Chicago Cubs Rumors

Chicago Cubs trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Central Notes: Eaton, Henderson, Perez, Jackson, Wood

Today’s biggest transactional news came out of Chicago, as the White Sox continued to set the stage for the future by extending outfielder Adam Eaton. The 26-year-old expressed plenty of excitement for the new deal, though it sounds as if he did not quite enjoy the process that it took to reach agreement, as Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com tweets“I didn’t sleep much,” said Eaton. “Very stressful. I don’t know how the other side felt. It was long.”

Let’s have a look at a few more notes from the central divisions:

  • Former Brewers closer Jim Henderson was reassigned to minor league camp today as he continues to show slow progress in his return from shoulder surgery, as MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports. Henderson has been throwing his fastball at about five to ten miles per hour below his peak mid-to-upper-90s offering from recent seasons.
  • Fellow righty Corey Knebel has also been shipped to the minor league side of camp by the Brewers, writes McCalvy, leaving Chris Perez, Tyler Thornburg, and Rob Wooten to battle over the final pen role. Perez is in camp on a minor league deal and has Article XX(B) protection, meaning that the team will either need to put him on the active roster, pay him a $100K bonus in the minors (and give him a June 1 opt-out date), or release him. The other two players still have options.
  • Cubs skipper Joe Maddon says he is talking with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein about a creative means to fit both Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood on the 25-man roster, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat tweets. Jackson is in the midst of a substantial free agent contract, while Wood is out of options. A transaction would be necessary should either player not make the club out of camp.

NL Central Notes: Iglesias, Cubs, Tabata

Raisel Iglesias is about to debut in the Reds rotation, a process that began when Reds scout Mark Snipp watched Iglesias pitch in Mexico, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports. Iglesias was taller than the Reds had heard he was, and had a good curveball and slider. The Reds were willing to commit $27MM to Iglesias because they viewed him as a starter, while other teams figured he would be a reliever. That marked the Reds’ second high-profile signing of a Cuban pitcher in recent years, the other being Aroldis Chapman. “In both cases, we probably went further (financially) than we thought we would go,” says GM Walt Jocketty. “But we have absolutely zero regrets.” Here’s more from the NL Central.

  • Even if your team is rebuilding, it’s important to have the right veterans, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein tells MLB Network Radio (via the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich, who connects the Cubs’ efforts to rebuild to those of the Astros). “When you have a young team, we were the youngest team in baseball last year, and probably will be again this year, it can get really rudderless and lost in a hurry if you don’t have the right veterans around,” says Epstein. “[P]eople … mock that sometimes because it’s hard to quantify but it’s real.” Last year’s Cubs team prominently featured thirty-something players like John Baker, Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano and Edwin Jackson even though most of the season focused on trades of veterans and the development of young players.
  • Outfielder Jose Tabata wouldn’t mind if the Pirates traded him, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. “I want to be in the big leagues, whether it’s here or somewhere else,” says Tabata. “If somebody else gives me an opportunity and the Pirates trade me, that’s OK. I want to stay here, but we’ll see what happens.” In 2011, the Pirates signed Tabata to a long-term deal that has not worked out, and the two years and $8.75MM remaining on that deal will likely be an impediment to any trade, especially since Tabata hit a mere .282/.314/.333 in 186 plate appearances last year and is no longer even on the Pirates’ 40-man roster.

NL Notes: Cueto, Pagan, Mets Pen, Bryant

Reds GM Walt Jocketty said today that the club has “had some discussions” on an extension with representatives of ace Johnny Cueto in an interview on MLB Network Radio (audio link). Noting that pitching salaries continue to rise, Jocketty said that he could not give “any odds” on how likely a new deal was, though he noted that the team is “still trying” and indicated that both sides hope to continue their relationship. Cueto, of course, is set to hit the free agent market after the season.

