Chicago Cubs – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-02-20T12:12:05Z https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/feed/atom WordPress Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Kris Bryant Expects To Remain With Cubs After Epstein Sit-Down]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190863 2020-02-19T12:23:20Z 2020-02-19T12:23:20Z Kris Bryant recently reiterated his affection for the Cubs organization. He also noted it’d be nice “to be in the loop a little bit” if indeed the team is holding trade talks that involve him.

That seems to have taken place in a recent chat with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Bryant says he was left with the impression he’ll be in a Cubs uniform for the entirety of the coming season.

Unsurprisingly, Bryant wasn’t given an unqualified assurance that he wouldn’t be traded. But GM Jed Hoyer acknowledged that Bryant had left with the right takeaway, saying it’s “certainly the expectation” that the star will remain in Chicago for the coming season.

While there has been an awful lot of chatter surrounding Bryant’s potential availability in trade, we never saw an indication over the offseason that a deal was particularly close. Whatever the explanation given by Epstein, Bryant came away feeling satisfied. The 28-year-old says it was a “great” meeting, indicated that he received “insight as to what kind of happened in the offseason,” and expressed excitement for the coming season.

All things considered, it would rate as quite the surprise at this point to see Bryant swapped before Opening Day. Epstein joined Hoyer in giving public indication that the front office doesn’t expect to pull off a swap. And that’s obviously the impression that was given to Bryant himself.

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[MLBTR Poll: Who’s The NL Central Favorite?]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190825 2020-02-19T01:00:37Z 2020-02-19T01:00:09Z With the exception of the Reds, who have made several notable moves, this hasn’t been an action-packed offseason in the National League Central. Cincinnati was a fourth-place team a season ago and is currently mired in a six-year playoff drought, but the club has made an earnest attempt to transform itself into a playoff contender since the 2019 campaign concluded. Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama have all come aboard in free agency to bolster the Reds’ position player group. Meanwhile, a rotation that was already strong in 2019 has tacked on Wade Miley to complement Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani, and the bullpen has pulled in Pedro Strop.

The Reds only won 75 games last year, but at last check, the majority of MLBTR voters expect them to amass 80-some victories this season. In the NL Central, where there doesn’t appear to be a dominant team, it may only take 80-plus wins to claim the division. The Cardinals’ 91 led the way last year, but they’ve made no truly headline-grabbing acquisitions in recent months, they’ve lost outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the Braves and now one of their most reliable starters, Miles Mikolas, is dealing with arm troubles early in the spring.

Along with the Cards, the 2019 Central boasted two other plus-.500 teams – the Brewers (89 wins) and the Cubs (84). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see either team contend for the playoffs again this year, but it’s difficult to argue that they’ve gotten better since last season. The Brewers have made quite a few changes, especially in the infield (Brock Holt’s their latest pickup), but they also lost two of their best position players in Moustakas and catcher Yasmani Grandal earlier in free agency.

The Cubs, meantime, have been stunningly quiet for a deep-pocketed team that collapsed down the stretch in 2019. Seismic changes were expected after they laid an egg last year, and maybe they’ll still come (a Kris Bryant trade seems like the most realistic way to shake things up). For now, though, their roster looks a lot like the 2019 edition. There’s still plenty of talent on hand, but there’s no more Castellanos, who emerged as one of the Cubs’ main threats at the plate after they acquired him from the Tigers prior to last July’s trade deadline.

Aside from the Pirates, who are more likely to compete for the No. 1 pick than a playoff berth this year (and whom we’ll leave out of this poll), it wouldn’t seem unrealistic to pick any of the NL Central’s teams to win the division. This year’s PECOTA projections (via Daniel Kramer of MLB.com) have the Reds grabbing the division with 86 wins and the Cubs totaling 85 en route to a wild-card spot. The system gives the Reds 66.2 percent preseason playoff odds, the Cubs 51.5 percent, the Cardinals 24.4 percent and the Brewers 20.3. We still have several weeks to go before the season opens, but as of now, which of those clubs do you think will finish on top?

(Poll link for app users)

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Ricketts On Cubs’ Outlook]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190733 2020-02-18T02:50:58Z 2020-02-18T02:50:58Z Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts faced the press after a surprisingly quiet winter, proclaiming a “fresh start” and exuding optimism. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian transcribed the session.

Ricketts made no question of the goal: to return to the top of the heap in the National League Central. And he left no doubt of his belief in the roster’s ability to do it, calling the Cubs “the best team in our division.”

The Theo Epstein-led baseball operations department — what Ricketts terms “the best front office in baseball” — has acknowledged that it anticipated more significant roster turnover. But that doesn’t change the assessment for the team’s owner. Ricketts says that “everyone should feel very strongly that we have all the right pieces in place to get us back to the top.”

Bolstering his optimism is the presence of new skipper Davis Ross. Ricketts says the new hire seems thus far to be “the right guy,” labeling Ross “a really dynamic, exciting new manager.”

Was there anything else to cover? Oh, right … payroll. Jokes aside, finances dominated the conversation.

Ricketts was asked directly whether the Competitive Balance Tax threshold formed the team’s spending limit this year. He acknowledged having a budget and strongly considering the impacts of the luxury line. But Ricketts also denied that they’re one and the same, explaining that luxury penalties “aren’t defining the decisions in the front office, but they’re always a consideration in the front office.” And he said it’s always possible the organization “might stretch the budget” if circumstances warrant.

There were plenty more stretches of discussion to the same essential effect. We might sum it up this way: the Cubs have spent what they can for now, but they might consider adding more (or, presumably, could trim) depending upon how things look come late July.

Broadly, Ricketts focused on — you guessed it — sustainable winning, explaining that the club carries a “strategy of trying to be as consistent as possible to make the playoffs as often as possible.” The amount of money spent is less important than the decisions made, he emphasized several times. Neither statement reveals much of substance.

The other big issue that was addressed was the long-term relationship with star infielders Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. As for the former, Ricketts spoke fondly, largely dismissed chatter about his trade availability without ruling it out, and generally tried to strike a positive tone on the heels of a grievance proceeding that went the team’s way. Will either or both be extended, even if it’d mean stretching the future budget? “That’s in Theo’s camp,” Ricketts said, before noting that the ownership group would “have to take a look at what that all would mean for us financially.”

