Chicago Cubs Rumors

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

Cubs Notes: Baez, Bryant, Russell, Maddon, Castro

Earlier today, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago appeared with host Jeff Todd on this week’s edition of the MLBTR Podcast, and the two discussed a variety of Cubs topics, from the Welington Castillo trade to Starlin Castro and the team’s rotation. For Cubs fans (and others) who have already checked that out, though, here are a few more notes on the team that sits four games back in the NL Central and currently leads the Padres 3-0…

  • Infielder Javier Baez has hit well at Triple-A this season, posting a .296/.375/.423 batting line in 80 plate appearances, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush to get him back to the big leagues at this time. Via David Kaplan of CSN Chicago (on Twitter), GM Jed Hoyer said that the Cubs “…want to take our time on Javy Baez. He is playing well, but we want to let him continue to keep working right now.” Addison Russell has seen most of the time at second base, where many thought Baez would play this season. After some early struggles, Russell has settled in and is hitting .273/.333/.455 over a 22-game stretch.
  • Speaking of Russell, agent Scott Boras, who represents both Russell and Kris Bryant, praised the Cubs organization prior to tonight’s game, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Boras feels that both Bryant and Russell have “dramatically” improved since joining the team, leading him to praise the organization’s developmental techniques. Boras said that his main gripe in Spring Training was that he wanted Bryant to know that his fate wasn’t pre-determined (presumably, that is, to know that he wouldn’t be reassigned to minor league camp at the end of Spring Training). He also praised manager Joe Maddon for his communication skills and work with young players. “Joe Maddon is a talent,” said Boras. “He’s very good at giving the players a focus at a variety of levels of their careers. And that has a lot to do with why they’re performing so well in their careers.”
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports feels that the Cubs should think twice before considering a trade of Castro. Rosenthal spoke to a number of Castro’s teammates as well as Maddon, assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske and president Theo Epstein — all of whom feel that the 25-year-old has made strides in terms of maturity, preparedness and defense this season. Rosenthal notes that with $37MM owed to Castro from 2016-19, his contract is highly affordable as well. Of course, Castro has struggled at the plate early this year, as even after a pair of singles tonight he’s hitting .272/.304/.346, which translates to a wRC+ of just 76 (24 percent worse than the league average).

Podcast: Bruce Chen Talks Retirement; Patrick Mooney On Cubs

Longtime MLB veteran Bruce Chen joins the show to talk about his decision to bring an end to a distinguished career after throwing more than 1,500 big league innings over 17 seasons. Though he ended his career with the Indians, Chen saw action with eleven big league teams — most prominently, the RoyalsOrioles, and Braves. The consummate crafty lefty, Chen has a fascinating story both personally and as a ballplayer.

Jul 22, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Bruce  Chen (52) throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY SportsAlso hopping on with MLBTR is Cubs beat writer Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago, who stops by to discuss the team’s most recent moves and to break down how things are shaping up for the trade deadline.

This episode comes to you courtesy of DraftKings.com, who invite you to use promo code “MLBTR” for a free shot at playing fantasy baseball for cash prizes!

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursdays.


Minor Moves: Chris Leroux, Mike Baxter

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • The Brewers announced yesterday (via Twitter) that they’ve traded right-hander Chris Leroux to the Phillies in exchange for cash considerations. Leroux, 31, is a veteran of parts of six big league seasons and owns a career 6.03 ERA in the Majors. While he’s allowed his fair share of runs in 71 2/3 Major League innings and averaged 4.4 walks per nine, Leroux has also averaged 8.3 K/9 with a 48.9 percent ground-ball rate.
  • The Cubs announced today that veteran first baseman/outfielder Mike Baxter‘s contract has been selected from Triple-A Iowa. The team also recalled Junior Lake from Iowa and activated Tsuyoshi Wada from the disabled list in a series of moves that saw Welington Castillo traded to Seattle, Phil Coke designated for assignment and righty Brian Schlitter optioned to Triple-A. The 30-year-old Baxter is a career .225/.331/.342 hitter in 423 big league plate appearances — most of which came with the Mets. As far as Triple-A production, Baxter has slashed a strong .286/.367/.452 in more than 1800 PAs.


