Chicago Cubs – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-06-06T02:40:39Z WordPress Connor Byrne <![CDATA[The Other Chris Archer Trades]]> 2020-06-06T02:40:39Z 2020-06-06T02:24:01Z Pirates right-hander Chris Archer has been among the most prominent major leaguers in the news this week. Archer just underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, meaning he won’t pitch until at least 2021. It also means his tenure could be done in Pittsburgh, which will have to decide between an $11MM club option and a $250K buyout next winter.

Archer’s surgery came as the latest disastrous development during his time with the Pirates, who made an ill-fated trade with the Rays to acquire him in July 2018. For the sake of Pirates fans, who have witnessed Archer struggle mightily in their favorite team’s uniform and have seen two of the players their club gave up flourish as Rays, we’re not going to recap that trade for the umpteenth time. But we are going to look back at other trades involving Archer. Long before he became a Pirate, Archer was part of a couple other notable deals.

First off, Archer entered the pros as a 17-year-old and a fifth-round pick of the Indians in 2006. Archer struggled to prevent runs as part of the Indians’ system through 2008, and after that season, the club traded him, righty Jeff Stevens and lefty John Gaub to the Cubs for infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa. Cleveland didn’t get a full season out of DeRosa, whom the team flipped to the Cardinals in June 2009 after he batted a solid .270/.342/.457 in 314 plate appearances and 71 games as an Indian.

What of the Cubs’ return for DeRosa? Stevens combined for 37 1/3 innings of 6.27 ERA ball as a Cub from 2009-11. Gaub made even less of an impact in Chicago, with which he threw the only 2 2/3 innings of his career in 2011. Archer never appeared in the majors with the organization, but he turned around his fortunes as a Cubs minor leaguer and began cracking top 100 prospects lists as a member of the franchise. Still, that wasn’t enough for the Cubs to keep him.

After the 2010 season, when Archer topped out as Baseball America’s 27th-best prospect, the Cubs dealt him to the Rays in a blockbuster. Along with Archer, the Cubs surrendered shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Robinson Chirinos, and outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer for righty Matt Garza, outfielder Fernando Perez and lefty Zac Rosscup.

The Cubs got nothing from Perez, who never appeared in the majors with them, and very little from Rosscup (he posted a 5.32 ERA over 47 1/3 frames and parts of four seasons in their uniform). On the other hand, Garza was effective in Chicago from 2011-13. Though the team failed to push for the playoffs during that stretch, Garza turned in 372 2/3 innings of 3.45 ERA pitching with 8.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. However, as a non-contender in July 2013, Chicago sent Garza – a soon-to-be free agent – to Texas for third baseman Mike Olt and the righty trio of Carl Edwards Jr., Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez.

As for the Rays’ return, Lee never made it to MLB, even though he was a highly regarded prospect in his younger days. He’s now playing with the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization. Chirinos has evolved into a fine offensive catcher, though he only took 60 plate appearances with the Rays in 2011 before they traded him to the Rangers two years later. Fuld played from 2011-13 in Tampa Bay, where he batted .230/.301/.326 in 653 attempts. Guyer appeared with the Rays in parts of four seasons from ’11-15 and slashed .255/.341/.396 over 978 PA.

While none of Lee, Chirinos, Fuld or Guyer offered especially valuable production as Rays, Archer thrived. He piled up 177 starts and amassed 1,063 innings of 3.69 ERA/3.48 FIP ball with 9.7 K/9 and 2.94 BB/9 as part of the team from 2011-18, during which he earned two All-Star nods and signed the six-year, $25.5MM extension he’s still playing under.

Many have been tough on Archer on account of what has been a rough run in Pittsburgh, but he’s the same player who once made the Rays look like geniuses for adding him. That makes his recent fall from grace all the more surprising, and it’s anyone’s guess whether a rebound will be in store in the wake of TOS surgery.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Replacing Lester And Quintana]]> 2020-06-03T14:41:03Z 2020-06-03T03:00:48Z At present, the Cubs have only two starting pitchers under contract for the 2021 season: Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks.  The Cubs actually control Darvish through 2023 and Hendricks through ’24, so they’ll continue as rotation mainstays into their mid-30s.  The pair combined for 355 2/3 innings of 3.72 ball in 2019, and they’ll earn a total of $36MM in 2021.  It’s a good starting point, but the Cubs have to address 60% of their rotation before the 2021 season.

The Cubs’ Three Free Agents

Jon Lester’s time with the Cubs has been a clear success no matter what else happens, and he’ll never have to buy his own drink in Chicago.  The lefty will turn 37 prior to the ’21 season.  Is there a way he continues with the Cubs?  The easiest path would be through his current contract, which guarantees his $25MM mutual option for 2021 with 200 innings pitched in 2020.  Obviously Lester can’t reach that number in a shortened season, but such benchmarks would become prorated.  Meaning if MLB teams play an 81-game season, Lester’s goal would become 100 innings.

Lester has averaged 5.62 innings per start over the past three years, so in a half-season he’d either need to go deeper into games or make 18 starts to reach 100 innings.  In a recent chat with WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Lester talked about the need for pitchers to ramp up carefully to avoid injury, and it’s doubtful he’d push himself well past six innings per start just to get his option to vest.   I suppose in the most extreme example, MLB could follow through on its 50-game schedule threat, dropping Lester’s benchmark to about 62 innings.  He could theoretically pull that off in 10 starts, but it still seems physically risky to push to a level he hasn’t reached in years.