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Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Javier Baez: Extension Talks With Cubs Have Been “Up And Down”]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190631 2020-02-17T00:11:14Z 2020-02-17T00:10:55Z While almost all of the Cubs’ star players have been mentioned as speculative trade chips this offseason, Javier Baez has just about the one exception, as there has been more focus on the possibility that he will remain in Chicago over the long term.  The Cubs and Baez’s representatives at Wasserman began talks about a multi-year extension back in November, and Baez provided something of an update to reporters (including Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times and ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers) today, saying the negotiations had “been up and down” between the two sides.

It’s business.  It’s really tough,” Baez said.  “I’ll let them work that out, and if it works, great.  If not, we have another year.”

Most major extensions aren’t settled until Spring Training has already begun (i.e. last year’s flurry of multi-year deals around the sport), so it could be that the Baez talks still start to ramp up as we approach Opening Day.  Most players prefer to have negotiations settled before the season begins to avoid distractions, and Baez didn’t entirely close the door on talks extending into the season.  “It depends on my agency and how they want to do it.  But I do want to be focused on baseball,” the shortstop said.

At the very least, Baez’s salary for the 2020 season has already been decided, as he and the Cubs avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $10MM deal.  This was Baez’s second arb-eligible year, and he is schedule for one final trip through the arbitration process next winter before hitting free agency following the 2021 season.  Teammate Kris Bryant, notably, is under the same amount of team control, though he has been the subject of multiple trade rumors due to both his higher salary ($18.6MM in 2020) and Cubs ownership’s desire to avoid luxury tax payments, as well as the perception that Bryant (who is represented by Scott Boras) will be harder to sign to a long-term deal.

Baez is also 11 months younger than Bryant and is one of the sport’s better defenders at a premium position, making him perhaps a more attractive option for an extension than Bryant just in pure baseball terms, as much as money is obviously clearly a major factor in the Cubs’ decision-making.  From Baez’s perspective, “I wish and hope we both stay here.  Obviously, we want to keep everyone here because we have pretty much the team that won [the 2016 World Series].  We’ve got a lot of talent, and pretty much everyone is close to the same age.”

That said, Baez noted that personnel decisions are “up to [the team], to be honest,” and “It’s the business side….We’ve got to understand that and keep moving forward.”

Despite all of the buzz surrounding the Cubs all winter, the team hasn’t created many ripples in terms of actual moves, as Chicago has spent little on MLB free agents while also not moving in the other direction and unloading a star player (i.e. Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, etc.) in order to free up payroll space.  Extending Baez would help lessen the negativity that many Chicago fans have expressed about the team’s relative lack of action both this offseason and last, though it could also be the case that the Cubs still want to get one notable contract off the books before locking up Baez and expanding his current luxury tax number.

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Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Kris Bryant Discusses Grievance Case, Extensions, Trade Rumors]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190578 2020-02-16T00:12:05Z 2020-02-16T00:12:05Z Though Kris Bryant is still in a Cubs uniform as Spring Training begins, the third baseman has nonetheless been one of the offseason’s top newsmakers due to the sheer amount of speculation that has swirled around his future over the last few months.  Bryant addressed much of this speculation today, speaking to reporters (including MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian and The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma) about a variety of topics, including the service-time grievance that was finally decided at the end of January.

Though the arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Cubs, Bryant said he holds “no hard feelings whatsoever” towards the team over the service-time issue.  “I completely respect this organization and everything they’ve done for me and my family. They’ve given me an opportunity to play the game that I love every single day,” Bryant said.

The intent of the grievance, Bryant explained, was to confront a longstanding concern that players and the MLBPA have had for some time over top prospects whose promotions to the Major Leagues are delayed for seemingly thin or even outright dubious reasons in order to limit their service time.  In Bryant’s situation, the Cubs kept him in the minors to begin the 2015 season ostensibly so the then-star prospect could work on his defense, only for Bryant to get the call to Chicago’s MLB roster on April 17 — to the day, just long enough for the Cubs to gain an extra year of contractual control over Bryant’s services.

Bryant took it upon himself to file a grievance to better help future players in the same situation, and to put a spotlight on the service time issue as the league and players’ union prepare for talks about a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  “I definitely felt that responsibility to take it on,” he said.  “I want to be the guy to fight for this because I feel it’s right and it’s going to help us in two years [during CBA talks].  But I always knew it was an uphill battle.  No, I didn’t flip any tables or anything like that.  It was very respectful from the get-go.”

Though the Cubs were widely expected to win the grievance case, the chance of a decision in Bryant’s favor (which would have made him a free agent after the 2020 season rather than the 2021 season) was seen as a reason why he might still be a Cub today, as rival clubs were unwilling to trade for Bryant if they didn’t know how long he would be under team control.  While Chicago continues to explore trade possibilities, it has now been three weeks since Bryant’s case was decided, with seemingly no progress made towards a deal.

Bryant spent this winter trying to avoid trade rumors as best he could, though he said he hasn’t gotten any indications from the Cubs about any potential deals, which doesn’t fit entirely well with the former NL MVP.

I guess I would like to be in the loop a little bit,” Bryant said.  “Obviously, they don’t have to keep me in the loop by any means, you know?  But, I feel like I’ve earned a little respect here, in just how I go about my business and just who I am as a player and a person, too, to kind of sit down and have talks like that.”

While a trade is out of Bryant’s hands, he reiterated how much he would like to remain with the Cubs, and said he is “always open” to discussing a possible contract extension to remain in Wrigleyville over the long term.  It was almost exactly one year ago that Bryant told reporters that he hadn’t yet been approached by Chicago’s front office about an extension, and during Saturday’s media session, he wanted to clear the air about other contractual speculation.

The biggest thing with the trade rumors that have disappointed me is I feel like people, not everybody, but the main reasoning behind it is: Let’s get rid of him now because he doesn’t want to be here in two years,” Bryant said.  “He turned down this monster extension ’well north of $200MM.’  And I’m like, ’Where was that?  I never saw that.’  It’s just these rumors and sources and people just saying things.  The only thing that matters is what comes from my mouth.  Never once have I said I never wanted to play here.  I’m pretty sure you guys can go through all the recordings, all the interviews.  I’ve always said I respect everyone in this organization, everyone in this city, the fans.  We have it so good here.  Of course I would love to play here.”