Here’s more from the National League:

  • Giants skipper Bruce Bochy says he is “a little concerned” about the injury status of center fielder Angel Pagan, Alex Pavlovic of CSNBayArea.com tweets“I think we need to be [concerned],” said Bochy. “I think we need to be. he had back surgery, now he’s hit a bump in the road.” With Hunter Pence already set to miss a good bit of time to start the year, any time missed from Pagan would stretch the club’s outfield depth. That could increase the urgency to make an addition, though a recent report suggests that the team has not been actively searching for another outfielder.
  • Mets manager Terry Collins had some less-than-promising things to say about the state of the club’s bullpen, as Marc Carig of Newsday reports (links to Twitter). The most prominent issue, of course, is the question of matching up against opposing lefties now that Josh Edgin is out for the year. Collins also mentioned concern with Vic Black‘s ability to return from shoulder issues in time for Opening Day, though Black himself evidently does not see it as quite so large an issue. “We’ve been … telling everybody that we didn’t have to rebuild our bullpen,” said Collins. “Right now, we’re in the process of rebuilding it.” In spite of those comments, it would be surprising to see the club do anything to add a new arm other than searching for additional left-handed help.
  • Top Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has handled the simmering controversy over his promotion timeline quite professionally, by all appearances. While praising the organization, and his agent, Bryant does say that he feels he’s received “mixed messages,” as Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “I’m hearing from my teammates that they want me up and I’m doing well and everybody’s telling me I’m progressing well,” said Bryant. He continued to note that he “took … to heart” the team’s message to players that roster spots could be earned in the spring.
  • Of course, the underlying service time rules at play are the larger issue in the Bryant matter, and it is rather difficult to dream up alternative systems that would really change the analysis for teams in a mutually agreeable way. ESPN.com’s Keith Law weighs in (subscription required) to offer a unique solution: when a team puts a true rookie on the active roster to start the year, and the player then reaches exactly six years of service, that player gets a special one-year form of free agency in which any team may make a single-season offer but his current team gets the choice to match the high bid. Law posits that this approach would encourage teams to go ahead and add their best prospects to the roster, comforted by the knowledge that they can still maximize team control — even if it ultimately comes at a (potentially much) higher cost in the final season. That proposal would obviously create quite an interesting new wrinkle in the market.


Out Of Options Players: NL Central

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I’ve included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR’s sources.  Today, we’ll take a look at the NL Central.

Cubs: Drake Britton, Welington Castillo, Felix Doubront, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Jacob Turner, Travis Wood

Wood, Turner, and Tsuyoshi Wada were expected to battle for the Cubs’ fifth starter job this spring.  Turner has been shut down due to a flexor strain and bone bruise on his elbow, however, so the Cubs can defer making a decision on him since he won’t even be throwing again until mid-April.  Wood seemed like a winter trade candidate, but Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald explains that with the Cubs’ depth thinning out, he’s the favorite to become the fifth starter.  That would force Edwin Jackson into the bullpen, unless the Cubs offload him or even eat his remaining $22MM.

Of the Cubs’ seven relievers, righties Rondon, Strop, Ramirez, Jason Motte, and Justin Grimm seem locked in.  According to Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago last week, the minor league deal for lefty Phil Coke is a “mere formality,” meaning he’s expected to break camp as the team’s primary southpaw reliever.

That leaves one potential spot for Jackson, out of options lefties Britton and Doubront, and a host of other candidates including Wada if his groin injury proves minor.  Doubront has been hit hard in his two spring outings, while Britton has tallied five scoreless innings.  Injuries may clear up the logjam, but something has to give by the April 5th opener.

There’s also last year’s starting catcher Castillo, pushed aside by winter acquisitions Miguel Montero and David RossMark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune wrote about Castillo’s situation a few days ago, noting that Arismendy Alcantara‘s versatility could allow the Cubs to open the season with three catchers.  That might be posturing on the Cubs’ part, however, since the team would be better-served trading Castillo for a fair return.

Reds: Jason Bourgeois

Bourgeois will miss four to six weeks with a fractured shoulder, so he’ll be starting the season on the DL.

Brewers: Mike Fiers, Hector Gomez, Jeremy Jeffress, Luis Jimenez

Gomez and Jimenez are hoping to earn the team’s two utility infield jobs, wrote Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel earlier this month.  Two days ago, Haudricourt tweeted he’d be stunned if Jimenez doesn’t make the team.  Luis Sardinas is in the mix as well, but he may face an uphill battle since he has options remaining.

Jeffress appears to have a spot locked up in the Brewers’ pen, wrote Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak yesterday.

Pirates: Pedro Florimon, Stolmy Pimentel, Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, Arquimedes Caminero, Radhames Liz, Mark Melancon, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Pedro Alvarez

Worley and Locke are competing to be the Pirates’ fifth starter, with Worley appearing to hold an edge after Locke was knocked around Tuesday.  The Pirates seem willing to put one of them in the bullpen, but a trade is also possible.