On the Cubs’ end, they likely prefer the $10MM buyout to locking Lester in for $25MM.  So new manager and former Lester battery-mate David Ross could encounter a delicate situation, where if Lester somehow kicks off a 2020 season going deeper into games, Ross’ bosses might push for earlier hooks.  Ultimately, though, I don’t expect Lester’s option to vest, in which case it’s a mutual one.  It’s rare that both sides exercise such an option, meaning Lester would become a free agent.  Working out a new short-term deal could be tricky, with the Cubs already on the hook for a significant $10MM buyout.

The Cubs also stand to lose Jose Quintana to free agency.  Quintana, who will turn 32 prior to next season, hasn’t quite gotten the results the Cubs hoped for after giving up Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for him in July 2017.  In his time with the Cubs, Q has posted a 4.23 ERA over 429 2/3 innings.  His impressive durability has remained intact, but the southpaw has dropped to about 5.4 innings per start since 2018.  By a results-based measure, Baseball Reference WAR, Quintana was at just 1.4 in 2019.  FanGraphs WAR, rooted in the Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stat, puts him at a healthy 3.5 – rewarding respectable strikeout, walk, and home run numbers but ignoring his allowing 10.1 hits per nine innings.

Wherever you land on WAR, it’s fair to say Quintana projects to be better than 2019’s 4.68 ERA.  170 solid innings of 4.30 ball might be a reasonable expectation moving forward.  It’s not clear yet on what the qualifying offer may look like if teams play a shortened 2020 season, so it’s impossible to say whether the Cubs would offer one.  My guess is that they would not make the offer, instead maintaining their financial flexibility.  That’s what they did with Cole Hamels last winter.

Though he’s penciled in as the Cubs’ fifth starter for 2020, Tyler Chatwood’s contract has been a bust for the Cubs, and he’ll surely be allowed to leave via free agency.

Internal Options

What options do the Cubs have to fill a rotation spot internally?  There’s Alec Mills, the soft-tossing righty who turns 29 in November.  Mills was a candidate for the Cubs’ fifth starter job this spring, so he’ll likely be in the mix next year as well.  Adbert Alzolay, 26 next March, would be in the running again as well.  Alzolay pitched 109 innings in total over the past two seasons, and Mills hasn’t been particularly successful even at Triple-A.  Both pitchers are depth options, and if they’re favorites for a 2021 rotation job, it will be because they’re affordable.

Lefty Brailyn Marquez is the crown jewel of the Cubs’ farm system, but he’s yet to pitch above High A and projects for a 2022 ETA.  Even that goal could be pushed back given the lack of a minor league season this year.  The Cubs do have a few starters with experience at Double-A or above in Cory Abbott, Tyson Miller, and Justin Steele, all of whom have ceilings at as back-end starters according to Baseball America.  The bottom line?  The Cubs need to add at least two starters from outside before next season, and possibly three.

Free Agency

After paying a $7.6MM luxury tax bill for 2019, the Cubs were looking to stay under the $208MM payroll mark in 2020 as a means of resetting the escalating penalties.  The Cubs won’t get a free reset if the 2020 season is canceled, but if games are played the club will likely maintain their goal of staying below the base tax threshold.  It’s also possible that the luxury tax will be temporarily reduced in some way as part of the current negotiation between MLB and the players’ union, to grease offseason spending.  If the Cubs don’t spend money during the 2020-21 offseason, I don’t expect the luxury tax to be the reason again.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts recently claimed that “about 70 percent of the revenue that comes into our organization comes in on day of game.”  He also said, “We’ve already lost half that season, so in a best-case scenario, we’re looking at recovering maybe 20 percent of our total income.”  We’ll never know the real financial picture, but obviously the Cubs won’t make nearly as much money as they expected to in 2020.  It’s easy to see this being the justification for modest free agent spending.  Still, there almost has to be some money to spend if the salaries of Lester, Quintana, and Chatwood come off the books.

While some of the savings could be offset by arbitration raises for players like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras, it’s impossible to project what those arbitration raises will look like after a shortened season.  I imagine we’d be subjected to a fundamental disagreement across baseball on whether a half-season should result in a half-raise, but at least there’s already a mechanism in place to settle that with arbitration hearings.

The free agent market will feature roughly 30 credible options, many of whom the Cubs have already tried.  Aside from the trio mentioned above, there’s recent former Cubs Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Arrieta, Brett Anderson, and Drew Smyly.  If the Cubs seek innings, they could make a run at Trevor Bauer, who famously seeks a one-year deal with a team that will let him pitch every fourth day.  With three vacancies, getting significant innings out of someone like Bauer could fit the Cubs better than an arguably better pitcher with a poor track record of durability, like James Paxton.

Though the market lacks a true ace, options abound with a solid group including Marcus Stroman, Mike Minor, Jake Odorizzi, Masahiro Tanaka, Robbie Ray, and Anthony DeSclafani.  Feel free to explore next winter’s starting pitcher market further with this FanGraphs leaderboard I created.  Even on a budget, the Cubs could plausibly target any of these guys.