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Rizzo Downplays Nationals’ Interest In Trade For Third Baseman]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190490 2020-02-14T21:51:45Z 2020-02-14T21:51:45Z While we’ve heard some chatter suggesting the Nationals remain interested in trading for a top-shelf third baseman, Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo downplayed the possibility in comments to assembled media members including Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington (Twitter link).

Rizzo didn’t exactly stamp out the possibility of a late-breaking addition. But he certainly poured a bucket of cold water on recent hints that the Nats could still be talking with teams like the Rockies (Nolan Arenado) and Cubs (Kris Bryant).

“We’re not looking to make a trade,” says Rizzo. “It’s nothing that’s been a priority for us in the offseason.”

It would be foolish to assume that those comments are decisive. After all, no executive would fully commit the team’s direction through the media. And Rizzo in particular has acted counter to his public indications in the past.

That said, the Nats’ multiple, smaller veteran infield additions run counter to the concept of a major trade for a third baseman. It’s possible to imagine a reshuffling of the roster that would accommodate a new star player, but the organization might’ve stayed its hand a bit more with its earlier moves if it saw that as a plausible outcome.

As things stand, the D.C. organization will seek to defend its crown by relying upon a gathering of options at third (and second) base. The team hopes that youngster Carter Kieboom can lock up the job in camp, Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com writes. Otherwise, it’ll be a matter of mixing and matching. Another inexperienced player, Jake Noll, also has a 40-man spot and could push for a shot with a big spring. Veterans Asdrubal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, and Starlin Castro all have spent time at the hot corner. Adrian Sanchez and Wilmer Difo will compete for a utility gig with veteran Emilio Bonifacio.

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[This Date In Transactions History: Cubs Get Yu]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190374 2020-02-14T04:12:14Z 2020-02-14T04:12:14Z It was on this date two years ago that one of the most expensive signings in Cubs history became official. The club added former Rangers and Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish on a six-year, $126MM guarantee. The deal gave Darvish the right to opt out after last season, which would’ve meant walking away from $81MM in favor of a free-agency mystery box, but he chose to stay in Chicago, citing a comfort with the city and the organization.

For the Cubs, the Darvish pickup came after they bowed out in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers in the prior fall. Darvish was an instrumental part of the Dodgers’ victory, as he fired 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in their Game 3 win. The hope for the Cubs was that Darvish would upgrade a rotation that was good, not great, in 2017. As a bonus, they took Darvish away from a rival, with which he was terrific after it acquired him from Texas at that summer’s trade deadline.

Darvish joined the Cubs as a 32-year-old who was eminently successful after coming over from Japan. From 2012-17, a 131-start, 832 1/3-inning run, he posted a 3.42 ERA/3.30 with a jaw-dropping 11.04 K/9 against 3.32 BB/9. There were injuries along the way, though. Darvish underwent Tommy John surgery before the 2016 campaign and missed that entire season. That was sandwiched between two years in which he combined to amass just 244 2/3 frames.

To his credit, Darvish rebounded to throw 186 2/3 effective innings in his season divided between the Rangers and Dodgers. As a result, there was quite a bit of buzz surrounding him as he headed into free agency. MLBTR ranked him as the No. 1 free agent available and predicted a six-year, $160MM payday. But that offseason moved at a more glacial pace than anticipated, and there was less money thrown around than expected. Even Darvish wasn’t immune to it. Several teams (the Rangers, Dodgers, Twins, Brewers and Yankees among them) showed interest in Darvish, but he ultimately chose to go to the Windy City.

Unfortunately for Chicago and Darvish, the first year of their union was an utter letdown. Darvish was on the injured list multiple times – including for triceps and elbow problems – totaled a mere 40 innings and didn’t pitch past May 20. To make matters worse, when Darvish was able to take the mound, he mustered a career-low 4.95 ERA/4.86 FIP with a personal-high 4.73 BB/9. While Darvish did fan a little over 11 hitters per nine, that couldn’t have been much of consolation to the Cubs, who signed him with the belief he’d deliver more than just strikeouts.

On the heels of a rough first season with the Cubs, there probably wasn’t much optimistic with regards to Darvish entering last year. And several weeks through 2019, it looked as if the downward spiral was continuing. Darvish owned a 5.01 ERA as late as July 3, but the light bulb went back on in a big way after that. He finished the season on a rampage from that point, collecting an incredible 124 strikeouts against seven walks in 88 1/3 combined innings in July, August and September. He ended the year with a respectable 3.98 ERA/4.18 FIP with 11.54 K/9 against 2.82 over a healthy amount of starts (31) and innings (178 2/3).

As great as Darvish was in the second half of 2019, his overall performance as a Cub still probably hasn’t been what the team had in mind. Indeed, when assessing president of baseball operations Theo Epstein’s highest-profile signings earlier this week, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes gave the Darvish deal a mediocre ’C’ grade. But if his recent dominance is any indication, the 33-year-old Darvish may be able to help the Cubs rebound from their postseason-less 2019 this year. If he keeps it going (not a sure thing at his age), that grade should go up.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Latest On Cubs, Kris Bryant]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190137 2020-02-14T00:47:49Z 2020-02-14T00:47:55Z TODAY: Casting further cold water on the Bryant/Arenado rumors, a source tells Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post that this speculation could be “media noise” from the Cubs themselves, trying to spur on better offers from other teams (i.e. the Phillies, Nationals, Braves) that could have interest in Bryant.

FEBRUARY 12: When Major League Basbeall’s offseason started, the Cubs looked like one of the sport’s most intriguing teams. After collapsing last season and finishing with 84 wins, there was an expectation the Cubs’ roster would undergo a drastic makeover. That hasn’t happened at all, though, and the Cubs have largely been quiet this winter. They’ve made no earth-shattering acquisitions (apologies to Steven Souza Jr., Jason Kipnis and Jeremy Jeffress) or roster-altering trades, though they have lost a few notable players – including Nicholas Castellanos and Cole Hamels – since the winter began.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed the Cubs’ offseason Tuesday, saying (via Jordan Bastian of MLB.com), “I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been as much turnover as we expected.” Epstein noted, though, that the Cubs aren’t going to make changes for the sake of it, and he still has high expectations for the team as it’s currently constructed.

