Chicago Cubs Rumors

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

Quick Hits: Cubs, Hunter, Ichiro, Lindor

The rumor train has a majority of free agents linked to the Cubs in some way, but the club may take a restrained approach, reports Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. GM Jed Hoyer hedged against the idea of a “supercharged offseason,” saying “that’s probably overstated.” Hoyer notes that it behooves agents to connect their clients with deep pocketed teams. However, Chicago won’t pass on an opportunity that makes sense, which means a deal with Russell Martin, a front line starting pitcher, or virtually any other free agent could still in the cards. My own perspective: in sales there is a saying – “undersell and over-deliver.” It’s possible Hoyer is preparing fans in case the bidding for Martin or their other top targets exceeds reason.

  • Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (via Twitter) that seven teams are interested in Torii Hunter including the Twins and Royals. Hunter has also been strongly linked to the Tigers in recent weeks. The 39-year-old outfielder has been remarkably consistent throughout his 17 year career. Teams presumably view Hunter as a corner outfielder or designated hitter. One team that isn’t in on Hunter is the Mets, tweets Marc Carig of Newsday.
  • In an interview airing Monday for MLB Network, Ichiro Suzuki will announce his intention to play in 2015, writes Chad Jennings of LoHud.com. Ichiro admits he’s unsure where he’ll suit up, since it depends on a team having a need for a 41-year-old outfielder. Given the relatively thin outfield market, there should be plenty of opportunities for a player who hit .284/.324/.340 in 385 plate appearances.
  • The Indians shouldn’t trade Francisco Lindor just because he might fail to reach his ceiling, writes Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in his latest Hey, Hoynsie. The 21-year-old acquitted himself well in Triple-A, even if the performance wasn’t phenomenal. Lindor is generally viewed as a top 10 prospect by scouts, so his trade value is significant. My own take: while the Indians have Jose Ramirez at the major league level, there’s no reason to force a deal based on that modicum of depth. Either player could be moved to another position when the time comes. Moreover, as a budget conscious franchise, the Indians can’t simply deal Lindor for just any established star. They would need to identify another relatively inexpensive target like Josh Donaldson.

Russell Martin To Meet With Four Teams

It is early in the free agent process, but the Cubs have already met with top backstop Russell Martin, Bruce Levine reports for CBS Chicago. Martin is also expected to visit and undertake preliminary discussions with the PiratesDodgers, and Blue Jays, according to Levine. It is far from clear, of course, that Martin’s market will ultimately be limited to that group. After all, he figures to draw broad interest around the game.

Incumbent Cubs catcher Welington Castillo struggled with his offense and framing last year, and the big-market Cubs have money to spend, so it’s unsurprising they would have interest in Martin. In Los Angeles, catcher A.J. Ellis hit just .191/.323/.254 last season, and the Dodgers’ new saber-friendly front office will likely place a high value on Martin, particularly given his work behind the plate. The Jays have had internal discussions about pursuing Martin and making current starting catcher Dioner Navarro their primary DH.


Olney On A-Rod, Hanley, Mets, Peavy

In his latest ESPN Insider-only blog (subscription required), Buster Olney looks at the latest chapter in the Alex Rodriguez saga — a report from the Miami Herald indicating that Rodriguez admitted his PED use to the DEA in January — and opines that the Yankees need to do everything in their power to be free of him. Olney wonders if the Yankees could release or suspend him and invoke the player conduct clause in their standard contract in an effort to legally absolve themselves of the remaining $61MM commitment in light of his confession. Industry perception, Olney writes, is that the conduct clause is superseded by the language in the CBA, but no one has ever really made a challenge using the player conduct clause. And, he writes, the worst-case scenario would be paying him the remainder of his salary while getting nothing in return — an outcome which could happen even with Rodriguez in uniform. Of course, it’s not a given that Rodriguez doesn’t have some productivity left in his bat, but it’s hard to fault Olney for doubting the possible contributions of a 39-year-old who has appeared in just 265 games since Opening Day 2011.

More from Olney’s piece…

  • Hanley Ramirez‘s strong desire to play shortstop — or the infield in general — will be a detriment to his free agent stock, Olney writes. He suggests that Ramirez announce to teams right now that he is willing to play a corner outfield position, shortstop or third base next season in order to create the strongest market possible for his services. Olney rightly points out that the idea of Ramirez in a corner outfield spot would broaden his appeal to numerous clubs and help to create a bidding war for his services. It doesn’t seem that Ramirez is changing his plans anytime soon, however. As Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times pointed out today (Twitter link), Ramirez has changed his Twitter bio to read “MLB Shortstop.”
  • Olney has gotten indications that the Mets will be aggressive with at least one free agent signing and one trade this offseason, and he lists the familiar matchup of the Cubs as an ideal trade partner. Starlin Castro‘s name arises as a speculative target for Olney, though he adds that the price tag could be prohibitive: Jacob deGrom or Zack Wheeler.
  • The Giants are interested in working out a new deal with right-hander Jake Peavy following his excellent work for the Giants after their July acquisition. Peavy struggled in the playoffs, but his regular-season work in San Francisco was excellent: a 2.17 ERA (3.03 FIP/3.91 SIERA) with 6.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 78 2/3 innings (12 starts).