Pimentel, Caminero, and Liz are vying for spots in the Pirates’ bullpen.  Charlie Wilmoth of MLBTR and Bucs Dugout feels it wouldn’t be a surprise for all three to make the team, even if it means optioning superior relievers John Holdzkom and Jared Hughes.  Liz, at least, seems a good bet to get a roster spot after signing a big league deal out of Korea during the offseason.  In an online chat yesterday, Pirates beat writer Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette opined that Pimentel seems the most likely of the three to get dropped.

As Wilmoth wrote in February, it’s hard to see where Florimon fits on this team.  Perhaps the waiver claim made sense in November, but he seems likely to find his way off the 40-man soon.

Cardinals: Sam Freeman, Pete Kozma

MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch looked at the situations of Freeman and Kozma in January.  Freeman, a 27-year-old lefty reliever, has continued this spring to exhibit the control problems that have plagued his Major League career.  He’s a trade candidate.  Kozma, known for his defense, appears to be playing his way into making the team, wrote Ben Humphrey of Viva El Birdos yesterday.


Quick Hits: Gardenhire, Bryant, Valverde

Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was in attendance as the team his son coaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout took on a Twins rookie team Tuesday, would be thrilled to manage again, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune writes. “Oh, no. I’ve got a lot left in me in baseball,” says Gardenhire, shown in a photo wearing a T-shirt and smoking a cigar. “If somebody is looking for a manager and I’m a fit, great. I would love to manage again.” After the Twins fired him following last season following the team’s fourth straight season of 92-plus losses, Gardenhire lived for a month in an RV parked near his daughter’s house in Oklahoma while he waited for his first grandchild to be born. Gardenhire turned down a front-office job with the Twins, but says he’s still willing to help his former organization, perhaps with occasional scouting tasks. Here’s more from around the game.

  • MLBPA head Tony Clark says it’s “unfortunate” that teams delay promotion of top prospects for service-time reasons, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports. “We don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest, and we don’t think it’s in the industry’s best interest, to not have the best players on the field all the time,” says Clark. This has become, of course, a point of discussion every year. This season, top Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has been the focus of the issue. The Cubs are likely to send him to the minors to start the season even though he’s leading MLB in Spring Training homers with six.
  • One Padres move that didn’t attract much attention in a high-profile winter was their signing of former Diamondbacks, Astros and Tigers closer Jose Valverde to a minor-league deal. Valverde has performed well in camp, however, and now appears to have a good shot to make the team, Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com writes. “I feel like I’m 21 because I’m throwing 98 [mph],” says Valverde. “I’m surprised because I haven’t walked anybody yet.” Bloom suggests Valverde could even be the Padres’ closer. That would be an upset if it came to pass, since Joaquin Benoit performed well in that role last year after the team traded Huston Street.

Boras Challenges Cubs Regarding Kris Bryant

Agent Scott Boras had strong words today for Cubs ownership regarding the timeline of the promotion of top prospect Kris Bryant, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. In the view of Boras, the team — and, in particular, its final decisionmakers — must decide whether to prioritize winning over long-term contractual matters.

At base, the issue revolves around service time and major league readiness. By keeping the 23-year-old Bryant in the minors even for just two weeks to start the 2015 campaign, the club can prevent him from accruing a full year of service and thus delay his free agency by a full season. The controversy over Bryant is not a new one, of course; we saw similar debates last year, for example, involving players such as Gregory Polanco. It is, however, in particularly sharp focus given the player’s massive potential — as exhibited in his outstanding spring performance thus far (six home runs in 23 plate appearances) — and the club’s own emergent competitiveness.

“Cubs ownership has a choice,” said Boras. “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.” In addressing the issue, Boras compared Bryant to several other top prospects who were allowed to start the year with their clubs in spite of service considerations, often with successful results. He had particular criticism for the team’s decision not to call up Bryant late last year, saying: “I believe the issue with Kris Bryant is not whether he should be on the 2015 team. The issue is, why wasn’t he called up in September of last year when he could have prepared for the 2015 season?” In comments to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Boras was even more strident, saying that holding Bryant down is tantamount to “damaging the ethics and brand of Major League Baseball.”

In response, club president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that the decision whether to include Bryant on the active roster to start the year was his alone, upon consultation with his front office team. “Comments from agents, media members, and anybody outside our organization will be ignored,” he said.