The Trade Market

I’ve yet to see any concepts floated regarding in-season trading during a shortened 2020 campaign.  At the least we can assume players will be traded in the offseason and starting pitchers will be available.  The Cubs’ farm system is far from robust, but they do have minor league assets to consider trading.  There’s also a good chance of the team trading Kris Bryant, who becomes eligible for free agency after 2021.

Even the teams that were clearly rebuilding for 2020 could adjust course if they somehow make a fluke run in a shortened season with expanded playoffs.  Names like Matthew Boyd, Daniel Norris, Joe Musgrove, Jon Gray, Danny Duffy, Chris Archer, Jose Urena, and Nick Pivetta could reasonably be available, though we may be in for an unpredictable offseason.

Whatever path they choose, the Cubs seem likely to remake their rotation in a significant way for 2021.  What do you expect them to do?  Let us know in the comments.

Steve Adams <![CDATA[D-backs, Cubs Owners On Schedule Proposals, Revenue Losses]]> 2020-06-03T00:16:07Z 2020-06-03T00:13:37Z As MLB’s 30 owners and the Players Association clash over the length of a potential 2020 season — the MLBPA recently proposed a 114-game length, while ownership recently suggested as few as 50 to 60 games — Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick offered some strong objection to the notion of pushing the regular-season schedule into November. Appearing on the Burns & Gambo Show on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports, Kendrick rebuked the notion of November play (hat tip to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, on Twitter):

We don’t want to take the risk of putting our players at jeopardy and our game in peril to be playing games beyond the end of October. So our model is and will never be changed that we will not be playing baseball in the month of November or later.

It’s never been likely that the league would accept the union’s 114-game proposal, but Kendrick’s strong words are of particular note given that the union’s plan called for the regular season to conclude on Halloween. Kendrick ostensibly strives to put the well-being of players at the forefront of the issue. However, it’s been reported for weeks that the league has concerns that additional spikes in COVID-19 cases could jeopardize the postseason, where they’d stand to make considerable revenue from national television broadcasts (particularly with an expanded playoff field).

Meanwhile, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts again bemoaned a lack of revenue to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, claiming that most owners don’t profit much from their teams:

[Owners] raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend. The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t.

Ricketts contends that the Cubs derive 70 percent of their revenue from gamedays (ticket sales, concessions, parking, etc.) and that his team is hoping to salvage 20 percent of its would-be revenue in 2020. Of course, that’s the very type claim that has caused the MLBPA to bristle not only throughout negotiations to resume play but for decades prior. The union has repeatedly requested that ownership provide transparent documentation of the potential losses they’re claiming in 2020, but owners don’t appear likely to ever acquiesce on that issue.

Asked about agent Scott Boras recently using Ricketts and the Cubs as an example of suspect claims regarding their revenue, Ricketts merely replied that Boras “doesn’t have any insight into our balance sheet.” He also called the losses facing owners throughout the league “biblical” and spoke at length on his belief that revenue sharing between MLB and the MLBPA is a worthwhile concept to explore in the next CBA. The notion of revenue-sharing has been a total nonstarter for the union.

Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Cubs Release Brock Stewart, Carlos Asuaje]]> 2020-05-29T21:55:57Z 2020-05-29T21:55:44Z FRIDAY: J.J. Cooper of Baseball America tweets the full list of players the Cubs have released.

THURSDAY, 10:11pm: The Cubs have let go of 30 minor leaguers, according to Maddie Lee and Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago. However, aside from Stewart and Asuaje, the identities of the players aren’t yet known.

7:16pm: There are minor league cuts happening across baseball, and though the Cubs’ full list isn’t out yet, right-hander Brock Stewart and utilityman Carlos Asuaje are among the players they have released. Stewart announced his fate on Twitter, while Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reported on Asuaje’s exit (via Patrick Mooney of The Athletic). Those two and the rest of the minor leaguers the Cubs have parted with will be paid through the end of June.

Stewart, 28, is an Illinois native who attended Illinois State and was then a sixth-round pick of the Dodgers in the 2014 amateur draft. He went on to pitch for the Dodgers from 2016-19, but the club lost him on waivers to the Blue Jays last July. Stewart didn’t last long with the Jays, who lost him to the Cubs as a Rule 5 pick last winter. Between Los Angeles and Toronto, Stewart has pitched to a 6.05 ERA/6.25 FIP with 7.41 K/9 and 4.09 BB/9 during his 105 2/3-inning major league career.

Success at the game’s highest level has also been hard to come by for Asuaje. The 28-year-old amassed 586 plate appearances as a Padre from 2016-18, but he only managed a .240/.312/.329 line with six home runs with San Diego. Asuaje joined the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization last year, and he hit .252/.356/.368 with a pair of homers in 194 PA before the club released him. He finished 2019 with the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate.

Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Which 15 Players Should The Cubs Protect In An Expansion Draft?]]> 2020-05-27T01:12:52Z 2020-05-27T00:00:00Z In a few weeks, we’ll be running a two-team mock expansion draft here at MLBTR – just for the fun of it!  Currently, we’re creating 15-player protected lists for each of the existing 30 teams.  You can catch up on the rules for player eligibility here.

So far, we’ve covered the DiamondbacksRockiesDodgersPadresGiantsRangersMariners, Athletics, Angels, Astros, Twins, Royals, Tigers, Indians, White Sox, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles.  The Cubs are up next.

