cubs would have to trade Bryant, or trade Schwarber and move Bryant to the outfield to open up a spot for the free agent third baseman. Both scenarios seem unlikely.
- Perhaps the Cubs are intent on keeping Contreras and trying to further develop his catching skills, as the hiring of Craig Driver may suggest.
This Week’s Baseball Trivia
Can you name the last five left fielders who have hit 30+ home runs for the Chicago Cubs?
Updates on Nine
- How about the Cubs trade for Mookie Betts at this year’s Winter Meetings? It will never happen, but just allow me to dream. The Phillies are said to be looking to make a splash on Betts.
- A team looking for a fifth starter who won’t break the bank could find a hidden gem in Homer Bailey. The 34-year old righty is coming off of his best season in five years and with a 100+ ERA could be a luxury most teams don’t have at the bottom of their rotations. He was practically dominant when relying on his splitter last summer and could be a steal this winter.
- Free agent second baseman Brock Holt could be an under-the-radar option to play second base and bat leadoff for the Cubs in 2020. Holt has posted an OBP over .350 versus righties in two of the past three seasons and could make a nice platoon with Nico Hoerner. He can play outfield, too, and could allow the Cubs to trade Happ for pitching. That said, signing yet another multi-dimensional player who is primarily a second baseman seems positively boring.
- Pirates outfielder Starling Marté would like to be traded to a contender this winter. Though not necessarily an outright demand, Marte has heard the rumors and voiced his opinion without coming across as entitled. That’s the proper way to get your wish. He’d look good in center field for the Cubs.
- While the Blue Jays would listen on any offers for closer Ken Giles, it doesn’t appear that they are really intent on moving him. Giles is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career, and will be a free agent in 2021. The closer is projected to earn $8.4 million is his final arbitration year.
- Collin McHugh has primarily pitched out of the bullpen the last two seasons, and it’s possible some team might give him the opportunity to start again, including the Cubs, who are looking for a cheap addition to their rotation. As a starter, McHugh won 19 games in 2015. He posted a 1.99 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 72.1 innings across 58 appearances as a reliever in 2018.
- If the Cubs are looking for a cheap option to play centerfield, an under-the-radar pickup could be Cameron Maybin. The veteran outfielder just posted a 127 OPS+ for the Yankees in his age-32 season, and though the chances of him repeating are not great, he’s cheap and probably won’t require more than a one-year commitment. Plus he’s still got wheels.
- How would you feel if the Cubs traded Bryant to the White Sox? The White Sox primed the pump on free agency when they signed Yasmani Grandal to the richest pact in team history and seem intent on capturing the back pages of Chicago newspapers all winter. Rick Hahn and Theo Epstein have an obvious, if not secretive, history, and a return from the White Sox for Bryant could fill a number of the Cubs needs. Hahn loves his blockbuster deals, but one would think Epstein would have to sign Rendon at all costs to make such a move.
- No wonder the Angels seem so interested in Zack Wheeler. He would fit perfectly in a Joe Maddon rotation.
I would love to have Zack Wheeler on my team but he is a scary FA option: a career ERA+ of 100 which is average; averaged 21 GS/year and less than 6 IP/GS. Teams offering $20M/season are expecting him to be much better than he has ever been. Paying for potential is risky business
— Steve Phillips (@StevePhillipsGM) November 26, 2019
Apropos of Nothing
There is a fallacy that parents are never cool in the eyes of their children. I am going to vehemently disagree with that statement and back it up with textual and photographic reference. Besides, Christmas is coming and it’s the one time of the year that the undying love of our children is nearly guaranteed. Welcome to December, friends and readers.
For a team that has never gone to the playoffs in consecutive seasons in the history of their franchise, the White Sox front office is getting a lot of credit in this article by Rock Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times. Never mind that the Cubs have secured postseason entries in four of the last five years, including a World Series championship and three berths in the NLCS.
— Rick Morrissey (@MorrisseyCST) November 29, 2019
They Said It
- “It’s an area in free agency that’s fairly robust this year — the depth of starting pitching options — maybe even more so than the relief market. It’s usually the other way around, so I think you have to be open-minded.” – Theo Epstein
- “In the free-agent market, [analytics] are the sucker’s bet. You’re going to pay a predictive WAR value for a player that is in many ways not wanted, because ‘I don’t want to win.’ And the second thing [that a GM says] is ‘I don’t really want that player to help me advance [from] 70 to 78 wins. I want to have a team that goes from 75 wins to 90 wins or I don’t want him at all.” – Scott Boras
Sunday Walk Up Song
If We Make it Through December by Merle Haggard. Epstein has a lot to think about this month.