Chicago Cubs Rumors

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

Cubs Designate Rafael Lopez For Assignment

The Cubs have announced that they’ve designated catcher Rafael Lopez for assignment. The move clears space on the Cubs’ 40-man for righty Donn Roach. To clear space on their active roster for Roach, the Cubs have optioned righty Yoervis Medina to Triple-A Iowa.

The 27-year-old Lopez earned a spot on the Cubs’ roster late in the 2014 season by hitting well at Double-A Tennessee and holding his own at Iowa, and he collected 14 big-league plate appearances last year. His hitting has failed to progress thus far this year, however — he’s currently batting .276/.333/.340 at Triple-A, with no home runs in 176 plate appearances. The depth Lopez represents is also less crucial than it was a year ago, with Miguel Montero and David Ross in the big leagues and Kyle Schwarber as another potential option.


International Notes: Rankings, Spending, Alvarez, Guerrero

The 2015-16 international signing period kicks off in six days (July 2), which will lead to significant spending from clubs all around the league in an effort to bolster their farm system. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Angels and Diamondbacks will each be ineligible to sign a player for more than $300K due to vastly overshooting their league-assigned international bonus pools in the 2014-15 signing period. Meanwhile, the Cubs and Rangers will be back in the game after being similarly restricted in the 2014-15 period due to excessive spending in 2013-14. Both teams are expected to again be aggressive, though it’s the Dodgers who are rumored to be the most aggressive team on this year’s international market. Here are some notes on this year’s class of July 2 players…

  • Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has released an excellent sortable prospect board with scouting reports, video, projected bonus information and the likeliest landing spot, with information on 69 different international prospects (not all info available for all prospects). McDaniel currently projects the Dodgers to spend $27.05MM on the international market, though that number could grow, as it’s not clear where every prospect is going to land yet. That $27.05MM figure, by the way, comes out to more than $50MM after factoring in the 100% luxury tax they’ll pay for exceeding their $2,020,300 pool by more than 15 percent (pool info via Baseball America).
  • In addition to the Dodgers and Cubs, the Royals are expected to blow past their international spending limit as well, writes McDaniel in a separate piece. No one figures to match the Dodgers, though, who are “so recklessly signing whichever player they want for whatever number it takes that teams are openly wondering what top Cuban player they won’t sign during this period,” McDaniel notes. It’s currently tough to peg the market for top Cuban outfield prospect Eddy Julio Martinez, but the Dodgers should be considered the favorite for all Cuban players due to their hyper-aggressive approach, McDaniel adds. He also looks ahead to the 2016-17 market, touching on top names such as Kevin Maitan and Abraham Gutierrez.
  • Baseball America’s Ben Badler spoke to six scouts about top international prospects Yadier Alvarez (link) and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (link). Alvarez’s name has been on the pages of MLBTR for months, as the Cuban righty is said to be the top international pitching prospect on the market thanks to a fastball that reaches 98 mph and the makings of a wipeout slider and an above-average changeup. Badler looks at his sudden emergence from obscurity and gets the takes of scouts who praise him, but also those who view him as a future reliever. As for Guerrero, scouts feel that he has the best combination of hitting ability and power in this year’s class, but he’s already a thick player with a so-so arm, leading to questions about his defensive placement down the line. Alvarez is believed to have a bonus of $16MM+ waiting from the Dodgers, whereas the Blue Jays have long been believed to have a deal with Guerrero (McDaniel pegs the value at $3.45MM).

Cubs Agree To $1.3MM Bonus With Fourth-Rounder D.J. Wilson

The Cubs have agreed to a $1.3MM bonus with fourth-round selection D.J. Wilson, Jim Callis of MLB.com reports on Twitter. That’s well above the $503,100 slot value that came with the 113th overall pick.

Wilson is a high school center fielder who had been committed to Vanderbilt. What he lacks in stature (Wilson is just 5’8) he makes up for with plus speed. MLB.com rated him the 129th-best prospect available, comparing his overall offensive package to that of Ben Revere: solid hitting ability, excellent speed, little power. (Baseball America, which ranked Wilson 178th, likened him to Adam Eaton.)