Mariners Acquire Welington Castillo From Cubs For Yoervis Medina

The Mariners have agreed to acquire catcher Welington Castillo from the Cubs in exchange for right-handed reliever Yoervis Medina, the clubs announced. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first reported the deal on Twitter.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago CubsCastillo, who only recently turned 28, has long seemed one of the more likely players in the game to be dealt — as I explained in breaking him down as a trade candidate back in March. Over the offseason, the Cubs dealt for Miguel Montero and signed David Ross to back him up, leaving Castillo without an obvious role.

Indeed, Castillo has only appeared behind the plate in nine games thus far, though he’s managed to see 47 plate appearances due to pinch-hitting duties. Regardless of his role, Castillo has struggled this year, slashing just .163/.234/.349. Of course, a .172 BABIP surely is not helping. And while Castillo carries a hefty 14.3% infield fly rate, he is also credited with more hard-hit balls than he has historically produced.

As always, there’s a deeper track record to consider. All said, Castillo has been an approximately league-average hitter over his career, which is certainly useful for a backstop. And he has at times shown something more, putting up a composite .271/.345/.404 line across the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

The real questions with Castillo seem to be on the other side of the ledger, though that is not entirely borne out by the numbers. He has never rated very highly in the pitch-framing department, but receives strong marks for his arm and pitch-blocking.

He is far from a perfect player, of course, which is presumably why the Cubs sought out replacements. But there is a lot to like about Castillo, who is playing on a $2.1MM salary this year and can be controlled for two more seasons through arbitration.

From the Mariners perspective, this deal provides the club with a long-term partner for incumbent Mike Zunino, who figures to lose some playing time after a rather active start to the year. Seattle has received scant production from its backstops: Zunino himself owns a meager .179/.241/.348 slash, though he has hit five long balls, while Jesus Sucre has just one hit in 16 turns at bat.

On the Cubs side of the ledger, Medina seemingly represents a buy-low arm of the sort that the team has targeted in recent years with some frequency. Though the 26-year-old has struggled with just 6.8 K/9 against 5.3 BB/9 this year — the walks are nothing new, though he had struck out better than nine hitters per nine innings in prior years — he still owns a 3.00 ERA in his 12 innings of work. And Medina has compiled 125 innings of 2.81 ERA pitching over the prior two seasons.

Medina has exhibited some rather significant velocity loss this year, dropping from last year’s 94-95 mph range down to 92.4 mph with both his four-seamer and two-seamer thus far in 2015. In addition to a quality sinker, which he went away from this year, Medina also features a rather promising curveball. That offspeed offering rated as one of the best in the game back in 2013 and continues to generate positive (albeit less excellent) results, at least by measure of Pitch F/X pitch value.

Chicago can and will stash Medina in Triple-A while attempting to work on his control issues and waiting for a need to arise. With two years of MLB service entering the season, Medina had figured to quality for arbitration next year, but that could well be in doubt at this point (though he’ll also have a chance at Super Two status if he doesn’t reach three years of service). All said, then, Chicago will control Medina for at least three and potentially four seasons after this one.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cubs To Designate Phil Coke For Assignment

The Cubs will designate lefty Phil Coke for assignment, Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com reports on Twitter. The move will likely occur officially tomorrow.

Coke, 32, made the club out of the spring after inking a minor league deal. His contract provided for a $2.25MM big league salary. Thus far, Coke has not managed to keep the runs off of the board with Chicago, permitting seven earned runs over 10 frames.

He does, however, carry more promising peripherals: he has struck out nine and walked three (two intentionally), and carries a robust 63.6% groundball rate. Coke’s fastball velocity is down nearly a tick and a half from last year’s average, but still checks in at a healthy 92.4 mph.

It isn’t hard to see why the Cubs decided to designate Coke, as the club still features three other lefties on its active roster. The re-emergence of James Russell and strong early strikeout numbers out of Zac Rosscup — combined with the availability of swingman Travis Wood — likely precipitated the move. It seems likely, though, that Coke will prove appealing to another big league club.