Chicago does indeed have quite a bit of talent still on hand, and third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant may be atop the list. The former NL MVP continues to be the subject of trade rumors, however, and dealing him and his $18.6MM salary would enable the Cubs’ maligned ownership to get under the $208MM luxury-tax threshold in 2020. As things stand, the Cubs are projected for a tax payroll just south of $214MM, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and FanGraphs.

If the Cubs are more worried about competing than ducking the tax, the 28-year-old Bryant could remain an important cog in helping them rebound in 2020. However, multiple teams have shown interest in acquiring him. The Rangers, Rockies, Nationals and Phillies have discussed Bryant with the Cubs recently, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com.

Aside from the Rockies, who have the disgruntled Nolan Arenado at third base, those teams could use upgrades at the hot corner. There has been talk of an Arenado-Bryant swap, but that has always seemed far-fetched, and there aren’t indications that Bryant will wind up with anyone else imminently. The Cubs could instead choose to keep Bryant, attempt to push for a playoff spot this season and see where they stand around the July trade deadline. Considering that Epstein still believes in the talent the club still has, Chicago may well go that way.

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Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Angels Notes: Maddon, Cubs, Anderson, Pena, Soriano]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190350 2020-02-13T22:36:50Z 2020-02-13T22:36:50Z Joe Maddon is pleased to be returning to the Angels organization as the team’s new manager, the veteran skipper tells ESPN.com’s Alden Gonzalez.  Rumors about Maddon taking over the managerial post swirled for much of last season, and the Angels ended up being the only team Maddon officially interviewed with, after a dinner with owner Arte Moreno, team president John Carpino and GM Billy Eppler.  “I just thought it would’ve been disingenuous to accept interviews with anyone else if I truly wanted to be here.  And then, after it was all set and done, it couldn’t have been more obvious it was the right thing to do for me,” Maddon said.

Maddon also touched on his departure from Chicago, telling Gonzalez that he decided during the 2019 season that he was ready to move on from the team.  There was heavy speculation that the Cubs were planning a managerial change when no extension talks were held with Maddon prior to his last year under contract, and Maddon said some “philosophical differences” emerged following what was perceived as a disappointing 2018 season.  The front office “wanted to control more of what was occurring in just about everything,” Maddon said, as “when I started there — ’15, ’16, ’17 — it was pretty much my methods. And then all of a sudden, after ’18 going into ’19, they wanted to change everything.”

Interestingly, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein provided something of a counterpoint to Maddon’s statement, telling The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma that he didn’t feel any “philosophical differences” existed with Maddon.  Epstein didn’t entirely deny that the front office played a larger role in 2019, as while he didn’t see the extra attention as overly controlling, he felt he had to address what he saw as a “growing organizational complacency” in the clubhouse.  “I think his [Maddon’s] approach was more that things will work themselves out.  These are great players, let them play and these things will work out,” Epstein said.  “From my perspective, there was a little bit more cause for concern.  It wasn’t an everyday thing that I would try to step in and offer feedback, help and remind about expectations.”

Some more out of Anaheim…

  • Right-hander Justin Anderson will be out for four-to-six weeks and will begin the season on the injured list, Maddon told MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger and other reporters.  Anderson suffered a Grade 2 strain in his left oblique while playing catch on Tuesday.  The 27-year-old is entering his third season in Los Angeles and looking to improve on an injury-hampered 2019 that saw Anderson post a 5.55 ERA over 47 relief innings, while battling a trapezoid issue.
  • Maddon also provided an update (to the Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya and other reporters) on right-hander Felix Pena, who is expected to be ready for Opening Day.  Pena tore his right ACL last August and had a projected recovery time of six-to-nine months, though it seems as if Pena is progressing well and won’t require the long end of that projection.  Pena has a 4.38 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and 3.00 K/BB rate over 189 innings since the Angels acquired him in a deal with the Cubs during the 2017-18 offseason, with Pena starting 24 of his 41 games as a semi-regular rotation fill-in for the Halos’ many pitching injuries.  Most notably, Pena tossed the final seven innings of the Angels’ combined no-hitter on July 12, entering the game as the bulk pitcher after opener Taylor Cole.
  • Angels pitching prospect Jose Soriano will miss the entire 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo reports (Twitter link).  At the end of last season, MLB Pipeline ranked the right-hander as the ninth-best minor leaguer in the Angels’ farm system, praising Soriano’s “electric fastball” that sits in the 97-98mph range and a breaking ball that “trends towards being a plus pitch.”  The 21-year-old Soriano is coming off a solid season spent mostly at A-ball Burlington, posting a 2.55 ERA, 9.7 K/9, and 1.75 K/BB rate over 77 2/3 innings (starting 15 of 17 games).
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Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Grading Theo Epstein’s Cubs Free Agent Signings]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190071 2020-02-13T19:02:10Z 2020-02-13T17:00:01Z Theo Epstein has served as the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations for nine offseasons now.  With an eye on contending beginning in 2015, the club committed at least $191MM in three of four offseasons.  The Cubs were able to avoid paying the luxury tax in 2018, resetting their penalty percentages for 2019.  Under the designation of a first-time payor, the club received a $7.6MM luxury tax bill for ’19.  For 2020, it appears Cubs ownership under the Ricketts family is again treating the base tax threshold – $208MM for 2020 – as something of a salary cap.  Based on the team’s quiet offseason, it appears that the Ricketts aren’t willing to go much beyond that point.

Had the Cubs brushed up against the second surcharge threshold of $248MM, they would have been subject to a tax bill in the neighborhood of $14MM, and could have potentially reset in 2021 with Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood coming off the books.  Given that relatively modest one-time penalty, the question must be asked: is there more at play in the Ricketts’ unwillingness to spend?  For example, could ownership’s reluctance to spend be a function of Epstein’s track record in free agency?  In other words, can the Cubs’ top exec be trusted with the checkbook?

To answer that question, I’ve assigned a letter grade to each of Epstein’s 15 Cubs free agent signings of $10MM or more.  Aside from the grades, this will also provide context on how the Cubs got to their present situation.  Note that this analysis omits some effective bargain contracts, such as the Cubs’ 2012 signing of pitcher Scott Feldman.  That signing netted the Cubs Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop in a trade months later, which turned out to be a masterstroke.  Still, that’s more a testament to Epstein’s trading ability than a measure of his track record in signing significant free agents.

