While the Cubs have plenty of trade chips at their disposal due to farm system that is deep in position players, infielder Javier Baez is not among the candidates to be moved, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Cubs value Baez’s versatility and power upside enough that they wouldn’t part with him even if the Yankees were to make Andrew Miller available, per Rosenthal. Rather, the FOX scribe lists players such as Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario and Mark Zagunis as more realistic trade options for Chicago, who is loath to part with Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora or Willson Contreras in summer trades. A power lefty for the bullpen is the team’s top priority as the Aug. 1 deadline inches closer, per Rosenthal.
- Dexter Fowler exited Saturday’s game in the first inning after suffering a hamstring injury while running out a grounder. The Cubs haven’t yet made a decision on whether or not Fowler will need a DL stint, Joe Maddon told media (including MLB.com’s Cody Stavenhagen). Fowler has cooled off in June after a blistering start to the season, though he’s still hitting .290/.398/.483 with seven homers over 284 plate appearances. Jason Heyward is the most likely candidate to take over in center field should Fowler miss time, though with Jorge Soler and Tommy La Stella already on the DL, Fowler’s absence would be a big hit to the Cubs’ roster depth.
- Cubs catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber is “hitting all his range of motion checkpoints exactly on schedule,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Schwarber, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL and LCL in his left knee on April 7, is currently on track to return for spring training next year. In the meantime, he assisted the Cubs during the amateur draft earlier this month. “’Schwarbs’ sat in the draft room with us while the team was away,” said Epstein. “He’s always looking for ways to contribute to the organization. He added some levity to the room.”
The 34-34 Yankees remain in the thick of the playoff race in the American League, where they sit 5.5 games back of the AL East-leading Orioles and 3.5 games out of a Wild Card position. If the Yankees fall off prior to the Aug. 1 trade deadline and decide to shop elite relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, they’ll garner interest from the Cubs, Nationals, Giants, Dodgers and Rangers, among other potential suitors, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (video link).
New York could trade both and find a complement to Dellin Betances through free agency, according to Rosenthal, who notes that Chapman, the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and the Pirates’ Mark Melancon – a former Yankee – are all on expiring contracts. Of those three, the only one who’s likely to cost a first-round pick to sign is Jansen, who’s a good bet to receive a qualifying offer (worth roughly $16MM) from Los Angeles.
Miller’s connection to the Cubs, Nationals and Giants is nothing new, of course, with the same holding true for Chapman in regards to Chicago and Washington. The Cubs scouted Yankees relievers last week, and multiple reports this month have linked the Nationals to Chapman and Miller. The Giants, meanwhile, were reportedly mulling going after Miller as of two weeks ago. The Dodgers nearly acquired Chapman from the Reds over the winter, but they moved on amid the 28-year-old’s domestic violence issues and pondered pursuing Miller, whom the Yankees ultimately retained.
The Dodgers already rank an outstanding fourth in bullpen ERA (3.12) and ninth in K/BB (2.88), though adding Chapman or Miller to the likes of Jansen, Joe Blanton and Adam Liberatore would improve their odds of catching the NL West-leading Giants, whom they’re 6.5 games behind, or at least keeping pace in the Wild Card hunt.
Despite San Francisco’s success, its bullpen has been mediocre on the whole and lacks anyone in the stratosphere of Chapman or Miller. It helps that either of those two would bring variety to a unit whose best options – Santiago Casilla, Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearrin and Derek Law – are all right-handed.
The Cubs, who lead the majors with a 46-20 record, are all but devoid of weaknesses. They lack a top-end lefty reliever to complement shutdown righties Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, however, which is why they’re interested in the Yankees’ tandem. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein acknowledged Friday that relievers are on the team’s radar, saying he “would love” to pick up another quality bullpen arm.
Nationals relievers are eighth in the league in both ERA (3.38) and K/BB ratio (2.9), which has helped the team gain a six-game advantage in the NL East, but closer Jonathan Papelbon is on the disabled list with a right intercostal strain and was merely good before succumbing to injury. There’s also risk with fill-in closer Shawn Kelley – while he has fared brilliantly this season, the 32-year-old is a two-time Tommy John surgery recipient.
