The Cubs beat their crosstown rivals this evening, pulling themselves within two games of .500 in the process. The North Siders now sit at 49-51, six games behind the Brewers in the NL Central and 4 1/2 back of the three teams (Arizona, San Francisco and Philadelphia) tied for the last couple Wild Card spots.
With the club on the fringe of contention, the front office continues to evaluate whether it’s more prudent to add for a playoff push or move short-term veterans for future value. Before tonight’s win, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote that the Cubs had yet to commit to a direction with the deadline a week off.
If Chicago were to entertain offers, they’d be able to market two of the top players available. Aside from Shohei Ohtani, no impending free agent hitter with a chance to move would be more impactful than Cody Bellinger. While he hasn’t quite recaptured his MVP heights, Bellinger has bounced most of the way back from two middling seasons to finish his Dodgers’ tenure. He’s hitting .314/.363/.540 over 292 trips to the plate and typically rates as an above-average to plus defensive center fielder.
Marcus Stroman would be one of the top pitchers on the market. The 32-year-old has struggled in July but still carries an excellent 3.09 ERA over 122 1/3 innings. He’s picking up ground-balls at a 57.8% clip, continuing his career track record of stifling opponents’ power output.
Both players are likely headed for free agency. Bellinger is sure to decline his end of a mutual option. Barring injury, Stroman will do the same with a $21MM player option. Stroman has angled for a contract extension, but the Cubs are reportedly holding off on such talks as they consider trade options. Bellinger will be one of the top hitters in a free agent class light on impact bats. With top center field prospects like Kevin Alcántara and Pete Crow-Armstrong in the farm system and Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ on multi-year contracts, there’s an argument for the Cubs to prioritize players other than Bellinger past this season.
It has generally been assumed the Cubs would either trade both Bellinger and Stroman or neither player (depending on whether they decide to sell). However, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic wrote this evening that Chicago could also consider dealing Stroman while hanging on to Bellinger. That’s a result of the players’ respective qualifying offer status.
Stroman already received and accepted a qualifying offer in his career. Players can be tagged with a QO a maximum of one time. Bellinger has never received the offer. If the Cubs hold both through season’s end, they’d only be able to tender the QO to Bellinger. They’d get a draft choice if Bellinger signed elsewhere but no compensation if Stroman departed.
Beyond that duo, the Cubs have a handful of potential trade candidates. Kyle Hendricks is controllable for another season on a $16MM team option and carries a 3.38 ERA over 11 starts. Yan Gomes is a solid veteran catcher; his contract contains a $6MM club option for 2024. Michael Fulmer is an affordable rental reliever who has pitched well over the past six weeks.
Whether any of those players move could well be determined by the on-field results of the next six days. The Cubs wrap their series with the White Sox tomorrow. They’ll go to St. Louis for a four-game set through the weekend and play one game against the Reds (one of the teams they’re trying to track down) before the deadline.