The Rebuilding Years

David DeJesus – signed on 11/30/11 for two years, $10MM.  Grade: B

What we said at the time: Given the lack of offense he provided the Athletics, DeJesus didn’t come at a bargain price for the Cubs. Still, the 32-year-old will be worth the money if he bounces back in his first extended National League exposure. 

DeJesus was Epstein’s first free agent signing of his Cubs tenure.  This signing worked out fine.  At the time, the Cubs were still running out the clock on left fielder Alfonso Soriano’s deal, while they had little to speak of in right or center field.  DeJesus wound up leading the team in defensive innings at both of those positions in 2012, and served as a classic second-division regular.  In August of the second year of DeJesus’ contract, the Cubs essentially gave him away to the Nationals to avoid paying his remaining $2.5MM.

Edwin Jackson – signed on 12/20/12 for four years, $52MM.  Grade: F

What we said at the time: They paid about market value for Jackson, which could net a profit if he improves. The contract will make more sense to me if the Cubs aim to contend in 2014. Otherwise, they won’t get a lot out of the first half of the contract, when Jackson is closest to his prime. A contract of this nature might have been a better move during the 2013-14 offseason, when the team will be presumably closer to winning.

Jackson was Epstein’s first major free agent signing for the Cubs, and at the time the move had a “this money is burning a hole in our pocket” vibe.  The Cubs had run parallel pursuits of the second and third-best free agent starters that winter, Jackson and Anibal Sanchez.  You probably don’t remember it this way because Sanchez’s deal ended poorly, but his first two seasons of that five-year, $80MM deal with the Tigers were good enough to pay for almost the entire contract.

Jackson’s selling point was taking the ball every fifth day and putting up an ERA around 4.00, perhaps with a little bit of upside to unlock.  Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said at the time, “He pitched all of last year at 28 years old, he’s been incredibly durable, had some really excellent seasons during his time in the big leagues, and we actually think his best days are ahead of him.”  That position was a reasonable one, although Jackson still seemed unnecessary for a team with two rebuilding seasons ahead of it.  More sensible were the Cubs’ smaller rotation depth deals that winter, for Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, and Carlos Villanueva.

Ultimately, Jackson bombed in Chicago, making 58 starts with a 5.58 ERA over the first two seasons.  By June of the third year, the righty was released.  The lesson, perhaps, was not to spend significant money on non-star free agents.   

Carlos Villanueva – signed on 12/20/12 for two years, $10MM.  Grade: B

What we said at the time: He’ll be a useful swingman.

Villanueva was indeed able to serve as a useful swingman for the 2013-14 Cubs, providing 20 starts due to a Matt Garza injury and the Feldman, Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trades.  But it wasn’t hard to move him back to the bullpen when the Cubs needed a spot for Arrieta.

There’s a gap here, as the Cubs had a quiet 2013-14 offseason.  It wasn’t for lack of trying, however, as they made a $120MM bid for Masahiro Tanaka.

Creating a Winner

Jason Hammel – signed on 12/12/14 for two years, $20MM.  Grade: B

What we said at the time: Signing Hammel would help them stabilize the middle of their rotation, but presumably would not preclude them from continuing to pursue an ace like Lester. The reported terms make for an attractive price for Chicago.

The Cubs had included Hammel with Samardzija in the trade that netted them Addison Russell from Oakland in the summer of 2014, and then they brought Hammel back as a free agent in December.  The team was able to avoid a three-year commitment and add a secondary rotation piece as Epstein made his first real push for contention.  Though Hammel failed to make an impact in the playoffs in his time with the Cubs, he provided solid regular season work with a 3.79 ERA across 61 regular season starts.

Jon Lester – signed on 12/13/14 for six years, $155MM.  Grade: A

What we said at the time: The lofty $155MM price tag matched expectations, and after years of conserving payroll, the Cubs can certainly afford it. The Cubs need their new ace to be a workhorse, a trait that’s missing from the team’s other projected starters. Any deal of this magnitude and length for a starting pitcher carries a lot of risk, but the Lester signing addressed the team’s biggest need without sacrificing young cornerstone players or a draft pick.

The Cubs put a monumental effort into their pursuit of Lester, convincing him that the team was ready to contend.  His signing marked a turning point for the franchise.  Lester delivered, especially on the front end of the deal with 9.1 WAR in the first two seasons and 35 2/3 superb, crucial frames in their 2016 postseason run.  The Cubs don’t win the World Series without Lester, cementing his status as a franchise legend.  Even as Lester transitions into more of a back-rotation arm, he’s continued to provide the Cubs with solid innings, meaning the Cubs will likely get an even-money return on their investment.

The Cubs signed Lester in the 2014-15 offseason, and also pursued free agents Russell Martin and James Shields that winter.  After the 2015 club surprisingly reached the NLCS, the Cubs pushed in more chips on their heaviest-spending offseason to date.

John Lackey – signed on 12/4/15 for two years, $32MM.  Grade: B

What we said at the time: I thought Lackey would command a three-year deal even at his advanced age and with a qualifying offer attached, so plucking him from the Cardinals on a two-year term was a big win. 

After entering the offseason seeking impact starting pitching, the Cubs finished a “distant third” to the Red Sox in the bidding for David Price, according to Epstein.  That led him to a much more modest commitment with Lackey.  Lackey’s tenure with the Cubs was similar to that of Hammel: good value in his first season with the team, and minimal postseason impact.

Ben Zobrist – signed on 12/8/15 for four years, $56MM.  Grade: A

What we said at the time: I was surprised by the Cubs’ plan to move Castro to make room for a second baseman from outside the organization. Instead of plugging Baez in at second base, the Cubs went with veteran Ben Zobrist, who turns 35 in May. Zobrist served as Joe Maddon’s Swiss Army knife for six seasons after establishing himself in the Majors with the Rays. While Zobrist may not be the defensive asset he once was, he’s still an excellent high-contact hitter and potential three-win player. The Cubs should get good value with Zobrist at $14MM a year, despite the riskiness of signing a player through age 38. He’s a clear improvement over Castro, and with the Yankees taking on Castro’s contract, two-thirds of Zobrist’s deal is covered.

Like Lester, Zobrist became an integral part of the Cubs’ 2016 championship team, winning World Series MVP.  The distribution of his regular season value to the Cubs was uneven, with two seasons of around 4 WAR and two that were close to zero.  Ultimately, Zobrist gave the Cubs much more than $56MM worth of value.