First, we’ll remove free agents Jon Lester, Daniel Descalso, Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, Jeremy Jeffress, and Steven Souza from consideration.  I’ll assume Anthony Rizzo’s $16.5MM club option is exercised and the Cubs use a protected spot on him.  I’ll lock in Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, and Yu Darvish due to their no-trade clauses.  We’ll protect these 11 players out of the gate:

Anthony Rizzo
Jason Heyward
Craig Kimbrel
Yu Darvish
Nico Hoerner
Kyle Hendricks
Kris Bryant
Javier Baez
Willson Contreras
Ian Happ
Kyle Schwarber

That leaves four spots for 17 remaining players:

Albert Almora Jr.
Adbert Alzolay
David Bote
Victor Caratini
Jharel Cotton
Robel Garcia
Dillon Maples
Alec Mills
James Norwood
Colin Rea
Kyle Ryan
Casey Sadler
Ryan Tepera
Duane Underwood Jr.
Rowan Wick
Brad Wieck
Dan Winkler

With that, we turn it over to the MLBTR readership! In the poll below (direct link here), select exactly four players you think the Cubs should protect in our upcoming mock expansion draft. Click here to view the results.

Create your own user feedback survey

Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Latest On MLB Teams’ Plans For Employees]]> 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z A variety of MLB teams have already revealed plans for the year for non-player employees. Some have instituted furloughs and/or pay cuts while others have committed to carry employees through the fall. Still other teams are taking things on a month-to-month basis, with several revealing their latest plans in recent days.

At least three teams have decided to continue paying employees in full through at least the end of June. The Cardinals are one such team, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Twitter. The Twins are also in that camp, Jeff Passan of tweets. And the White Sox are adjusting work hours but not take-home pay, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Elsewhere in the central divisions, there were some cuts. The Cubs are keeping their full slate of employees at full-time capacity, but are instituting some salary reductions, Jeff Passan of reported on Twitter. And though the Pirates will not draw down their baseball operations staff, they will reduce pay in that arena while furloughing some business employees, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Out west, the Giants will retain their entire full-time staff but will be trimming pay for those earning over $75K, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Part-timers have been furloughed.

The Astros have committed to maintaining full pay and benefits for full-time employees, but only through June 5th, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. Whether some action could occur beyond that point remains to be seen. The Orioles are also still in flux, but the organization appears to be leaning towards keeping staff as usual through June, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic (via Twitter).

Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Scott Boras On Kris Bryant's Future Trip To Free Agency]]> 2020-05-16T05:49:11Z 2020-05-16T05:49:11Z
  • Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2021 season. In theory, a shortened or canceled 2020 campaign could have a negative effect on his market if he does reach free agency, but agent Scott Boras doesn’t expect it to damage Bryant or any of the other star players who could be available then. “For the players who are the great players — because there’s always only a few great players — I don’t think it’s going to have anywhere near the impact,” Boras told Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago, “because those great players are somebody you would sign for 10 years, and you can defer the cost. You just backload the contracts. You can do things with long-term contracts; you could wait for better times but still get the player for today.”
  • ]]>
    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Grading Jason Heyward’s Career (So Far)]]> 2020-05-12T06:30:02Z 2020-05-12T03:28:28Z It would be an understatement to say the Cubs’ Jason Heyward has had an eventful career in professional baseball. Heyward was the 14th pick of the Braves in the 2007 draft, and the Georgia-raised outfielder’s star continued to rise thereafter. As a prospect, Heyward topped out as Baseball America’s No. 1 overall farmhand after the 2009 season.

    “Even if he opens 2010 at Triple-A Gwinnett, Heyward will be starting in Atlanta at some point during the year, and he has all the ability to emerge as one of the game’s premier players,” BA wrote then.

    The towering Heyward did not start 2010 in the minors, though, instead beginning as the Braves’ top right fielder. And he made an enormous impact from the get-go, smashing a first-inning, three-run homer off Cubs righty Carlos Zambrano in his initial at-bat. The Braves went on to win that game and 90 more en route to a wild-card berth, owing in no small part to a 4.6-fWAR Heyward effort in which he batted .277/.393/.456 in 623 plate appearances.

    It seemed that the rookie version of Heyward was indeed destined for greatness, but his career hasn’t been particularly consistent since then. Heyward remained a Brave from 2011-14, a 2,196-plate appearance run in which he batted .258/.340/.422 with 14.9 fWAR, but they decided after the last of those seasons to trade the homegrown standout to the Cardinals in a deal for right-hander Shelby Miller. That wasn’t indefensible from the Braves’ point of view, as Miller was then an up-and-coming starter with a few years’ team control remaining and Heyward had just one season left before reaching free agency.

    [RELATED: Butterfly Effects & The Jason Heyward Signing]

    If you go by fWAR, Heyward had his best in St. Louis (5.6), hitting .293/.359/.439 with 13 homers and a career-high 23 steals in 610 PA. Heyward was part of a 100-win team that year, but after the Cardinals bowed out of the NLDS against the Cubs, the free agent went to … the Cubs. They handed him an eight-year, $184MM guarantee, but Heyward’s regular-season numbers have fallen flat dating back to then. During his first four years as a Cub, Heyward batted an underwhelming .252/.327/.383 line across 2,151 trips to the plate, leading to 6.0 fWAR. Heyward’s typically outstanding defense has kept him afloat, as he has logged 42 Defensive Runs Saved and a 27.2 Ultimate Zone Rating as a Chicago outfielder (overall, he has put up 143 DRS with a 99.5 UZR as a big leaguer). Of course, it’s not always just about statistics.