Quick Hits: Brown, Martinez, Hamilton

Ollie Brown, known to the San Diego faithful as the “Original Padre” has died of complications from mesothelioma, reports Corey Brock of MLB.com. The outfielder was the first player selected by the Padres in the 1968 Expansion Draft. Brown hit 52 home runs in parts of four seasons with the Padres including 23 blasts in 1970. Brown was 71 and is survived by two brothers, a wife, a daughter, and five grandchildren. We at MLBTR wish to extend our condolences to Brown’s family and friends.

  • Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez could sign for $10MM, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. The 20-year-old is subject to the international spending pool which could affect the bidding. Among the interested teams include the Braves, Giants, Yankees, Cubs, Nationals, and Diamondbacks. New York and Arizona may have an advantage since they’ve already exceeded their bonus pool. Chicago won’t be able to jump into the bidding until July 2nd. It was reported two days ago that Martinez could sign as early as next week.
  • While still with the Angels, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton repeatedly tried to reach out to owner Arte Moreno, writes Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest. Instead, Hamilton says his efforts were blocked by GM Jerry Dipoto and team President John Carpino. Hamilton attempted to contact Moreno regarding his poor performance last season and again after his offseason relapse. The embattled slugger is currently rehabbing in Double-A and could return to major league action soon. Los Angeles is responsible for most of the remaining $80MM on his contract.

Rosenthal’s Latest: Mets, Baez, Orioles, Trumbo

Despite shaky defense, Wilmer Flores will remain the Mets starting shortstop, reports Ken Rosenthal in his latest video for FOX Sports. However, one alternative is to trade Daniel Murphy, shift Flores to second base, and promote shortstop prospect Matt Reynolds. The move would instantly upgrade the Mets’ infield defense. Per Rosenthal, the club may prefer to promote Reynolds once David Wright returns to action.

As for trading Murphy, the club may look to acquire a prospect or reliever. Aside from Jeurys Familia and a couple role players, the Mets bullpen has been a little shaky. However, strong starting pitching has allowed the club to hide that shortcoming. New York relievers have thrown the fewest innings of any team. Conversely, their starters lead the league in innings pitched. Here’s more from Rosenthal:

  • Cubs second base prospect Javier Baez is on an 11-for-22 streak, leading to speculation that he could be promoted. The easiest way to insert him into the lineup would be to move Kris Bryant to the outfield and Baez to third. Since the club is juggling several important future pieces, they’ll want to be careful about how they handle the logjam.
  • The Orioles are built to sell with eight players on the 25 man roster set to reach free agency after the season. Don’t expect a fire sale anytime soon. Baltimore is just four games back in a shaky AL East. Owner Peter Angelos is loathe to throw in the towel. He famously nixed a couple trades involving Bobby Bonilla and David Wells during the 1996 season. The club later clawed its way into the postseason. It would seem the Orioles’ woes would have to get a lot worse before Chris Davis and others were shopped.
  • Many speculate that Mark Trumbo will be available this summer, however the Diamondbacks have publicly resisted the idea. Per Rosenthal, the club believes they will contend next season once Patrick Corbin and other youngsters solidify the rotation. Trumbo is signed to a $6.9MM contract and has one year of arbitration remaining. Arizona could replace Trumbo with a platoon of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas.

NL Notes: Rizzo, Marshall, Hedges

On the Cubs‘ young roster, Anthony Rizzo has become a leader at the tender age of 25, Peter Gammons writes. Actually, because he’s close in age to many of the Cubs’ top young players, Rizzo is a more meaningful leader than a 30-something veteran might be. Cubs executives Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod (who praised Rizzo’s makeup after drafting him when Rizzo was just 17) have been by Rizzo’s side throughout much of his baseball life. McLeod drafted Rizzo with the Red Sox, and then Hoyer and McLeod acquired Rizzo in the first Adrian Gonzalez trade when the two executives were in the Padres front office. Then, when Hoyer and McLeod headed to the Cubs before the 2012 season, they traded for Rizzo again, this time in the Andrew Cashner trade. Here’s more from the National League.