On the defensive side of things, Wilson is said to possess quite a nice overall package of skills. He not only moves well, but is said to have good instincts in center in addition to a strong and accurate arm.

As I noted in discussing the Cubs’ signing of second-round pick Donnie Dewees earlier today, the club had socked away a notable pile of cash (per the MLB.com tracker) in many of its early signings. This agreement will absorb a big piece of that availability, and the club could need the rest to lock up third-rounder Bryan Hudson, a projectable lefty who has committed to the University of Missouri.



Cubs Sign Second-Rounder Donnie Dewees

The Cubs have announced the signing of second-round choice Donnie Dewees. Bonus information has not yet been reported.

Dewees was taken 47th overall out of the University of North Florida. That draft slot comes with a $1,292,100 allocation (info via Baseball America).

The Cubs have added a player that MLB.com and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs rated the 35th-best available prospect. While Dewees does not come with any particularly loud tools, he’s a consistent performer who could potentially play center field.

Providing somewhat less optimistic rankings were Baseball America (66th) and ESPN.com’s Keith Law (73rd). Law acknowledges that Dewees is an excellent pure hitter and good runner, but questions his his ultimate power capabilities and overall upside. BA adds that Dewees is already nearly 22 years old, noting that it remains to be seen whether he can stick in center.

Chicago’s already-reported signings from the first ten rounds of the draft have delivered some fairly significant savings to the club. It may need that bonus pool availability to make a run at high school picks such as third-rounder Bryan Hudson and fourth-round selection Darryl Wilson.


NL Notes: Turner, Dodgers, Axford, Phillies

Cubs righty Jacob Turner has been shut down after his elbow “flared up,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters, including ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers (Twitter link). Turner had made two promising rehab starts at Double-A, and was looking like a possible rotation or pen option in the near term for Chicago. The club claimed the former top prospect off waivers last year from the Marlins and exercised his $1MM option for 2015.

Here’s more from the National League:

  • Despite their recent offensive woes, the Dodgers see the acquisition of bats as a “lower priority” to adding arms to the rotation, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters, including Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. Friedman says he sees reason to believe that the club’s run production will get back on track, and also likes that the organization has several relievers advancing back from injuries. The rotation, though, looks somewhat thin at the back end. While the team may still get some innings out of Brandon Beachy, who is working back through a rehab stint, it is currently relying on Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias, both of whom have struggled to continue their surprisingly excellent work from earlier in the year.
  • Rockies righty John Axford has put up strong results for the club, and Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes that he could either become a useful trade piece or be looked at as an asset to be retained. Axford comes with one more year of control via arbitration, effectively providing the club an option year, though he’ll figure to be in line for a nice raise on his $2.6MM salary this year as he continues to rack up saves. Groke notes the possibility of an extension, and club GM Jeff Bridich says that “moving ahead with Axford for future seasons is something we would at least consider.” From my perspective, the smarter play would be to see what Axford will fetch on the trade market and tender him a contract if a strong offer can’t be found. He has been quite good, even if peripherals don’t quite support his 1.31 ERA, with a career-best 60.7% groundball rate that is surely particularly attractive to the club. But extending a reliever is always risky business, particularly when the name in question is 32 years old and has a track record of inconsistent results.
  • When he formally joins the Phillies, reported new executive Andy MacPhail could spend some time evaluating the baseball operations department before deciding whether to make any changes or additions to the front office, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. One possibility, per a source, would be for MacPhail to try to bring on Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak in some capacity. The young executive got his start with the Orioles when MacPhail was in charge there. Klentak was a guest on the MLBTR Podcast’s third episode, back in October.

Cubs Canvassing Market For Starting Pitching

The Cubs’ need for starting pitching is well known, but it remains somewhat unclear how much flexibility the team has in addressing it, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Chicago would optimally add a controllable-but-established arm, per the report.