NL East Notes: Stanton, Mets, Nationals, Tomas, Hamels

As expected, the Marlins have begun extension talks with star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports on Twitter. President of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Spencer that the team has “reached out” to Stanton’s representatives and that “negotiations are ongoing.”

Here’s more from the NL East:

  • At present, the Mets are more inclined to fill their needs in the corner outfield via trade than through a free agent signing, reports Marc Carig of Newsday. New York is still hesitant to give up any of its best young talent in a swap. But veterans like Michael Morse, Alex Rios, and Torii Hunter all seem more like fallback options that the team would pursue if value can be had and nothing better has materialized. The Mets are said to prefer to add a right-handed bat.
  • One other hypothetical possibility, Nick Markakis, is not presently engaged with the team in any way, according to Matt Ehalt of The Record (Twitter link).
  • As they weigh their options at second, the Nationals are not unmindful of the Cuban market that has begun to materialize in recent weeks, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. The primary possible targets, per Wagner, are 26-year-old Jose Fernandez and high-upside youngster Yoan Moncada. The 20-year-old Moncada will draw immense interest, with Ben Badler of Baseball America saying he is talented enough that he would be the odds-on favorite to go first overall in this year’s amateur draft (were he eligible).
  • The Phillies are still the favorite to land Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, with A.J. Burnett‘s decision to decline his option possibly burnishing Philly’s chances. That does not mean they are without competition, of course. Other clubs that have seen (or will soon see) Tomas since his showcase include the Rangers, D’backs, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox, and Mariners.
  • Also per Heyman, the Phillies could clear yet more payroll space and add young talent through a deal for pitcher Cole Hamels, with the Cubs still showing interest in the lefty.

Central Notes: Maddon, Vogelbach, Hunter, Latos

Prior to being hired by the Cubs, manager Joe Maddon reached out to the Rays with an “olive branch” offer that is believed to be for less guaranteed money than he received from the Cubs, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman writes, however, that even Maddon’s lighter offer was more than the team was willing or able to pay. The Rays offered Maddon an annual salary approaching $3MM, Heyman continues, which would have represented a raise from his previous $1.8MM salary. Of course, that number is still well shy of Maddon’s reported five-year, $25MM deal with the Cubs. Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, recently appeared on MLB Network Radio with Jim Bowden and said that the Cubs verified the opt-out and received permission from the league before reaching out regarding Maddon’s availability, calling accusations of tampering “insulting.”

Here’s more on the Cubs and the game’s central divisions…

  • The Cubs are rich with hitting prospects, but one whose future with the team is a bit cloudy is first baseman Dan Vogelbach writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times in a piece for Baseball America. As Wittenmyer notes, Vogelbach is seen by the Cubs (and other clubs) as a first baseman only, and he has Anthony Rizzo to serve as a firm roadblock to the Majors. The Cubs have already fielded calls on his availability in trades, writes Wittenmyer, who notes that Vogelbach, formerly listed at 6’0″ and 250 pounds, dropped 30 pounds and improved a good deal defensively this season. He does note that the improvement took him merely from “unplayable” to “below average.” Vogelbach recovered from a slow start at High-A to hit .285/.373/.461 over his final 115 games.
  • Two A.L. Central teams — if not more — could be among the key competitors for the services of veteran outfielder Torii Hunter. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweeted last night that the Twins are “already in on” Hunter. And Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports on Twitter that there is mutual interest in a reunion with the Tigers.
  • Reds starter Mat Latos tells MLB Network Radio (Twitter link) that he has not had any extension discussions with the club. Nevertheless, Latos — who stands to reach free agency after the coming season — said he would be interested in trying to find agreement on a new contract if Cincinnati is willing to talk.

Cubs To Pursue Russell Martin

The Cubs are preparing to make a run at top free agent catcher Russell Martin, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. That does not come as a significant surprise given Chicago’s apparent spending plans and its current roster alignment; indeed, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently predicted that the Cubs would ultimately land Martin.

Of course, the Cubs are not the only club with significant interest in Martin, who had an outstanding 2014 campaign and stands alone on the starting catching market. As Heyman notes, the Dodgers, Pirates, Blue Jays, and even Red Sox have been connected to Martin in rumors or by way of analysis. And the list of plausible landing spots is probably longer than that.

