For the third straight offseason, the Cubs are indicating that some roster shuffling could be in order, and they seem closer than ever before to making some notable moves. As per ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (subscription required), the Cubs have told other teams that “significant turnover” is coming, and “the Cubs are signaling…a willingness to move almost any veteran.”
Javier Baez is reportedly one of the players Chicago is open to at least hearing offers for, which is significant since Baez has been the member of the Cubs core group most often discussed as an extension candidate, rather than as a trade chip. Baez’s extension talks with the Cubs last offseason didn’t really go anywhere, however, and any attempts at further progress were impeded first by the pandemic and the transactions freeze, and then possibly by Baez’s struggles once the 2020 season got underway. The shortstop hit only .203/.238/.360 with eight homers over 235 plate appearances, easily his worst performance since his 2014 rookie season.
Taking a look at the Cubs’ pricier veterans, Baez, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber are all arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter before being eligible for free agency, while catcher Willson Contreras is heading into the second of three arb-eligible years. Anthony Rizzo is under contract through the 2021 season, Craig Kimbrel is guaranteed through 2021 with a $16MM club/vesting option for 2022, and Yu Darvish, Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, and David Bote are all locked up through at least the 2023 season on longer-term contracts.
Naturally, the phrasing of “almost any veteran” means some trades are more realistic than others. While a case could be made for the Cubs to sell high on Darvish or Hendricks, for instance, the team is also counting on them as long-term anchors for the rotation, so it’s probably less likely that either of those two pitchers are moved. Also, in terms of pure due diligence, most front offices are usually open (to some extent) to discuss trades for almost any player, just in case another team comes along with a truly stupendous offer.
The Cubs also made little in the way of noteworthy transactions in either of the past two winters, despite Theo Epstein’s past hints that bigger moves were necessary. With all these caveats in mind, however, it does seem like the Cubs are finally approaching some level of wider-scale shakeup, as the loss of revenues due to the pandemic may have forced the team’s hand. Nothing can really be ruled out, whether it’s trading only one highly-paid veteran, or perhaps moving several such players in order to cut payroll.