Although they’re atop the AL with a 44-25 mark, Rangers relievers are just 25th in ERA (4.84) and a below-average 19th in K/BB (2.38). Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman and Matt Bush are all thriving, but team president and GM Jon Daniels said Saturday that the Rangers would consider looking for outside bullpen help.
Acquiring either Chapman or Miller would clearly be a boon to any of these World Series-contending clubs, though the latter of the two figures to command a heftier return. Not only is Miller locked up through 2018 at a reasonable $9MM salary, but he doesn’t bring any of Chapman’s off-the-field baggage and has been the better of the tandem this season. If shopped, both should require notable young talent coming back, and it’s worth pointing out that ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider required) placed the Dodgers second, the Cubs fourth, the Rangers ninth, the Nationals 15th and the Giants 21st in his preseason farm system rankings.
- The Cubs remain unlikely to deal catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in early April and has been the subject of trade rumors. Chicago regards Schwarber as a top-caliber middle-of-the-order hitter whose woes against left-handed pitching will fade. The Cubs are also bullish on Schwarber’s makeup, says Rosenthal, and believe getting him back next season will be like adding a high-end free agent.
- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says that he “would love” to add a high-quality bullpen arm, MLB.com’s Cody Stavenhagen tweets. But the veteran executive also made clear that he won’t rush to the phones just because the bullpen has had some hiccups of late. Chicago looks to be set most everywhere else, so it makes sense that the club would look for ways to add impact in its relief corps, but there’s really no sense of urgency given the team’s excellent start.
Some minor moves from around the game…
- Righty Brandon Gomes has been released by the Cubs, as Baseball America’s Matt Eddy recently reported. The 31-year-old had thrown 167 relief innings over the last five years with the Rays, working to a 4.20 ERA with 7.8 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. He had struggled with command this year at Triple-A in the Chicago organization, however. In his 22 2/3 frames, Gomes allowed ten earned runs on 14 hits and 14 walks while striking out twenty.
- The Orioles have re-signed lefty Andy Oliver, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter. Oliver, 28, had recently opted out of his minor league pact with Baltimore, but evidently did not find a better opportunity elsewhere. He owns a nice 2.08 ERA over 34 2/3 Triple-A frames on the year, with 8.8 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9.
- Veteran catcher Gerald Laird has signed a contract with the Mexican League’s Tijuana Toros, MLBTR has learned. The 36-year-old Laird signed the with D-backs prior to the 2015 season but appeared in just one game before a back injury sidelined him into late August, at which point he was designated for assignment and released. Laird enjoyed a productive season with the Braves back in 2013, when he batted .281/.367/.372 in 141 plate appearances. In parts of 13 Major League seasons, Laird is a career .243/.305/.353 hitter. He’s spent time with the Rangers, Tigers and Cardinals in addition to Arizona and Atlanta.
- The Angels announced that lefty David Huff has cleared waivers and been sent outright to Triple-A Salt Lake. The 31-year-old made a pair of spot starts for the Halos this season but struggled in each and ultimately yielded seven earned runs on 13 hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. He’ll have the right to reject the outright assignment in favor of free agency, though he could very well accept due to the fact that the injury-riddled state of the Angels’ pitching staff could afford him another crack at the Majors later this summer.
- Former Major League right-hander Robert Coello has been waived by the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, as Jeeho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency writes. In his place, the Heroes will sign right-hander Scott McGregor, who had been pitching for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League (Mike Ashmore of MyCentralJersey.com reported the McGregor news earlier this week). The 31-year-old Coello hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2013, when he posted a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings for the Angels. He had a 3.77 ERA in 62 innings out of the Heroes’ rotation this season, but Yoo notes that control problems (42 walks in those 62 innings) led him to be waived. McGregor, a longtime Cardinals farmhand, has a career 4.78 ERA at the Triple-A level and was throwing well for Somerset this season, having posted a 3.36 ERA with a 31-to-6 K/BB ratio in 59 innings.
The Cubs will designate catcher Tim Federowicz for assignment in order to clear a spot on the roster for top catching prospect Willson Contreras, who will be promoted from Triple-A prior to tomorrow’s game. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune first reported (via Twitter) that Federowicz would be involved in the corresponding move for Contreras, and the Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer tweeted that he’d be designated for assignment.