    On Nov. 2, 2016, the Cubs and Indians were tied 6-6 through nine innings and stuck in a rain delay in Game 7 of the World Series. It was two teams trying to break long championship droughts, but on Chicago’s side, Heyward went into Knute Rockne mode in the locker room.

    “We’re the best team in baseball, and we’re the best team in baseball for a reason,” Heyward told his teammates (via Tom Verducci’s book “The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse“). “Now we’re going to show it. We play like the score is nothing-nothing. We’ve got to stay positive and fight for your brothers. Stick together and we’re going to win this game.” 

    “Right then I thought, We’re winning this f—— game!,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.

    The Cubs did just that when the 17-minute delay ended, defeating the Indians in the 10th to pick up their first title in 108 years. It’s hard to quantify how much Heyward meant to that team on an emotional level. He went 0-for-5 in that game and posted a miserable .307 OPS during the postseason, which came after he recorded a personal-worst 72 wRC+ in the regular season, but that Game 7 speech will always live in Cubs lore.

    While the Cubs haven’t won another title since 2016, Heyward’s production has trended upward going back to then, as he has been something close to a league-average hitter. Still, that’s not great for a former can’t-miss prospect who’s owed another $86MM through 2023. In all, Heyward has been a bit better than average as an offensive player during his career, having batted .261/.343/.412 (107 wRC+) with 144 homers and 110 steals in 5,580 PA. However, consistently stellar defense has helped the 30-year-old accumulate 31.1 fWAR, which is a higher amount than the vast majority of major leaguers have piled up, and he may have helped key a Cubs title behind the scenes. All things considered, how would you grade his career to this point?

    (Poll link for app users)

    Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[A Front-Line Starter Who Got Away From The Rangers]]> 2020-05-09T00:13:18Z 2020-05-09T00:13:18Z Going back to his first season in the majors in 2014, just 11 other starters have outdone Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks’ 3.14 ERA. That owes largely to an ability to limit walks, as Hendricks has issued just a bit over two free passes per nine innings during his career, as well a penchant for preventing damaging contact. Even though his typical fastball only clocks in around 86 mph, hitters can’t seem to square up Hendricks. Just last season, he ranked in the majors’ 97th percentile in exit velocity and its 88th percentile in hard-hit rate. It went down as yet another quality effort by Hendricks, who turned in a 3.46 ERA/3.61 FIP with his second-highest fWAR (4.1) across 177 innings.

    Not many could have expected Hendricks to pan out this well. The Rangers chose the former Dartmouth standout in the eighth round in 2011 (keep that in mind when unpicked players start signing after this year’s truncated five-round draft); although he went on to put up great production at the lower levels with the Rangers, he was never seen as a can’t-miss prospect. And at the July 2012 trade deadline, a little over a year after the Rangers drafted Hendricks, they traded him and third baseman Christian Villanueva (then a top 100-caliber prospect but now a member of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball) to the Cubs for veteran righty Ryan Dempster.

    Dempster, who originally entered the pros as a third-rounder of the Rangers in 1995, got off to a strong start in 2012 before the Cubs traded him back to his original franchise. As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote when the swap occurred: “Dempster posted a 2.25 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 42.1% ground ball rate in 104 innings with the Cubs this year.”

    Unfortunately for Texas, Dempster was unable to carry his Windy City effectiveness to the Lone Star State. While the Rangers did earn a playoff berth in 2012, they didn’t make it past the one-game wild-card round, and Dempster didn’t play much of a role in their regular-season success. He wound up tossing 69 innings of 5.09 ERA ball with the team before leaving for the Red Sox in free agency during the ensuing offseason. That proved to be a wise move for the last year of his career, as Dempster ended up as part of a World Series-winning Red Sox roster.

    Dempster didn’t play a major role in Boston’s title, but Hendricks has gone on to be a key part of a championship winner since switching organizations. The Cubs took home their first World Series in 108 years in 2016, a season in which Hendricks recorded a league-best 2.13 ERA in 190 frames and added an jaw-dropping 1.42 ERA in 25 1/3 playoff innings. Three years later, the Cubs locked up Hendricks to what has always looked like an eminently reasonable contract extension, inking him to a $55.5MM guarantee over four seasons prior to the 2019 campaign.

    We don’t know when we’ll see Major League Baseball again, but considering Hendricks’ track record, it seems safe to assume the 30-year-old will continue to hold his own when it does return. He’s one of the most valuable players on the Cubs, but he’s also one who got away for the Rangers.

    Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Baez On Extension Talks With Cubs]]> 2020-05-06T20:09:15Z 2020-05-06T20:08:58Z Cubs star Javier Baez hasn’t been shy about publicly discussing his contract talks with the Cubs, and that trend continued this week as the two-time All-Star told ESPN’s Marly Rivera that extension talks with the team have been on hold since the league shut down in mid-March. Both sides decided to “leave it there,” with the 2020 season on indefinite hold, although the 27-year-old made clear that he still hopes to reach an agreement at some point.