  • The Reds have announced that reliever Sean Marshall will have surgery Wednesday to fix the torn anterior capsule in his oft-injured left (throwing) shoulder. The surgery will be performed by Mets doctor David Altcheck. It’s been a rough few years for the 32-year-old Marshall, who last pitched a full season in 2012, the same year the Reds signed him to a three-year, $16.5MM extension.
  • Top Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges is adjusting to being a bench player after being promoted to the big leagues two weeks ago, Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes. Hedges, who’s backing up Derek Norris, has collected just 11 plate appearances since his debut on May 4. “When I’m catching every day you don’t do as much because you’ve got to save your body to be able to catch,” Hedges says. “When I’m not playing, I’ve got to be doing things, game-like blocking drills, throwing to bases more, we just did popups today, working on things so that when I’m in there it’s not like I haven’t done anything for four or five days or however many days it is.”

Heyman’s Latest: Tulo, Soriano, Correa, Garza, Segura, Mets

The latest installment of Jon Heyman’s weekly Inside Baseball column is up over at CBS Sports, and Heyman begins by addressing the Troy Tulowitzki trade talk that has once again surfaced. Heyman, like many others, feels the time has arrived for the marriage between Tulo and the Rockies to come to an end, but neither Tulowitzki or owner Dick Monfort wants to appear to be the “bad guy” in the situation. Heyman hears that Tulowitzki would prefer to play for the YankeesGiants, Dodgers or Angels if he is traded, though one person who knows the shortstop well told Heyman that he may ok with the Mets, Cardinals and Red Sox as well. Tulowitzki’s preferred destination is largely a moot point though, as his contract doesn’t have a no-trade clause. Heyman notes that in a year’s time, Tulowitzki will receive 10-and-5 rights, allowing him to veto any deal. That reality only furthers Colorado’s need to move Tulowitzki, Heyman opines. Heyman also lists 11 clubs that he could see making some degree of sense for the face of the Rockies’ franchise.

Some more highlights from a lengthy but always-informative column…

  • The Cubs “may consider” Rafael Soriano at some point as a means of lengthening their bullpen, according to Heyman. I’d note that while the team has looked a bit thin beyond Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop, the Cubs just got Justin Grimm back from the disabled list and likely won’t be without Neil Ramirez for too much longer.
  • Astros top prospect — and arguably the top prospect in all of MLB — Carlos Correa could be up to the Majors within three weeks, one Houston source estimated to Heyman. Also of note on the Astros front, he writes that a pursuit of Cole Hamels would appear to be a long shot, but Scott Kazmir (Houston native) and Clay Buchholz are names to keep an eye on for Houston, should either become available.
  • Kyle Lohse seems like a natural candidate to be traded this offseason, but the Brewers are particularly interested in shedding Matt Garza‘s contract. The right-hander is guaranteed $12.5MM in 2015 and will earn the same rate in each of the following two seasons. Neither pitcher, however, has been particularly impressive for Milwaukee.
  • Jean Segura is one of the players that the Brewers have the least interest in trading, but Heyman hears that the Padres would be interested, should Brewers GM Doug Melvin entertain offers. San Diego likes Alexi Amarista but prefers to use him in a utility role rather than as a starter.
  • Rival teams seriously doubt that the Mets would ever consider parting ways with Noah Syndergaard, but there’s “a little hope” that the team could be persuaded to part with highly touted left-hander Steven Matz in a trade. Heyman adds that the Mets are going to remain patient with Wilmer Flores as their shortstop for the time being.
  • It’s been reported that Yunel Escobar wanted no part of playing with Oakland, and Heyman hears that the reasoning was as simple as the fact that Escobar is very particular when it comes to geographical preferences and wanted to remain on the East coast. A trade to the Nationals accomplished that goal.
  • The clause in Alex Guerrero‘s contract that allows him to opt out of his deal and elect free agency at season’s end, if he is traded, hinders his trade value. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but given the presence of Guerrero and the versatile Justin Turner, Juan Uribe could end up as a summer trade candidate for the Dodgers.
  • In some agency news, Heyman reports that Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius will now be represented by Casey Close of Excel Sports Management — the agent for Gregorius’ predecessor, Derek Jeter. Gregorius had previously been repped by the Wasserman Media Group.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Center Fielders

With more than a fifth of the season in the books, we’ve had an early look (a peek, really) into where things may be headed on next winter’s free agent market. One of the most interesting positions to watch, in my estimation, is center field, where there are several players who had a lot to prove coming into the season.