[Related: Updated Cubs depth chart]
Federowicz, 28, has appeared in 13 games for the Cubs this season and batted .192/.222/.269 in a small sample of 27 plate appearances. He joined the Cubs on a minor league contract this offseason and has spent the past month-plus in a fairly limited role, starting just six games since being recalled from Triple-A on April 28. The longtime Dodgers farmhand and former Padre is a career .194/.245/.297 hitter in 298 big league plate appearances, though he’s had considerably more success in the minors, authoring a career .308/.382/.527 slash line in parts of six Triple-A seasons (1128 PAs).
The Cubs will promote top catching prospect Willson Contreras before tomorrow’s game, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The team’s plan is to carry three catchers for the time being, he adds, though the team was already doing so with Miguel Montero, David Ross and Tim Federowicz on board.
[Related: Since the news of Contreras’ promotion, it has been reported that Federowicz will be designated for assignment. The new roster alignment is reflected at Roster Resource’s updated Cubs depth chart.]
The 24-year-old Contreras entered the season rated as one of the game’s top prospects in the eyes of ESPN’s Keith Law (No. 27), Baseball America (No. 67), MLB.com (No. 50) and Baseball Prospectus (No. 57). He’s shown full well why those outlets were so high on his skills this season with an incredible showing at Triple-A Iowa, where he’s batted .350/.439/.591 with nine homers and 16 doubles in 239 plate appearances this season.
Law called Contreras a “legitimate two-way threat behind the plate” in his scouting report, praising his 70-grade arm (on the 20-80 scale) and noting that Contreras had an unexpected but meteoric rise through the team’s farm rankings. Contreras, a converted third baseman, has taken to catching well and while he may be an offensive-minded backstop, per MLB.com’s scouting report, he does figure to stick behind the plate. His experience playing infield could make him a multi-position reserve while Montero is still in the fold, BA noted in their report, adding that his bat may yield more gap power than home run power.
From a defensive standpoint, Contreras has halted 31 percent of attempted stolen bases against him this season. Baseball Prospectus graded his pitch-framing efforts as below average in both 2015 and 2016, although considering the fact that catching is still relatively new to Contreras, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s still some room for refinement in the intricacies of working behind the dish. Certainly, sharing a dugout with Montero and Ross — two of the game’s better framing catchers — could prove beneficial to Contreras in the long run.
Because of the timing of his promotion, the most Major League service time that Contreras could accrue in 2016 would be 108 days. Even if he’s in the Majors to stay, that will leave him well shy of Super Two designation, so he should only qualify for arbitration the standard three times. As it stands, the earliest that Contreras could become eligible for free agency would be upon completion of the 2022 season.
The exact manner in which skipper Joe Maddon will work Contreras into the lineup remains to be seen. Montero has gotten base at a reasonable clip this season but his overall .210/.333/.343 batting line hasn’t lived up to expectations. Ross, on the other hand, has exceeded expectations, batting a healthy .237/.339/.409 after turning in a combined .599 OPS from 2013-15 with the Red Sox and Cubs. However, at 39 years of age, the Cubs probably weren’t planning on giving Ross a near-equal share of the playing time behind the plate, but Ross has actually logged more games than Montero this season and tallied just 11 fewer plate appearances and six fewer innings behind the dish. Adding Contreras to the mix will allow Chicago to lessen the load for the aging Ross and perhaps deliver an offensive upgrade over Montero on days in which Contreras dons the tools of ignorance.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Former All-Star Joe Nathan, who signed a minor league deal with the Cubs earlier this season, spoke to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago about his recovery from a second Tommy John surgery and his eventual aspirations of pitching for the big league club. Nathan said he’s received encouraging feedback from the medical staff thus far and is on pace to pitch in a game on Friday of this week with three bullpens under his belt. Nathan tells Rogers that when he initially spoke to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, he made it clear that he was willing to pitch in any situation if he is ultimately able to work his way back to the Majors. “I basically told him I know how good your ballclub is with or without me,” said the 41-year-old Nathan. “I’m not here to try and disrupt anything. If you need me to throw in the sixth inning, seventh inning, I’m here for you. Whatever you want.” Nathan could begin a rehab assignment with Double-A later this month, Rogers adds.