Of course, cost-controlled starting pitching is among the game’s most sought-after commodities, so they won’t be alone in that search. The club appears to be looking at a broad range of options as the trade deadline comes into focus, as a source tells Wittenmyer that Chicago has cast a wide net.

The Cubs have reached out to a number of clubs, among them the Mets and Angels, in search of a match. Interestingly, per the report, one prospective swap was disrupted when young infielder Javier Baez suffered a broken finger a few weeks back.

Pursuing an upgrade certainly seems a reasonable strategy. With Tsuyoshi Wada down for an unknown amount of time after leaving his last start early, the team can turn back to Travis Wood, though that duo has been underwhelming. Jacob Turner is working his way back to health and could soon be available, but he has much to prove at this stage of his career.

It remains conceivable that the Cubs could look to acquire a serviceable, short-term veteran to add innings, but the possibility of a more significant addition remains tantalizing. While Baez appears to be on the table, at least if he can get back on the field in time, Wittenmyer says that the club does not appear inclined to move its blue chip assets to strike a deal.

Adding impact pitching without parting with top prospects is obviously a tall order, though we have increasingly seen teams utilize their wallets to facilitate deals. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein indicated that the team’s overall financial situation has not changed significantly, with the club’s current budget already determined by “anticipating some of the new revenue streams, new revenues and expenses as well.” Of course — and this is my speculation — Chicago may have more capacity to take on future obligations.


Quick Hits: International Spending, Giants, Cubans

Remember when the Padres, Red Sox, and White Sox were the most improved teams in the majors? They, along with the Marlins, are below .500 despite their busy offseasons, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. Alternatively, the Blue Jays have pushed into playoff contention with a recent winning streak. Toronto added Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin over the offseason, but the core of the team has remained largely intact. Kepner notes that these quick turnaround rebuilds are no guarantee for solid performance.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • A new international signing period will begin on July 2nd, but 2016 is the time for your favorite team to break the bank, per Ben Badler of Baseball America. The Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Angels, and Diamondbacks are already unable to spend more than $300K on a player for the next two seasons. The Dodgers, Cubs, Royals, Phillies, and Blue Jays may blow past their bonus limit in the 2015 signing period. That will remove many of the most active teams from the market in 2016. Badler gives a complete description of the international market conditions. It’s well worth a read.
  • The Giants will soon face a roster crunch in their rotation, writes Chris Haft of MLB.com. Jake Peavy is medically ready to return, and Matt Cain is nearing readiness. The easiest move would be to option Chris Heston, but he’s tied for the club lead with seven wins and recently no-hit the Mets. Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Hudson have been merely serviceable. The same can be said of Tim Lincecum in recent weeks. With the exception of Heston, the other rotation arms could be lost if they’re designated for assignment. The club could opt to move Lincecum and Vogelsong into the bullpen, but that just pushes the roster crunch elsewhere.
  • An influx of Cuban players could soon flood the majors, writes Bill Shaiken of the Los Angeles Times. Cuban players, even those who fall under international spending restrictions, are currently able to negotiate with all 30 clubs. That increases their bargaining power. It’s a big reason why infielder Roberto Baldoquin cost about four times more than the Angels’ entire 2015 amateur draft class. Cubans are currently the third most represented foreign nation in the majors. Opening day rosters included 18 Cubans, 65 Venezuelans, and 83 Dominicans. Cuba has a comparable population to the Dominican Republic. As such, we could see a surge of Cuban players as diplomatic relations continue to thaw.

Many Clubs Scouting Jonathan Papelbon

There was a “heavy” scouting presence in attendance for Jonathan Papelbon‘s most recent appearance, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Both the Blue Jays and Cubs are known to have interest in the closer, but Rosenthal now adds that additional clubs have inquired on the reliever.

Meanwhile, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes that the Jays have had a high-ranking scout trail Papelbon for his past 10 contests. He’s only had one save opportunity in that time, though he has pitched in non-save situations. Per Salisbury, determining how much money would need to head to the Blue Jays has been a “significant” hurdle in talks thus far.

