The Rundown: Status Quo Looks Like Real Possibility for Cubs, Happ Could Be Key to 2020 Season, Red Sox May Open Camp Sans Manager

Does Theo Epstein really have a move or two up his sleeve before the start of spring training on February 11?

Because of (or despite, I suppose) his desire to remain competitive, gain financial flexibility, and secure the long term future of his team, members of the Cubs’ core have been fixtures of trade rumors all offseason. And yet, nobody has been moved to date. The elephant in the room is and has been the ongoing grievance that Kris Bryant filed against the club in 2015 regarding possible service time manipulation. But why would that preclude Epstein from trading other players?

On theory is that Epstein is asking for returns that may seem to be bordering on obscene. Or the front office could hope to skate by in 2020 and extend some of their better players next winter, when the contracts of Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood, José Quintana, and Daniel Descalso come off the books. That’s just over $50 million in AAV. The downside of not trading any of those players is that none are likely to be worth a qualifying offer after this season (the Cubs do hold a $25 million option on Lester that can be bought for $10 million).

It’s also possible that Epstein sees more in his roster than the rest of us do. After all, this is a team that should have won 90+ games last season based on their Pythagorean record, and the only team that has done anything to improve themselves in the Central is the Reds, who still seem to be not much more than a .500 team.

If you are looking beyond the boilerplate reasons for the team’s inactivity this winter, its difficult to decipher which way the front office is leaning. They’ve stated that change is inevitable, but they have never officially stated that those changes will be immediate. At the same time, almost all circumstantial evidence points to Epstein trying to get below the $208 million CBT threshold and avoid repeat offender penalties.

The bottom line is that with just a few weeks before the team reports to Arizona, it looks like the roster as it sits now will remain intact. The Cubs could head to Mesa with holes at second base and center field, a bullpen that has a number of question marks, and an unnamed fifth starter. Additionally, the team lacks quality depth in case there are injuries to any of their regular players.

As fans, we still don’t really have any answers. Despite that lack of transparency, the Cubs are still good enough to compete for a division title.

“This is one of those winters where it’s really hard to thread the needle,” said Epstein. “We’re doing the best we can. I would say to hang with us, and hopefully by the time Opening Day rolls around, we’ve improved the 2020 team, [or] we’ve done some things that maybe don’t improve the ’20 team but ensure a better future.”

Cubs News & Notes

Friday Stove

The Padres and Red Sox have discussed a trade that would send 2018 AL MVP winner Mookie Betts to San Diego for Wil Myers and prospects.

A baseball fan has started a class-action lawsuit against the league in the wake of cheating scandals with the Astros and Red Sox.

With no punishments handed out to players in Houston, many fans are in favor of the reinstatement of Pete Rose and White Sox players banned from the game for their participation in allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series.

Right now, Boston is in no hurry to hire a manager and may start spring training without having named a replacement for Alex Cora.

A possibility exists that Cora could return to manage the Red Sox in 2021, pending the results of baseball’s investigation into alleged sign stealing activities by Boston.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman sees J.A. Happ as a leader of the team’s starting rotation, and has no plans to trade the veteran left-hander.

Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger may need core surgery and will likely miss spring training and the beginning of the upcoming season.

Just a Quick Note

I may take some time off next week pending results of some medical tests I have scheduled later this afternoon. My doctors have posited a few life-changing scenarios and now the goal is to start ruling each of them out. I’m amped up for the challenge and 100% confident that I have a fantastic team taking care of me. You can DM me on Twitter if you are interested in knowing more, but I’d rather talk baseball.

On Deck

The Chicago Blackhawks will host an honest-to-goodness, official Pride Night on March 5. It’s the team’s first ever Pride event and is being held in partnership with the Chicago Gay Hockey Association and organizers of Out at Wrigley.

Extra Innings

I loved John Belushi but I don’t believe that he would have ever adapted enough to have sustained Hollywood longevity. Yes, he received industry and mainstream praise as a serious actor playing a character based on Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko in the movie Continental Divide, but he looked uncomfortable not doing cutting edge comedy, at least to me.

That said, I do think he could have carried the persona of Blues Brother Joliet Jake up until today had he wanted.

They Said It

  • “Thank you for all the years of support and love. I appreciate every one of [the fans]. I think everybody that came out there and supported us, I tried to make time for everybody that I could. I really appreciate that they made time for me. It really made my baseball career fun for the past five years. And I hope that I’ve made some of those younger fans, or even older fans, become deeper fans within the community.” – Taylor Davis
  • “[Happ] went through a really difficult stretch in Iowa, making significant adjustments to his approach and his swing, and as a person, growing from some failure. When he came back up towards the end of last year, his strikeout rate was under much better control, he had much more contact ability. By the end of the year, he had maintained that better contact rate, was starting to drive the ball again, and it looked pretty dynamic and pretty promising for the future.” – Theo Epstein
  • “One thing in this organization that we have had a lack of is young interesting arms that have plus stuff and maybe just haven’t done it yet. Now, I feel I look around this room, and we have 10 of those guys, and guys with really interesting pitch characteristics, interesting pitch mix.” – Tommy Hottovy

Friday Walk Up Song

Soul Man by the Blues Brothers from SNL. Happy (belated) birthday to Joliet Jake.

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