    Transactions have halted and rosters frozen during the hiatus, and extension talks were reportedly placed on hold as well. Of course, that’s a tough policy to enforce and one that could conceivably be circumvented so long as a new deal wasn’t announced or reported until the limitations were lifted. It seems that has not been the case, despite Baez’s emphasis on what a “blessing” it’d be to spend his whole career with one team and the fact that neither party feels the need to put a deadline on talks. On the other hand, Baez is keenly aware of the business side of the game and did discuss the possibility of playing with multiple teams in his chat with Rivera. The two also discussed his charitable works in Puerto Rico during the shutdown and Baez’s workouts with his brother-in-law: Twins righty Jose Berrios. Cubs fans will want to take a full look for the full breadth of his comments.

    The Cubs currently control Baez through the 2021 season, after which he’ll join a historically strong class of free-agent shortstops. He and the Cubs agreed to a $10MM salary for the 2020 season over the winter, although the best-case scenario for him is now that he’d receive a prorated portion of that sum (dependent on how many games are able to be played in a shortened season). He’ll have one more trip through arbitration on the horizon, barring an agreement on a new deal.

    A Baez extension would require a change of trajectory for a Cubs organization that has become increasingly averse to spending over the past two seasons. It’s easy to envision Baez, a potential face of the franchise for the better part of the next decade, as an exception to that philosophy, but it’s hard not to notice the team’s decrease in spending. Craig Kimbrel was signed last summer, but only after a prolonged stretch on the restricted list for Ben Zobrist unexpectedly opened up some funds. Chicago also brokered extensions for Kyle Hendricks (four years, $55.5MM) and David Bote (five years, $15MM) in Spring Training 2019, but a Baez deal wouldn’t be in the same stratosphere as those two deals. Outside of those deals, the Cubs have spent just over $14MM in free agency dating back to October 2018.

    That said, the Cubs will also have Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, Daniel Descalso, Steven Souza Jr. and Jeremy Jeffress come off the books this coming winter. They had been slated to enter the season with about $214MM worth of luxury-tax commitments on the books, but that number will crater to $93MM next year (not including sizable arbitration raises for Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras). It’s also perhaps telling while each of Bryant, Schwarber and Contreras saw his name kicked about the rumor circuit this past offseason — Bryant in particular — there were little to no such rumblings regarding Baez.

    Whenever talks are able to resume, they’ll take place against the backdrop of sizable revenue losses for teams throughout the league — a reality that could make it more difficult for the two parties (or any two parties) to agree on a potential price point. That cuts both ways, as while the Cubs may not want to pay as much as they would have with an uninterrupted revenue stream, Baez (and other players set to hit free agency in the next couple of years) could be wary about going out into the open market at a time when owners are looking to recoup their losses. The expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement in December 2021 only further muddies the water, making it nearly impossible to predict just how contract negotiations of any type will play out in the foreseeable future.

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Jon Lester Discusses His Future]]> 2020-05-05T15:35:08Z 2020-05-05T15:35:08Z As he waits with the rest of us for the return of baseball, Cubs southpaw Jon Lester chatted with Rob Bradford of about his current activities and future plans. It’s well worth a full read, but we’ll cover a few items of particular hot stove relevance.

    Lester certainly doesn’t sound like a player who’s preparing to wrap up his career at the end of his contract. He spoke not only of preparing for the upcoming season but of his future on the mound.

    Lester’s free agent deal includes a 2021 vesting/mutual option that would be guaranteed at $25MM if he throws 200 frames in 2020. (With a hefty $10MM buyout, the actual cost difference is $15MM.) The innings target will be prorated to account for a shortened season. Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine the Cubs letting him reach it.

    “We’ll figure that out one way or the other,” says Lester. “I will either be here or be a free agent. … I’m open-minded to anything.”

    Anything? Anything at all? It may not mean much, but Lester went on to drop an eyebrow-raising line that’s sure to pique the interest of Red Sox fans: “Absolutely it would be cool to go back and finish my career where it all started.”

    As Lester noted, there’s still quite a lot of uncertainty to be dealt with before considering where he’ll throw in 2021. “Hopefully, I’m still a good enough caliber pitcher that the want of my services will still be out there for people,” he says. Lester went on to note: “I’m not getting any younger and coming off a year like I had last year, this [season delay] isn’t going to help me.”

    It’s hard to imagine there won’t be a market for Lester’s services, even if he’s not the same guy he once was. He allowed more than four earned runs per nine for the second time in three seasons last year. ERA estimators didn’t expect better based upon his peripherals (4.26 FIP; 4.35 xFIP; 4.49 SIERA). Then again, Lester also made 31 starts again … as he has for a remarkable dozen-straight seasons. (Actually, he typically takes the ball 32 or 33 times.)

    Lester may not be capable of producing to his own lofty standards, but he was still a quality rotation piece in 2019. He’s also not wrong that, at 36 years of age, his desirability on the open market will depend in large part upon what he’s able to show in 2020 — if indeed there is a season. Lester tells Bradford that he’s staying active but also trying not to “waste bullets down here in the backyard or at some high school,” instead saving them while waiting for “a date to ramp it up.” Here’s hoping he’ll have a chance to do so soon.