Papelbon has pitched well all season and has continued to put up rather excellent results since experiencing a significant velocity drop beginning in 2013. Rosenthal notes that he averaged 94.1 mph in his most recent outing, but he only threw nine pitches, so it’s not necessarily an indicator that his velocity has returned for good. Indeed, a look at Papelbon’s game-to-game velocity charts (via Fangraphs) reveals that the most recent appearance is something of an outlier.

PITCHf/x data shows that Papelbon has upped the usage of his slider in 2015, which may explain the increase in both his swinging-strike rate and his K/9 rate. At 34 years old, it’s unlikely that Papelbon will see a dramatic resurgence in the velocity department, but he’s still managed to post a pristine 1.01 ERA with 10.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a career-best 51.5 percent ground-ball rate in 26 1/3 innings this year.

The remaining $7.67MM on his contract is an obstacle, to be sure, as is the $13MM option for 2016 that seems likely to vest. But, at roughly $20.5MM over the coming nine-and-a-half months of regular season games (to say nothing of potential postseason innings), Papelbon’s really not the overpriced asset that he’s often portrayed to be. Depending on the extent to which the Phillies are willing to subsidize an acquiring team, Papelbon could ultimately be looked upon as a below-market asset relative to his production.


Heyman’s Latest: Phillies, C. Johnson, Sellers, Harang, Rays

In his weekly Inside Baseball column, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports begins by taking a look at a messy situation in Philadelphia. Heyman hears the same rumblings that were first reported by CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury — that Andy MacPhail could very well be in line for an executive role with the Phillies. The hiring of MacPhail would bring into question the status of both GM Ruben Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg. While one exec notes that no one could have had much success with the hand Sandberg has been dealt, his calm demeanor hasn’t motivated the team much, and he may have lost the clubhouse at this point. Heyman notes that partial owner John Middleton, who is believed by some to be calling the shots in Philly, may have extra impetus to get a new decision-maker in the door so that a lame-duck GM (Amaro’s contract expires at season’s end) isn’t the primary decision-maker on what could be a franchise-altering Cole Hamels trade. Speaking of Hamels, Heyman notes that interested teams will want to see him pitch at least twice now that he had a start pushed back due to a hamstring strain, thinning the window of opportunity to trade him. As far as Jonathan Papelbon goes, the belief is that he’d approve any trade that sent him to a contending team, though the Cubs might be his preferred fit at this point if he had a say in the matter.

Some more highlights from Heyman’s latest (though there’s more in the column than we can cover here)…

