It’s no secret that the Rays are open to moving center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is Tampa’s version of Whit Merrifield or Brian Roberts. Which is to say trade rumors have swirled around him for years now, many of which involve the Cubs. Things really picked up steam last year at the deadline, with reports that the Cubs and Rays had discussed deals involving Kiermaier, Kris Bryant, and Craig Kimbrel.
As Ken Rosenthal reported for The Athletic, there were talks about Bryant and Kimbrel separately and as a package, the latter of which would have netted hard-throwing righty Tyler Glasnow. The lanky flamethrower, who will miss the 2022 season while rehabbing Tommy John surgery, has expressed a desire to remain in Tampa and may not factor in talks this winter, but Kiermaier is almost certain to be dealt.
The 32-year-old will make $12 million in ’22 and has a $2.5 million buyout on a $13 million club option for next year, making him a little pricey for the normally thrifty Rays. What’s more, centerfield prospect Josh Lowe is ranked fourth in the system and 73rd overall by MLB.com and could be ready to take over this season. Though Kiermaier’s glove has always been elite, his bat is league average at best and the Rays will likely have to pay down his salary either with cash or prospects.
That feels like exactly the kind of move the Cubs would be willing to make, and it’d be an even better fit than similar options involving Wil Myers or Eric Hosmer. For one, the Cubs would love to improve their outfield defense behind a pitching staff that doesn’t miss many bats. They’ve also expressed a willingness to spend a bit above perceived value for short-term commitments, so $14.5 million for a year of Kiermaier’s services makes sense.
And if what Bruce Levine shared Saturday on Inside the Clubhouse is accurate, the cost might be significantly lower.
“They need a glove man in center,” Levine said of the Cubs. “Tampa has Kevin Kiermaier, one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball available. He’s under contract for $12 million in 2022. He’s not a fit for Tampa any longer. They will do their best to trade him. They will do their best to eat some of that contract.
“That might be right up the alley for the Chicago Cubs on a short-term deal for arguably one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.”
But if I’m Jed Hoyer, I’m telling the Rays to keep all that precious cash and make it up in prospects or the kind of difference-making pitcher who’s likely going to price himself out of Tampa after the ’23 season anyway. Getting Glasnow would mean kicking in a pretty solid player and saying goodbye to any kind of significant prospect return, which shifts the risk-reward balance just a bit.
According to Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays “will be looking to add a right-handed hitter who preferably can play first base.” That kind of specificity means the Cubs might have to part with Frank Schwindel, which would feel like a gut punch after he provided a major lift in the wake of last year’s trade deadline. He’s entering his age-29 season and can’t be counted on to be one of the league’s best hitters moving forward, but his contact-heavy approach should hold up fairly well.
Bringing Anthony Rizzo back into the fold is something the Cubs have discussed, possibly even with the first baseman’s reps. That would solve any issues with fans’ emotions and David Ross‘s lineup, plus the Cubs have Alfonso Rivas around as a backup option if need be. And hey, maybe they’ll get really saucy and swing a deal for Matt Olson.
While it might seem strange to be looking at Schwindel as a potential stumbling block to a deal that could include Glasnow, the bigger issue here is that the future upside would be significantly decreased or eliminated entirely. The whole point of acquiring Kiermaier is to essentially buy a prospect or an impact pitcher, but Glasnow is only under contract for one more year and might not be looking to sign an extension.
So the Cubs could end up with an aging outfielder whose glove might not be able to make up for his bat any longer and an injured pitcher who might only pitch for one season provided his rehab goes well. In addition to salary costs, which are pretty nominal even if the players don’t perform, Hoyer might need to give up a potential everyday first baseman who’s making league minimum for the next two years. Take the names out of it and that’s not necessarily a great deal.
On the other hand, having Glasnow waiting in the wings to join a rotation that will still have Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks, and one or two homegrown starters would be a big push for the ’23 season. Brennen Davis will likely be up by the second half of this season, and several other position players will be following in subsequent seasons. It’d be a pretty tight window, though it’s one that could open very wide if they see fit to add a superstar.
One final wrinkle to this is that Kiermaier isn’t the only Ray who makes the most sense for the Cubs. Though he’s been the most frequently mentioned in rumors for a long time now, Topkin also mentions left fielder Austin Meadows (who’s perhaps a better fit at DH) and Manuel Margot as likely to be traded. Margot is an excellent defensive outfielder who actually graded out better in left and center than his primary position in right, and his high-contact hit tool is something the Cubs lack in the outfield.
He is entering his age-27 season and he’s only projected to make $5 million this season, so it’s not like the Rays need to unload a cumbersome salary or anything. That means he’s not bringing a prospect with him and probably isn’t even coming at a discounted rate, though he likely provides more consistent offense and less risk than Kiermaier.
Maybe it’s because there’s nothing else happening in the baseball world or because I’ve been pushing for the Cubs to “buy” a prospect, but I would like for them to get after Kiermaier. I would love for them to land Glasnow, whose filthy stuff and Ol’ Dirty Bastard tattoo speak straight to my heart.