There figure to be several clubs looking at adding new, mid-term or long-term options. The Indians, Mariners, Rangers, Athletics, Rangers, Cubs, and Padres all look like fairly good bets to at least dabble in the market at center. Depending upon how things shake out, it is not impossible to imagine that clubs like the Blue Jays, Tigers, Astros, Cardinals, and Giants could be as well.

Looking at MLBTR’s 2016 free agent list, which documents the players currently on track to qualify for the open market, a small group stands out as possible starting-caliber options. The trio is particularly interesting because they were so tightly bunched coming into the season — all looking to be solidly average to above-average performers, depending on one’s particular viewpoint. (Note: I’m not considering Colby Rasmus here because he has spent most of his time in the corner outfield this year. But he could also figure into the mix.)

Let’s see where things stand:

Value up: Denard Span, Nationals.

After missing the spring and early part of the season following core muscle surgery, Span needed more than ever to show that he could repeat last year’s excellent campaign. Things are certainly pointing up in the early going, as he owns a .316/.375/.532 slash over 88 turns at bat.

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While it’s obviously unlikely that he’ll maintain that kind of power output — his current .215 ISO is more than double than his career 108 mark — Span is driving the ball consistently, as he did in 2014, while posting an impeccable strikeout-to-walk ratio. His .310 BABIP actually trails his career levels slightly, so it seems that quality contact is driving the early productivity.

Overall regression is almost certainly in store, but the early returns serve to confirm that Span is a quality top-of-the-order bat and, perhaps more importantly, that he is healthy. Span will need to keep things up in both regards after entering the year with injury questions and as the elder member (31 years of age) of the group considered in this post. Of course, he could stand to see a boost in his somewhat lagging early defensive ratings (which seem to belie the perceptions of some around the game) and his stolen base tallies, but the arrow is pointing up overall and he’s done the most to increase his stock.

Value neutral: Dexter Fowler, Cubs.

While his walks are down somewhat early, Fowlers continues to deliver solid results at the plate with a fairly typical .262/.345/.397 batting line. He has shown more at times, but that lands firmly within expectations. More promisingly, the 29-year-old has swiped eight bags already and is on pace for career highs in that arena, though he has been caught three times as well.

The major talent assessment question with Fowler is his defense in center. He has spent much of his time in tough-to-patrol outfields — Coors Field and Minute Maid Park — and rated terribly at the position last year (tallying negative 20 Defensive Runs Saved and negative 21.8 UZR on the year). That has turned around somewhat in a still-small sample this year in Chicago, with Fowler posting positive UZR marks (10.7 UZR/15) while receiving a less-glowing -3 DRS rating.

All said, the early speed and defense returns rate as good signs for Fowler, and the results at the plate have done nothing to detract from his appeal. You could argue, then, that his value is slightly on the rise. If nothing else, Fowler seems a reasonable target at center, after entering the year with the possibility that he’d be viewed more as a corner option. Some clubs may still end up seeing him that way, of course, especially as it is really too soon to draw much from defensive numbers. All said, Fowler’s value is largely holding steady at the present time.

Value down: Austin Jackson, Mariners.

Jackson looked like a nice get for the Mariners at last year’s trade deadline, but has been a significant disappointment thus far in Seattle. He just turned 28 a few months back, but 2015 has continued a troubling downturn in his overall productivity.

Over 339 plate appearances with the M’s, Jackson has put up a meager .233/.275/.280 line with two home runs. He has added a healthy 16 stolen bases over that stretch, but that’s hardly enough to offset concerns. To be sure, Jackson’s .284 BABIP is due for some positive regression — his career mark sits at .351 and he’s never ended a professional season below last year’s .325 — and his strikeout/walk numbers are in line with career norms. But he is making more weak contact than ever before while hitting more groundballs (50%) this year than is his custom.

Jackson still rates as a solid average center fielder and seems to have the legs to maintain that going forward. His current DL stint with a sprained ankle is probably not cause for any long-term concern, and may even afford him a chance to work on his difficulties if he takes a short rehab stint. But the sub-.100 ISO he has carried over this season and last has significantly reduced his appeal. There’s plenty of time for a turnaround, but Jackson is trending down at present.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.