Jason Heyward – signed on 12/11/2015 for eight years, $184MM.  Grade: D

What we said at the time: I was surprised to see the Cubs aggressively pursuing Jason Heyward, because right field didn’t seem like a primary need for the club. Nonetheless, they signed the offseason’s best position player to an eight-year deal guaranteeing $184MM. That the Cubs will effectively be signing Heyward away from the Cardinals only sweetens the deal for the club. Including an opt-out clause was a prerequisite to signing Heyward, who was an unusually young free agent at 26 years old. Now that the Cubs have Heyward and this contract, they have to hope he does opt out after 2018, making this a three-year, $78MM deal. If Heyward’s 2018 season is good enough to compel him to opt out (to which Matt Swartz assigns a 50% likelihood), then it likely means the Cubs got more than their money’s worth.

The best available free agent that winter – David Price – matched the Cubs’ desire for an impact starting pitcher.  Once Price signed with the Red Sox, the Cubs pivoted to the second-best available free agent in Heyward, much like the Angels signing Anthony Rendon after missing out on Gerrit Cole this winter.  The plan was for Heyward to serve as the Cubs’ center fielder, a position he had rarely played in the past but was thought to be able to handle due to his stellar right field defense.

Defense and baserunning made up a large part of Heyward’s value, but he was still a 116 wRC+ hitter over the three previous seasons.  Heyward was, in essence, a younger version of Carl Crawford: a low-power corner outfielder known for great defense and baserunning and a decent bat.  Crawford, signed by Epstein in Boston five years prior, became an epic bust.  Halfway through Heyward’s contract with the Cubs, the results have been similarly disappointing.  Heyward has managed to climb his way up to league average offense in the past two seasons, resulting in a pair of 2 WAR campaigns.  It’s not nearly enough for a player earning $23MM a year.  Barring a return to form, Heyward’s contract could wind up more than $100MM underwater for the Cubs.

A Cubs fan might be inclined to say, “Hey, it’s not my money, and you can’t put a dollar value on the rousing speech Heyward delivered in Cleveland during the rain delay of Game 7 of the World Series.”  Those things are true.  We can’t know whether Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist, and Miguel Montero would have gotten those hits without the speech or if Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery would have held onto the lead in the bottom of the inning.  But we do know that Heyward has failed to live up to his contract on the field, and that he’s a large part of the payroll crunch that has kept the Cubs from improving the team the past two winters.  Long thought to be of interest to the Cubs, Bryce Harper inked a contract with the Phillies with an average annual value only $2MM beyond that of Heyward.

Dexter Fowler – signed on 2/25/16 for one year, $13MM.  Grade: A

What we said at the time: Fowler’s talks with the Orioles fell apart when they wouldn’t give him an opt-out clause, and the Cubs swooped in with a low-risk one-year deal. While it’s true the Cubs sacrificed another potential draft pick, Fowler basically fell into their laps.

From a team perspective, when a low-risk free agent opportunity comes along, even after Spring Training starts, the payoff can be huge if you can find a few coins in the couch cushions and snag the player.  The Cubs had all but moved on from Fowler, but when he became available for one year and $13MM, they found the money and moved Heyward back to his natural position.  The unexpected contract became critical to the Cubs’ 2016 championship, as Fowler put up 4.6 WAR in the regular season and led off Game 7 of the World Series with a home run.

Attempting To Add Pitching

Tyler Chatwood – signed on 12/7/17 for three years, $38MM.  Grade: D-

What we said at the time: After coming up short on returning expat Miles Mikolas, the Cubs signed former Rockie Tyler Chatwood to a surprisingly large contract for a pitcher coming off a 4.69 ERA. Now that he’s out of Colorado, Chatwood has several things going for him: his age (28), his ability to induce groundballs, and a fastball approaching 95 miles per hour. Though it was surprising to see Chatwood land at nearly $13MM a year, he’s a solid upside choice to replace Lackey.

The Cubs were unwilling to go beyond $15.5MM for Mikolas – who ended up having a spectacular 2018 season – and instead set the market for Chatwood.  You might be noticing a trend here: when Epstein has won the bidding for a youthful free agent the Cubs perceive to have upside – Edwin Jackson, Jason Heyward, and Tyler Chatwood – the contracts have gone terribly.  Chatwood’s longstanding problem with the Rockies had been a lack of control, and the Cubs weren’t able to fix that.  In fact, in 2018, Chatwood walked nearly 20% of batters faced, by far the worst in the game among those with 100 innings.  Chatwood’s contract seems likely to land him the Cubs’ fifth starter job out of camp in 2020.  It’s another case of the Ricketts’ recent fiscal conservatism preventing the team from making upgrades – obviously the free agent and trade markets offered better alternatives for the Cubs’ rotation this winter.

Brandon Morrow – signed on 12/10/17 for two years, $21MM.  Grade: D-

What we said at the time: While his contract is reasonable, the risk comes in the Cubs’ reliance upon a pitcher with Morrow’s lengthy injury history and heavy 2017 postseason workload. Given the volatility of relievers, the contract itself is no riskier than those given to Wade Davis, Mike Minor, Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, Tommy Hunter, Juan Nicasio, and others.

In 2017, Morrow emerged from a minor league deal and a long injury history to serve a key role in the Dodgers’ World Series run.  Though he may have been burned out pitching 13 2/3 postseason innings, Morrow’s only real blemish was a four-run drubbing in Houston at the hands of George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa that cost the Dodgers Game 5 of the World Series.  HMMMM.

It wasn’t trash can banging that did Morrow in with the Cubs, however.  He made it only to mid-July of the contract’s first season and hasn’t appeared in the Majors since due to injuries, though Morrow is currently healthy and in camp with the Cubs on a minor league deal.  To be fair, the 2017-18 offseason is so littered with free agent reliever busts that it’s difficult to say Epstein should have known better and signed, say, Craig Stammen.

Drew Smyly – signed on 12/12/17 for two years, $10MM.  Grade: D

What we said at the time: The Cubs quietly made a different free agent signing with a Maddon/Hickey connection, lefty Drew Smyly. Smyly had undergone Tommy John surgery in June of 2017, and was signed with an eye toward the 2019 rotation. If Smyly returns to full health and ability for 2019, the Cubs will have a good kind of problem on their hands in that they’ll have six established starting pitchers under control for that season.  