At present, Welington Castillo sits atop the Chicago backstop depth chart, with John Baker in reserve. That unit ranked fourth from the bottom last year in terms of fWAR, with Castillo taking a big step back in terms of his offensive output. After two straight years of above-average production at the plate, to go with BABIP tallies that landed just under the .350 mark, Castillo managed only a .237/.296/.389 line over 417 plate appearances, in 2014. And both Stat Corner and Baseball Prospectus are down on his work behind the dish.

Castillo did register double-digit home runs (13) for the first time last year, and remains a valuable young player. But there is little doubt that Martin would represent a significant upgrade.


Cubs Hire Joe Maddon As Manager

MONDAY: Maddon’s contract with the Cubs is for five years, the team announced.  Terms weren’t announced, but ESPN’s Jim Bowden reports that Maddon will earn $25MM over the five years “with extensive incentives.”  ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that the bonuses in Maddon’s deal are tied to postseason performance.  There isn’t an opt-out clause in the contract.

FRIDAY 3:49pm: The Cubs have officially announced Maddon’s hiring in a team release, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat notes (on Twitter).

2:19pm: The Cubs, who earlier today fired manager Rick Renteria, will host a press conference on Monday to announce the Maddon hiring, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

WEDNESDAY: The Cubs will hire Joe Maddon as their new manager, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Earlier today, Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Maddon and the Cubs had been negotiating. Rick Renteria, who had been serving as manager, has two years remaining on the three-year pact he signed with Chicago just last offseason.

Joe Maddon

Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, has told reporters, including Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (Twitter link) that the two sides are in negotiation, but he is still talking with other clubs. However, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that he, too, has been able to confirm through a source that an agreement is in place.

It’s very possible that both the Cubs and Nero are simply attempting to downplay the report because of its timing. Major League Baseball tends to frown upon major news announcements during the World Series, and Maddon joining the Cubs would be a major storyline to break just hours before Game 7 of the World Series between the Giants and Royals commences. Nonetheless, it does indeed appear that an agreement has been reached for Maddon to supplant Renteria as manager.

Maddon shocked the baseball world by opting out of his contract with the Rays last Thursday, just weeks after expressing a desire to remain with Tampa long-term. However, Maddon told reporters that he was unaware of a clause in his contract that provided him a two-week opt-out window should former GM Andrew Friedman ever leave the organization. (Friedman, of course, recently left the Rays to become the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.)

Shortly after his decision to opt out, Maddon explained that he felt this was his last chance to gauge his true value around the game by testing the open market. Reports have indicated that he was seeking something in the vicinity of a five-year, $25MM contract. It’s also worth noting that other reports have indicated that the Rays may look into the possibility of tampering, should Maddon end up with the Cubs quickly after opting out. Sherman tweets that he suspects they will do just that in the coming weeks.

Maddon has developed a reputation as one of the most-respected, if not the most-respected manager in Major League Baseball. As manager of the Rays, he compiled a 754-705 record, leading the Rays to six consecutive winning seasons from 2008-13. Within that run, Maddon was at the helm for the first postseason appearance and first American League pennant in Rays franchise history. He’s drawn praise for his ability to connect with players and also his advanced thinking and willingness to embrace new techniques. Maddon’s Rays were early adopters of mass defensive shifting, and he’s done well in rotating versatile players that are capable of fielding multiple positions. He was twice named American League Manager of the Year, first in 2008 and again in 2011.

Many have noted that Maddon could be seen as a “next-level” manager for a club that is on the brink of contention, and the Cubs fit that bill. The team has deep pockets and one of the game’s brightest farm systems, with many prospects at or near the Major League level. Maddon will be tasked with not only leading a core of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Jake Arrieta and others back to the playoffs, but with crafting that group into a perennial contender.

He should have help from the front office as well, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are said to be willing to spend heavily this offseason to supplement their young core. The Cubs have already been tied to elite starting pitchers, including Jon Lester and James Shields.

The move comes as a blow to Renteria, who is seen as a solid baseball man and by all accounts was well-respected and performed well in his first season as a Major League manager. Both Rizzo and Castro, who struggled in 2013, rebounded in 2014 under Renteria. It seems likely that Renteria will again find a managerial opportunity in the near future, but he may have to wait until next year, as only two openings currently exist: the Twins and the Rays. Minnesota is said to be nearing completion of its managerial search, while the Rays, obviously, have only just begun their own.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cubs Sign Tsuyoshi Wada

The Cubs have signed left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada to a one-year, Major League contract, the team announced.  The deal is worth $4MM, and another $2MM available in incentives, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports (Twitter link).  The new contract overrides a $5MM team option the Cubs held on Wada’s services for the 2015 season.  Wada is represented by the Octagon Agency.