Epstein emphasized that there is more at play than contract status. “As I told Kris last September and again at the start of spring training, we view him as nearly big league ready,” Epstein said. “The remaining area for improvement is his defense — something Kris agrees with. Kris is 6-foot-5 and a half and therefore faces obstacles other third baseman don’t face.”

Though Epstein held out the possibility of Bryant heading north with the team, he noted that lingering shoulder soreness was playing a role in the decision:

“More than anything, we want him to get in a good rhythm defensively before he makes his major-league debut. That has not happened yet, in part due to some shoulder fatigue that is not a concern but has limited the amount of game action he’s been able to have at third base. If enough time remains to get Kris into a good rhythm defensively at we may consider putting him on the club. If not, we see nothing wrong with using the early part of the season at Iowa to get him in that rhythm.”

As for the notion that Bryant should have received a September call-up to prepare him to start 2015 in the bigs, Epstein tells Nightengale that the decision was made in part based upon the fact that Bryant had just experienced his first full professional season. “When we talked after the season,” Epstein said, “he was really happy how he held up physically, but he’s an honest kid, and said that he was little mentally drained from the grind of the long season. I think it was the right thing, let a guy go through his first full season, and feel good about the numbers he put up.”

Bryant entered the year as a consensus top-three prospect league wide after destroying the upper minors last year in his first full season as a professional. Over 594 plate appearances split evenly between Double-A and Triple-A, he slashed .325/.438/.661 and hit 43 home runs. Of course, as Epstein notes, observers agree that there remains some polish to be applied to his work at the hot corner.

As for the Cubs roster, one major impediment to significant early playing time for Bryant was removed over the offseason when the team dealt away the solid Luis Valbuena. But Chicago traded for Tommy La Stella as another cheap, youthful option and also has former prospect Mike Olt in camp.


NL Notes: Turner, Reds, D’Backs, Mets

Cubs righty Jacob Turner will likely not return to action for another spring game, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports, but medical review after he experienced elbow discomfort revealed no ligament damage. “I’m just going to see how it feels,” said Turner. “The plan is four to six weeks of not throwing, and then go off how I feel.” Given his lack of options, I would expect the club to bring him along quite slowly — possibly utilizing a 60-day DL stay to free a roster spot.

Meanwhile, here are some roster situations percolating elsewhere in the National League:

  • We noted earlier today that Tony Cingrani is destined for the Reds pen. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer discusses the implications of that move for the team’s rotation battle. Another candidate — David Holmberg — was bumped down to minor league camp, leaving the relatively inexperienced Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani to fight veteran non-roster invitees Jason Marquis and Paul Maholm for two permanent spots (and a temporary substitute for Homer Bailey to start the year). Skipper Bryan Price explained that considerations of control will come into play: “The thing is, we’ve got veteran guys like Marquis and Maholm and we don’t want to use them one start,” Price said. “If they’re going to be on our team, the hope is they’re on our team for the entire season if not longer. That’s how we have to look at it. You can back-and-forth a young guy. He can start a game or two, go down the minor leagues or go into the bullpen and help as a long guy. Marquis and Maholm are looking more like long-term, start-to-finish options for us.”
  • The Diamondbacks will be fascinating to watch this year, albeit not necessarily in terms of the on-field product, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. As he notes, the team’s newly-installed front office leaders seem to have different ideas than many of their counterparts in the industry. While the organization is saddled with some less-than-ideal contracts, and seems higher on several players than others, it nevertheless has no shortage of young talent, trade chips, and roster options. That should make Arizona an active player in the transactional game over the course of the season.
  • Meanwhile, it is time for the Mets to press forward with delivering a winning team, even with Zack Wheeler likely lost to Tommy John surgery, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post writes. In the immediate term, there have been conflicting signals on how the club will fill in for Wheeler, with skipper Terry Collins saying Dillon Gee will move back to the rotation, GM Sandy Alderson declining to provide such a clear answer, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reporting that prospect Rafael Montero could have a chance at breaking camp. In the aggregate, there is enough depth and talent to make up for losing Wheeler, says Davidoff, removing his injury as an excuse if a legitimate contender does not emerge. For his part, Sherman wonders whether the club has staked too much of its future on the health and development of young arms, though it seems worth echoing Davidoff’s point here: the sheer number and upside of the alternatives in camp give New York ample options.