Though it’s only been two years, the Cubs seem far removed from a time when they would throw $10MM at a pitcher in hopes that he could provide depth a full season into the future.  Smyly was a luxury and a depth stash, and while he did return to a Major League mound in 2019, it wasn’t for the Cubs.  In the first omen of the club’s clamping down on payroll, Smyly was shipped to the Rangers as a pure salary dump so that the Cubs could “afford” Cole Hamels’ club option.  That the Cubs unloaded $7MM of Smyly’s contract and he was subsequently terrible for most of 2019 saves this from an F grade, but it’s hard to say whether Epstein got lucky or actually expected the lefty to struggle.

Steve Cishek – signed on 12/14/17 for two years, $13MM.  Grade: B

What we said at the time: Cishek, 31, has had a few ups and downs at times in recent years and has played with four organizations in the past three seasons. For the most part, though, he has continued to function as a quality setup option. The sidearming Cishek will offer a different look out of a re-worked Cubs pen.

It’s hard to complain about the results the Cubs got out of Cishek, who posted a 2.55 ERA across 134 1/3 innings in his two seasons.  Though he was generous with free passes, hitters generally couldn’t square him up.

Yu Darvish – signed on 2/10/18 for six years, $126MM.  Grade: C

What we said at the time: Darvish’s $21MM average annual value was surprisingly low. Like other big market teams, the Cubs are intent on staying below the $197MM competitive balance tax threshold, and the sixth year given to Darvish helped accomplish that. With Darvish in the fold alongside Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood, the reigning NL Central champs will have one of the more complete (and formidable) rotations in all of baseball. 

Darvish’s debut season with the Cubs in 2018 was a disaster, as he made only eight starts due to injuries.  At that point, his contract looked like quite the albatross.  Even as late as July 3rd of the 2019 season, the righty’s ERA sat at 5.01.  Then, he reeled off a 13-start run with a 2.76 ERA, 118 strikeouts, and a mere seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.  A pitcher who had exhibited lousy control for the Cubs suddenly had the best control in baseball.  Darvish’s turnaround and the potential for strong work in the final four years of his contract means this contract could become a win for the Cubs.  Of course, Darvish is 33 now, so it could easily go south as well.

Craig Kimbrel – signed on 6/5/19 for three years, $43MM.  Grade: F

What we said at the time: With a career 1.91 ERA, 14.7 K/9, and 4.23 K/BB rate over nine seasons and 532 2/3 career innings, Kimbrel’s resume could very well eventually land him in Cooperstown down the road. While 2018 wasn’t as dominant as some of his past years, Kimbrel still seemed to have a viable platform year with a 2.74 ERA, 13.86 K/9, and 3.10 K/BB over 62 1/3 frames for the World Series-champion Red Sox.  Beyond the surface numbers, however, there were some red flags. It was hard to ignore Kimbrel’s increased struggles in the second half of last season, and then through Boston’s playoff run. 

It could be a win-win situation for Chicago, as the team looks to both avoid the top tax threshold while also getting a closer to bolster a bullpen that has generally been around the middle of the pack this season. The looming question could concern Kimbrel’s effectiveness, as other players whose qualifying offer-induced long waits in free agency (Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales in 2014) both struggled badly after sitting out months of the season.

That concern from MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk proved prescient, as Kimbrel posted a 6.53 ERA while allowing nine home runs, more than a hit per inning, and a 12.5 BB% in his 20 2/3 innings.  Kimbrel has two more seasons with the Cubs to turn the contract around, with the possibility of an additional season vesting.  You can see how one bad signing begat another.  Morrow was unable to serve as the team’s closer in 2019 as planned, pushing the Cubs to use the money they saved from Ben Zobrist’s leave of absence on Kimbrel.  Now, due to Kimbrel’s presence and contract, the biggest addition to a questionable bullpen this winter was Jeremy Jeffress.

Of these 15 free agent contracts, Darvish, Heyward, Lester, Kimbrel, and Chatwood remain on the books for 2020.  For luxury tax purposes, that’s just under $97MM.  Epstein was able to win a World Series in Chicago in part due to free agent contracts for Lester, Zobrist, Fowler, and Lackey, but missteps on other players have led to the Ricketts family turning off the spigot – perhaps even at the expense of contention.

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Ben Zobrist Reportedly Not Planning To Play In 2020]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190185 2020-02-12T18:16:19Z 2020-02-12T18:16:19Z Veteran utilityman Ben Zobrist is not planning to play in the current season, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). While nothing seems to have been set in stone, it now appears unlikely that the 38-year-old will resume his career.

This is hardly a surprising outcome given the course of the 2019 season. Zobrist took time away from the Cubs to deal with family matters, sacrificing some of his salary in the final season of his $64MM deal. When he was available, Zobrist generally struggled.

The switch-hitting, do-it-all performer didn’t lose his impeccable plate discipline last year, as he drew 23 walks against 24 strikeouts in 176 plate appearances. But his power all but disappeared, as he managed only six extra-base hits and a .313 slugging percentage to go with his .358 OBP.

If indeed this is the end of the line, Zobrist will finish with a .266/.357/.426 lifetime triple-slash — which works out to a 116 wRC+. He added big value with his multi-positional defensive acumen and quality baserunning, leaving him with a tally of 44.4 fWAR and 45.2 rWAR over his 14 campaigns in the majors.

Along the way, Zobrist played a pivotal role in redefining the way teams build their rosters. He was an everyday player in Tampa Bay, appearing in 153 games annually between 2009 and 2014 with the Rays, but he moved all over the field. That helped the creative organization find more ways to utilize platoons and achieve small advantages, a strategy that has since expanded, dovetailed with other trends, and turned into a rather normal occurrence around the game.

Of course, few if any super-utility types have anything approaching Zobrist’s ability with the bat and glove. In his best season, 2009, Zobrist ran up a monster 152 wRC+ and 8.7 fWAR. That sort of ability made his early-career extension one of the game’s most valuable contracts for a stretch. He was a hotly pursued trade commodity in advance of his final of team control, when he moved to the Athletics and then on to the Royals for the K.C. World Series run. And Zobrist drew interest from many clubs in the ensuing winter, ultimately landing with the Cubs on a four-year deal — a remarkable pact given that he was heading into his age-35 season.