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[10 MLB Teams Whose Business Initiatives Face Coronavirus Hurdles]]> 2020-05-02T03:35:02Z 2020-05-02T02:34:53Z Like most every person or business, all thirty MLB teams face tough questions during the time of COVID-19. Some are relatively similar for all ballclubs, but there are obviously quite a few unique issues — some more pressing than others.

    Dealing with the implications of this pandemic is probably toughest for organizations that are in the midst of executing or planning major business initiatives. We’ll run down some of those here.

    Angels: The team has been cooking up potentially massive plans to develop the area around Angel Stadium. Fortunately, nothing is really in process at the moment, but it stands to reason that the project could end up being reduced in scope and/or delayed.

    Athletics: Oof. The A’s have done a ton of work to put a highly ambitious stadium plan in motion. Massive uncertainty of this type can’t help. It isn’t clear just yet how the effort will be impacted, but it seems reasonable to believe the organization is pondering some tough decisions.

    Braves: Luckily for the Atlanta-area organization, the team’s new park and most of the surrounding development is already fully operational. But with the added earning capacity from retail operations in a ballpark village comes greater exposure to turmoil.

    Cubs: Like the Braves, the Cubs have already done most of the work at and around their park, but were counting on big revenue to pay back what’s owed (and then some). Plus, the Cubbies have a new TV network to bring up to speed.

    Diamondbacks: Vegas?! Vancouver?! Probably not, but the Snakes do want to find a new home somewhere in Arizona. That effort is sure to be dented. Plus, the team’s recent initiative to host non-baseball events at Chase Field will now go on hiatus.

    Marlins: The new ownership group has had some good vibes going and hoped to convert some of the positivity into a healthy new TV deal. That critical negotiation will now take place in a brutal economic environment.

    Mets: So … this is probably not an optimal moment to be selling your sports franchise. The Wilpon family is pressing ahead with an effort to strike a new deal after their prior one broke down (at the worst possible time).

    Orioles: That bitter television rights fee dispute that just won’t stop … it’s not going to be easier to find a resolution with less cash coming through the door. It was already setting up to be a rough stretch for the Baltimore org, with past TV money due to the Nationals and more bills to come, even while going through brutally lean years on the playing field.

    Rangers: The new park is now built. While taxpayers footed much of the bill, the club still has to pay back a $600MM loan. Suffice to say the Rangers (and municipal authorities) anticipated game day revenues of more than $0 in year one when they planned out the loan repayment method.

    Rays: The club’s preferred Ybor City option flamed out and it is currently engaged in a somewhat confusing effort to split time between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal. Existing hurdles to that arrangement seem only to be taller in the age of the coronavirus.

    Others: We may be missing some, but it seems most other organizations are engaged more in usual-course sorts of business initiatives rather than franchise-altering efforts. For instance, the Nats have an interest in that TV deal as well. The Red Sox have been working to redevelop areas around Fenway Park. The Blue Jays are dabbling in future plans. And the Dodgers have a new TV rights deal, though that came to fruition after the pandemic hit and may not be impacted any more than any other existing carriage arrangements.

    Anthony Franco <![CDATA[How The Royals Acquired The AL Home Run Champ]]> 2020-04-26T15:21:47Z 2020-04-26T15:11:53Z Two of last season’s top three home run hitters were originally acquired in trade. NL champ Pete Alonso was drafted and developed by the Mets, but NL runner up Eugenio Suárez and AL leader Jorge Soler were plucked from other organizations early in their MLB careers. MLBTR’s Connor Byrne just looked back at the Reds’ brilliant acquisition of Suárez. It only seems fair to give the Soler trade its due.

    Soler was a known commodity long before he signed a pro contract. His name appeared on MLBTR pages more than thirty times before he finally agreed with the Cubs as a twenty-year old international amateur in 2012. He immediately found himself on top prospect lists and quickly tore through the minors, making his MLB debut a little over two years after signing.

    Despite an exceptional debut, Soler never quite established himself amidst a crowded outfield mix on the North Side. In 765 cumulative plate appearances from 2014-16, he hit .258/.328/.434 (106 wRC+) with 27 home runs. It was passable production, but not enough to consistently crack a lineup with Dexter FowlerJason Heyward, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber on hand, to say nothing of infielders like Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist capable of manning the grass. Even with Fowler departing as a free agent, the Cubs’ outfield looked like an area of surplus. (It hasn’t really borne out that way, but it looked like a strong group at the time). That made Soler a reasonable trade candidate for a team looking to defend a World Series title.

    That offseason, the Cubs and Royals indeed lined up on a deal. With their own competitive window soon to close, K.C. acquired the 24-year-old slugger for contract-year reliever Wade Davis. It was perfectly understandable from the Chicago organization’s perspective. Aroldis Chapman was to sign elsewhere just a day later. The bullpen looked like the relative weak spot on a win-now club. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out at the time of the deal, Davis had some red flags (injuries and a slight velocity loss), but he was fresh off an utterly dominant three-year run in Kansas City.

    Indeed, the Cubs mostly got what they bargained for from Davis. He did regress a bit in 2017, as Steve suggested he might. But Davis was still quite good in Chicago, working to a 2.30 ERA/3.38 FIP in 58.2 innings. The Cubs lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS, but that was the fault of their offense, not Davis. The right-hander has fallen apart since signing with the Rockies after that 2017 season, but the immediate returns on the deal were positive for the Cubs. That wasn’t the case for the Royals.