  • The Braves have tried to trade Chris Johnson and even offered to substantially pay down the remaining money on his contract, but there’s been little interest. The Johnson deal was widely questioned from the start, and there’s still about $21MM owed to Johnson through the end of the 2017 season. Johnson’s a viable weapon against lefties, but he’s a sub-par hitter against right-handed pitchers and is not well-regarded from a defensive standpoint.
  • Rival teams are beginning to wonder if the Red Sox might sell some pieces this summer, with Mike Napoli, Clay Buchholz and Koji Uehara among the possible names listed by Heyman. Napoli isn’t hitting for average but has shown good power and a nice walk rate. Buchholz has improved after a rocky start and Uehara again has strong numbers in the ‘pen.
  • The White Sox are beginning to think about selling, Heyman hears, but they’re not quite ready to move their bigger pieces. Emilio Bonifacio might be the first name they make available, but eventually, Jeff Samardzija‘s name could be out there. Heyman writes that while Samardzija isn’t pitching well in 2015, his big arm is so tantalizing to scouts that there will still be interest in him.
  • The Reds aren’t expected to sell until after the All-Star Game and would be very open to shedding Brandon Phillips‘ contract, per Heyman, though I have a difficult time envisioning too many teams lining up to take on the remainder of that deal. Phillips is owed about $34.1MM through the end of the 2017 season and has seen his power more or less vanish. Heyman speculates that Everth Cabrera could be a fit in Cincinnati with Zack Cozart out for the year, and there’s some logic to that scenario, though they may first prefer to see what they have in Eugenio Suarez. The Mets aren’t interested in Cabrera, he adds later.
  • The Marlins aren’t selling yet, according to GM-turned-manager Dan Jennings. “We’re in it, we’re not jumping off the ship. No doubt about that,” Jennings told Heyman. If their attitude changes, Heyman thinks they’ll find interest in Martin Prado and Mike Dunn.
  • The Astros like Aaron Harang but are said to be aiming higher when looking at potential trade targets to bolster their rotation.
  • The Dodgers are on the hunt for a top-tier starting pitcher and a late-inning arm to help bridge the gap to Kenley Jansen. In other Dodgers-related news, Heyman hears that No. 35 pick Kyle Funkhouser is strongly considering returning to Louisville. Funkhouser was once looked at as a potential Top 10 pick, but he fell to a slot with a $1.756MM value. He’d have less leverage in 2016 as a senior sign, of course, but he could certainly improve his draft stock and his bonus with a big senior year.
  • Yankees chief international officer/executive vice president Felix Lopez is no longer listed on the team’s web site and some indicate that he’s been gone from the organization for three months, Heyman writes. Lopez was said to have angered Yoan Moncada‘s camp after calling to express displeasure with their decision to sign in Boston over New York. The team hasn’t made a statement on his departure.
  • The Rays are looking for first base help with James Loney on the disabled list, but Loney’s said to be returning around the All-Star break. Heyman speculates on the possibility of Ryan Howard ending up in Tampa Bay if the Phillies eat some or all of the contract, but I’d think there’d be something of a logjam there once Loney is activated in that scenario.

NL Central Notes: Cards Investigation, Dominguez, Wang, Schwarber

Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters that it’s too soon to know how the league will handle today’s stunning news that the FBI is investigating the Cardinals for possible involvement in last year’s Astros computer system breach. As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle was among those to report, Manfred declined to wade into the details of the matter and stressed that the federal government, not the league, was conducting the investigation. “To assume that the investigation is going to produce a particular result with respect to the Cardinals, let alone to jump to a word like cyber attack, we don’t know that those are the facts yet,” he said. “There is an ongoing investigation. We’ve been fully cooperative. Obviously any allegation like this, no matter how serious it turns out to be, is of great concern to us but it’s just too early to speculate on what the facts are going to turn out to be and what action, if any, is necessary.”

Here’s more from the NL Central:

  • Adding Matt Dominguez through a waiver claim gave the Brewers options at third base both now and in the future, writes Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The 24-year-old has an impressive pedigree, of course, and certainly has some upside for a team that’s all but out of it in 2015. But there is a more immediate concern, too: Aramis Ramirez could be dealt this summer, notes Haudricourt, and he’ll need a replacement if moved. Of course, the club also is in need of a future replacement with the veteran set to retire, and a look at the controllable Dominguez certainly makes sense.
  • Of course, adding Dominguez meant that the Brewers had to expose lefty Wei-Chung Wang to waivers, which Haudricourt explains was a tough move to make. Milwaukee carried Wang on the active roster for all of 2014 just to take a shot on his future, but he was struggling badly this year at the Class A level. As Haudricourt explains, Wang is earning a relatively robust $300K salary (a larger salary cut from his 2014 MLB earnings was not permissible), which may be a deterrent — as is the fact that a claiming team would need to dedicate a 40-man spot (though Wang does have options).
  • Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber is expected to have a very short first taste of the big leagues, in large part because he is likely not ready to spend regular time in the field. But that’s probably also a good thing in the long term, given that Chicago continues to give Schwarber time behind the plate rather than giving up and choosing instead to acclimate him to the corner outfield. In fact, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat tweets, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says the club is increasingly bullish on Schwarber’s chances at sticking as a backstop. “We’re more convinced now than ever that he’s going to catch and catch a long time in the big leagues,” said Epstein.