Theo Epstein said back at the Winter Meetings that the Cubs are serving multiple masters, but it’s more like they’re an office worker with several layers of leadership above them. The budget is the CEO, with different positional needs as various members of middle management barking orders that at times run contrary to what the big boss requires.
While it’d be disingenuous to use that as a definitive characterization of what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are dealing with, there’s a sense that needs to limit payroll while also getting the max return on any trades are stagnating any potential efforts. Ken Rosenthal confirmed as much Saturday morning when he tweeted that trade talks with the Nationals “have gone nowhere.”
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 4, 2020
A lot of that is based on Josh Donaldson, who Rosenthal reports has set his asking price at $110 million and is merely waiting for either the Nationals, Twins, or Braves to meet it. Signing Donaldson would obviously preclude the Nats from a Bryant trade, so talks are understandably stagnant on that front. Even if he goes elsewhere, their reluctance to include center fielder Victor Robles in talks with the Cubs or Rockies, who’ve made Nolan Arenado available, make any blockbuster unlikely.
Okay, but they’ve still got Carter Kieboom in the mix, right? A 22-year-old middle infielder with potential to live up to his surname would be a pretty desirable acquisition for just about any team. The Cubs, however, likely don’t see Kieboom as someone around whom they’d want to structure a KB trade. After all, they’ve already got a 22-year-old second baseman who made quite an impression during an emergency call-up last year. With Nico Hoerner in the fold, Kieboom seems redundant.
Even if we remove Hoerner from the conversation for a bit, the Nats’ signing of 29-year-old (he’s still just 29?!) Starlin Castro for $12 million over two years may give the Cubs pause. Not only that, but Washington also brought 36-year-old Howie Kendrick back on a one-year deal and has reportedly exchanged numbers with 34-year-old Asdrúbal Cabrera. Do you see where I’m going with this?
In addition to hedging their bets against the possibility that Donaldson signs elsewhere, the Nats’ predilection for aging infielders on short deals tells you may not believe Kieboom is ready for an everyday gig. This is where we circle back to Hoerner, who could very possibly break camp as the starter and remain at the keystone for the next several seasons.
All of which is to say that a trade with the Nationals doesn’t seem to be in the offing, though things could change if Donaldson ends up in Atlanta or Minnesota and Mike Rizzo gets desperate. There’s also the idea that the Cubs could hold onto Bryant until the deadline, at which point they’ll know where they stand and might find a contender looking to overpay for a difference-maker in the same way the Cubs did for Aroldis Chapman and José Quintana.
You know what I hate about that, though? The very idea that this Cubs team would essentially be going into the season as a presumed non-contender. I mean, they already are in the eyes of most fans and other outside observers, but for the people running the team to carry such a mentality — even if it’s just a precaution — is ludicrous.
It’s all just part and parcel of an offseason that has been unsatisfying at its best points and downright maddening for the most part. Hell, the Bears have agreed to more extensions than the Cubs have since October, and that’s just one deal. The Donaldson situation should bring more clarity to the whole mess, but we’re still waiting on a decision in Bryant’s service-time grievance and for other teams to solidify their roster depth.
In short, don’t hold your breath for a deal getting done soon unless there’s a dramatic shift in the market.