It seems the Chicago stint will prove a finishing act for Zobrist. He struggled in 2017 and 2019, but was an All-Star for the third time in 2016. Zobrist not only helped the Cubbies reach the World Series, but took home the MVP award for his big role in helping the club end the curse. He was again a strong performer in 2018, easily justifying the club’s overall investment.

If this is it for Zobrist, then MLBTR offers a tip of the cap for an excellent career.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[MLBTR Video: Minor League Deals; Red Sox Name Roenicke Interim Manager; Cubs Still Talking Kris Bryant Trades]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190170 2020-02-12T16:23:13Z 2020-02-12T16:23:13Z Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Kipnis, and Trevor Cahill landed minor league deals, the Red Sox named Ron Roenicke interim manager and are discussing a deal with Kevin Pillar, and the Cubs are still discussing Kris Bryant trades. Jeff Todd has you covered in today’s video!

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Steve Adams <![CDATA[Cubs, Jason Kipnis Agree To Minor League Deal]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190063 2020-02-11T23:11:21Z 2020-02-11T23:08:45Z 5:08pm: The two sides have agreed to a deal, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Kipnis, a Beverly Hills Sports Council client, will earn $1MM if he makes the club. He can boost that base salary via performance bonuses.

3:30pm: The Cubs are “zeroing in” on free-agent second baseman Jason Kipnis, tweets ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. Jordan Bastian of MLB.com adds that the two sides are working to finish up a minor league deal and non-roster invite to Spring Training. Kipnis still has to take a physical before any deal is complete, however.

Kipnis, 32, was once a star-caliber second baseman with the Indians, who signed him to a $52.5MM extension back in 2014. He was excellent both in 2013 and 2015, making a pair of All-Star teams and garnering MVP votes in each of those seasons. On the whole, from the time he debuted through the completion of the 2016 season, Kipnis batted a combined .272/.345/.423 while averaging 17 homers, 38 doubles and 25 steals per 162 games played.

However, over the pat three seasons, Kipnis simply hasn’t hit much, combining for just a .236/.305/.403 slash (86 OPS+) in 1485 plate appearances. His decline eliminated any surprise over the Indians’ decision to pay a $2.5MM buyout on what once looked to be a reasonable $16.5MM club option for the 2020 season.

The Cubs’ second base mix is muddled, at best. Nico Hoerner hit .282 in 82 plate appearances late in the year but managed only a .305 on-base percentage. He’s also yet to play a game in Triple-A. Former first-round pick Ian Happ has yet to establish himself in the Majors, and late-blooming David Bote has been more of a utility player than an everyday option at Wrigley. The versatile Daniel Descalso flopped in his first year with Chicago, posting an alarming .173/.271/.250 slash in 194 plate appearances. Non-roster options include Hernan Perez, Carlos Asuaje and Corban Joseph. The Chicago-born Kipnis, however, figures to have a very legitimate chance of cracking the roster and suiting up to play his home games at Wrigley Field — just 19 miles from the high school he attended.

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Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Cubs Still Discussing Kris Bryant Trade Scenarios]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190019 2020-02-11T14:54:14Z 2020-02-11T14:54:14Z Spring Training is already getting rolling, but it seems there’s still some possibility for a big deal or two. The Cubs are still talking through possible Kris Bryant trade scenarios with rival organizations, according to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription link).

There’s still no indication that Bryant is particularly likely to be dealt, or that talks are especially hot and heavy with any given team. But the Chicago organization is not only “still active in the trade market,” per Mooney, but is “feeling a sense of urgency to do something” to improve the roster.

Potential landing spots remain as obvious as ever on paper — and as obscure as ever in terms of firm public knowledge. Mooney says the Rockies and Cubs still haven’t “completely dismissed” sorting out a wild swap involving Nolan Arenado, but it remains awfully hard to see that coming together.

Otherwise, we can only assess reasonable fits based upon an analysis of rosters, balance sheets, and tangential reporting. The Rangers make a good bit of conceptual sense as a match. It seems fair to wonder whether the Padres could engage the Cubs after missing on Mookie Betts, with the idea of utilizing Bryant in the corner outfield. The Phillies certainly could stand to improve at third base; the Braves and Nationals also make some degree of sense.

As much as anything, the still-open situation makes for added intrigue as the Cubs prepare to launch a fascinating spring. The team is not only attempting a cultural re-boot, but still has quite a few roster and playing-time situations to sort through. And there’ll be no shortage of scrutiny after another deafeningly quiet winter on the transactional front.

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Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Willson Contreras Discusses Trade Rumors, Future]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190013 2020-02-11T07:02:26Z 2020-02-11T07:02:26Z With the Cubs fresh off a letdown of a season and perhaps seeking to shake up their core, catcher Willson Contreras was the subject of trade speculation at the beginning of the winter. Contreras hasn’t gone anywhere, though, and now looks likely to begin the 2020 campaign as a member of the Cubs – the only organization he has known since signing out of Venezuela in 2009.

The 27-year-old Contreras discussed trade buzz centering on him Monday, saying (via Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times): “This past winter, the trade rumors were more consistent than the year before, and I was aware of it. I was trying to not pay attention to it, but it was impossible. Every time I was on social media, a new article was coming out about me being traded. Now that I’m here, I feel blessed once again. I’m happy to be here. I love this organization and my teammates. I’m really excited to have another great 2020 season with all my team.”

At last check, the Cubs weren’t pleased with the offers they’d gotten for Contreras. He’s one of the most valuable catchers in the game, and there weren’t many high-end backstops available in free agency, so they understandably held out for a sizable return. To this point, though, no club has presented a proposal acceptable enough for the Cubs.

Now, it appears Contreras will at least start the upcoming campaign as a Cub. And despite the rumors that have surrounded him, Contreras is open to remaining a Cub for the long haul. Contereras, who batted .272/.355/.533 with 24 home runs in 409 plate appearances last season, is willing to discuss a long-term deal with the team. He said Monday that he’s “always going to be open about talking to the Cubs about an extension.”

There haven’t been any extension talks between Contreras and the Cubs this offseason, according to Wittenmyer. However, Chicago’s not under immediate pressure to lock up the two-time All-Star. Contreras is under control via arbitration for the next three seasons, and he’ll make $4.5MM in 2020. That salary’s a bargain relative to what he brings to the table.

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