Wada, 33, finally got his first taste of Major League action last season, posting an impressive 3.25 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.00 K/BB rate over 69 1/3 IP (13 starts) with the Cubs.  Following a distinguished nine-year career in Japan, Wada signed a two-year, $8.15MM deal with the Orioles in December 2011, though he never threw as much as a pitch for the O’s thanks to Tommy John surgery.

After signing a minor league deal with the Cubs last offseason, Wada successfully rebuilt his value and has now worked himself into Chicago’s rotation plans for 2015.  The Cubs have been widely rumored to be interested in signing a top free agent pitcher (possibly Jon Lester) to add to Wada, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson, plus options like Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront are also in the rotation mix.


Quick Hits: Stanton, Mariners, Rios, Payrolls

The Marlins hope to have Giancarlo Stanton signed to a long-term extension before the Winter Meetings, Miami president of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (audio link).  Hill said that Jose Fernandez‘s rehab from Tommy John surgery is going well but the team is “not going to push anything because he is so valuable to us.”  Not included in the audio link, but available via Bowden’s Twitter feed, are Hill’s remarks about wanting to add another starting pitcher and a big bat to the Marlins’ roster this offseason.

Here’s some more from around baseball…

  • Ten hitters who the Mariners could pursue via trades or free agency are listed by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News TribuneVictor Martinez, Michael Cuddyer and Billy Butler seem to be Seattle’s likeliest targets, Dutton believes, while players like Melky Cabrera (desire to play on the East Coast), Nelson Cruz and Yasmany Tomas (salary demands) seem unlikely to join the M’s.
  • Alex Rios is likely viewed by the Mariners and other teams as “a fall-back option” if their preferred outfield choices aren’t available, Dutton writes.  “Few if any” scouts would sign Rios to a two-year contract, though a one-year deal worth no more than $10MM “could be a reasonable…risk.”  MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted Rios would find a one-year, $8.5MM deal this winter.
  • A number of trends emerged from a study of how the last 46 playoff teams allocated their payroll, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.  Spreading salaries around seemed to be a key factor — only nine of the 46 teams spent more than 17% of their Opening Day payroll on a single player, and the teams averaged 54.5% on their five most expensive players.  Of the 46 teams studied, only two had a highest-paid player who was also their most productive player (according to WAR).
  • With offense down, starting pitchers (maybe even the top arms) could see their market diminished in free agency this winter, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his latest Insider-only piece.  Conversely, this also raises the value of free agent hitters, plus some teams could receive some big returns in trades for quality bats.  Olney lists a few hitters that have already been mentioned as possible trade candidates (i.e. Yoenis Cespedes and Cubs‘ middle infielders) as well as longer-shot options as Manny Machado.
  • Mike Elias, the Astros‘ director of amateur scouting, discusses Houston’s scouting department, some prospects the difficulty in accurately grading hitting and a number of other topics as part of a wide-ranging interview with Fangraphs’ David Laurila.

AL East Notes: Maddon, O’s, Headley, BoSox

Alan Nero, Joe Maddon’s agent, discussed how his client left the Rays for the Cubs in an interview with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette (audio link) on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM.  Nero negotiated with the Rays for five or six days before Maddon opted out of his contract, a decision Maddon reached since Tampa didn’t want to make him one of baseball’s five highest-paid managers.  Maddon was willing to take below-market value to stay but the Rays’ offer was “so far from reality that it just didn’t make sense” for Maddon to accept, according to Nero.  Theo Epstein wouldn’t speak to Maddon until he had written proof of the opt-out and permission from the Commissioner’s office, and Nero considers it “a bit insulting” that the Rays would suspect tampering took place.

Here’s some more from around the AL East…

  • Rival teams could be interested in the Orioles‘ catching depth, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko opines.  Despite the presence of Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger and a number of young backstops in the minors, the team is still interested in bringing back veteran Nick Hundley.  Kubatko speculates that Chris Tillman‘s improved performance with Hundley behind the plate could be a factor in why Hundley could return.
  • Mutual interest exists between the Yankees and Chase Headley, though Alex Rodriguez‘s presence and Pablo Sandoval‘s price tag remain obstacles to a signing, George A. King III of the New York Post writes.  Sandoval’s next deal will set the bar for free agent third basemen, with Headley possibly poised to benefit as arguably the second-best 3B on the open market this winter.
  • For the record, King doesn’t think the Yankees are exploring signing Sandoval, though “it is hard to ignore what the Giants third baseman has done in the postseason.”
  • The Red Sox have been hesitant to sign hugely expensive contracts in recent years and, of course, spending is no guarantee of success.  With so many offseason needs, however, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal thinks the team may be more open to one or more big contracts.