Quick Hits: Swihart, Bryant, Mariners

The Phillies and Red Sox have made “virtually no headway” on a Cole Hamels trade, and that’s because the Red Sox refuse to include top catching prospect Blake Swihart, Jayson Stark of ESPN writes. Of course, that didn’t stop media speculation when Swihart joined the Red Sox’ starting lineup as they took on the Phillies in Clearwater Sunday. “I think it’s funny just like you guys do,” says Swihart. In the meantime, manager John Farrell expresses confidence in another young Red Sox catcher, Christian Vazquez. “Blake is the name that’s always been in the rumors, because of what he potentially could be attached to,” says Farrell. “But the guy who is as good as anybody in the game right now, as far as catching, receiving and throwing, is Christian Vazquez.” Vazquez will start for the Red Sox while Swihart appears likely to begin the season at Triple-A, a level at which he has only 18 games of experience. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • Cubs slugger Kris Bryant is eager to prove he belongs in the big leagues, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. “I want to build on what I’ve done so far. Now I’ve got the gas to the floor, and I’m not going to let up,” Bryant says. The Cubs want Bryant to work on his defense, and he likely won’t start the year in the Majors. Heyman suggests that’s not due to service-time concerns, but the fact that the Cubs will gain an extra year of service time by holding Bryant back for a couple weeks of the regular season is surely, at the very least, a happy byproduct of their likely development plan. Whenever Bryant’s promotion to the big leagues arrives, it will be a momentous occasion. By hitting six homers in his first 23 Spring Training plate appearances, Bryant has done nothing to quiet the hype that swirled around him last year.
  • Jack Zduriencik and the Mariners are hoping to improve on a 2014 season in which they fell just short of a playoff berth, MLB.com’s Mike Bauman writes. “I like what should be our 25-man roster,” says Zduriencik after an offseason in which the Mariners added Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith, J.A. Happ, Justin Ruggiano and Rickie Weeks. He adds that he feels the Mariners’ depth in the minors is also an asset. “We hoped we could have a good, competitive club year in and year out, a good Minor League system that could continue to fill the void when you have a need, instead of what we had a few years ago, when we had 16, 17, 18 players that debuted in the big leagues in one year.”

NL Notes: Epstein, Diamondbacks, Brewers

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has nothing to report about whether he might soon receive an extension, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes. “That’s a private matter,” says Epstein. “I look at it and the club looks at it like this is going to be a longer-term marriage, and we’re not concerned about the fact there is no extension.” Epstein’s contract ends after 2016. With salaries for big-name executives increasing (Sullivan points out that Andrew Friedman got five years and $35MM from the Dodgers), Sullivan wonders if Epstein could go elsewhere after his contract expires if the Cubs’ rebuild pans out as most fans hope. Here are more notes from the National League.


NL Notes: Francoeur, Russell, Ankiel

Jeff Francoeur believes his easygoing personality has helped keep his career going, Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes in a profile of the well-traveled outfielder. Last season, Francoeur’s teammates with Triple-A El Paso in the Padres’ system played an elaborate practical joke on Francoeur, then videotaped his reaction when he found out he’d been had. A Triple-A team ordinarily might not feel comfortable playing a trick on an accomplished big-league veteran, but Francoeur’s teammates knew he would take it well. Francoeur hit .289/.320/.450 in 487 plate appearances in El Paso and played ten games with the Padres. Now he’s in camp with the Phillies, trying to make it back to the big leagues with the seventh team of his career. Here are more notes from the National League.

  • Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was surprised by the blockbuster Jeff Samardzija trade that sent him from Oakland to Chicago last summer, MLB.com’s Jane Lee writes. “I was a little shocked, and more confused than anything,” says Russell, who adds that he soon began to see a positive side of the trade. “The Cubs wanted me, and they got me. I look at it as a new opportunity.” Lee notes that Russell probably would have had a more straightforward path to the big leagues if he were still with the Athletics. He’s talented enough, though, that that might not matter — if he continues hitting this season, the Cubs will surely find a place for him.
  • Former big-league pitcher and outfielder Rick Ankiel is trying to help Nationals players as the teams new life skills coordinator, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I’m really just a resource for these guys or somebody to lean on for whatever they may need — whether it’s something off the field or something on the field,” Ankiel says. “I’ve been through it. I’ve got a lot of tools and mechanisms to pass down to these guys.” Ankiel, who signed out of high school and has no college experience, emphasizes that he’s not a doctor,  just a former player who’s had an unusual and varied big-league life. The 35-year-old, of course, flamed out as a pitcher after finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 before following a long road back through the minors and then re-emerging as a hitter in 2007. He last appeared in the big leagues in 2013.