    Soler spent the first month of that season on the injured list with a strained oblique. When he returned in May, he was dreadful, hitting .164/.292/.273 and earning a demotion to Triple-A. Soler did hit well in the minors, but 2017 was undoubtedly a disappointment. He seemed to reestablish himself in 2018, hitting well until suffering a season-ending toe fracture in June. Everything clicked in 2019, though.

    Most importantly, Soler stayed healthy last season, playing in all 162 games. He increased his hard contact rate to a career-high 46.7% and dropped his infield fly ball rate to a career-low 8.8%. He made the most contact of his career and continued to draw walks at a hefty clip (10.8%). All told, Soler’s .265/.354/.569 slash (136 wRC+) placed him in the top 20 qualified hitters leaguewide. Even at pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium, Soler paced the Junior Circuit in home runs with 48. Statcast data supported the breakout, as Soler finished in the 95th percentile or better in average exit velocity, hard contact rate and expected weighted on-base average. Even as a mediocre defensive outfielder who’s best suited for DH work, that’s plenty productive. Soler was worth nearly four wins above replacement last season, per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.

    The Royals are no doubt thrilled with the acquisition of Soler at this point. He’s finally emerged as the middle-of-the-order force many expected. Steve Adams explored the possibility of the sides lining up on an extension in September. Controlled through 2021, Soler could alternatively be a key trade chip for the rebuilding club if the sides can’t reach a long-term agreement.

    TC Zencka <![CDATA[The Mark Grace Decade Award]]> 2020-04-25T15:16:41Z 2020-04-25T14:58:45Z For many years, my go-to baseball trivia question was this: who led the 1990s in hits? 

    I won’t bury the lede any further: The answer is Mark Grace. Grace never hit 20 home runs in a season despite being a middle-of-the-order bat, and he spent most of his career on lackluster Cubs teams. He was a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner who never finished higher than thirteenth in MVP voting. He was a very good baseball player. But I think it’s safe to say that he’s not the first name that comes to mind when looking for the decade-leader in hits. 

    Growing up, Grace was my favorite player, but that’s only part of why I loved this trivia question. In my mind, Grace epitomized something special about the game. He played smart and with obvious boyhood joy. He could hit .300 falling asleep, and though he wasn’t known for his power, he held his own – in his words – by “turning triples into doubles” (he also led the nineties in doubles). #17 wasn’t a superstar to the world (he didn’t hit home runs, he didn’t run well, and he played for the lovable loser version of the Cubs), but Grace made the most of his physical abilities and let his personality shine through. And ah yes, he had more hits in the nineties than Tony Gwynn, Robby AlomarBarry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Cal Ripken Jr.…or anyone else.

    That he accomplished this feat speaks to the randomness and the breadth of the game of baseball. Only a player who played in every season of the decade is likely to lead all major leaguers in hits (see the exception to this rule later). And yet, what a tremendous accomplishment! The juxtaposition of those two thoughts encapsulates so much of what makes baseball unique. Timing is a huge factor in determining what becomes part of the baseball zeitgeist, and yet, there’s an ocean of information beneath the surface of any given statistical achievement. 

    Not to date myself, but there’s been two full decades since Grace led the nineties in hits! Granted, hits are no longer the be all and end all of offensive production. Not anywhere close. But they’re still important. Leading the league in hits over a decade is more trivia than player analysis, but it’s still an accomplishment that shines a light on a particular style of hitter. So without further ado, I thought it would be a fun exercise to see who wins the Mark Grace Award for leading a decade in hits.


    1. Robinson Cano (1,695)
    2. Nick Markakis (1,651)
    3. Adam Jones (1,647)
    4. Starlin Castro (1,617)
    5. Miguel Cabrera (1,595)
    6. Elvis Andrus (1,595)

    Kicking it off, this is not the list I expected for our most recent decade. Cano taking the title is impressive, if not surprising for the career .302 hitter, because he only appeared in 107 games this last season and only 80 games the year before that. Taking the crown regardless speaks to how difficult it is in this day and age to stay in the game. Kudos to the the rest of the list as well, which provides a real working class crew (Miggy aside). Cano is also, for what it’s worth, the least productive hits king in any decade since the war-torn forties when the Indians’ Lou Boudreau took home the title with 1,578 hits.


    1. Ichiro Suzuki (2,030)
    2. Derek Jeter (1,940)
    3. Miguel Tejada (1,860)
    4. Todd Helton (1,756)
    5. Vladimir Guerrero (1,751)

    Tejada is the only name on this list that might take more than a couple of guesses. Of course, the most impressive feat here is that Ichiro managed to chalk up more than 2,000 hits in only 9 seasons.


    1. Mark Grace (1,754)
    2. Rafael Palmiero (1,747)
    3. Craig Biggio (1,728)
    4. Tony Gwynn (1,713)
    5. Roberto Alomar (1,678)

    Biggio or Gwynn probably would have been my guess had I not known the answer beforehand. Biggio led the league in plate appearances in 5 seasons (’92, ’95, ’97,’98,’99), but he hit “only” .297 for the decade (versus .310 for Grace). Gwynn hit .344 in the nineties, but only managed to appear in more than 140 games twice.


    1. Robin Yount (1,731)
    2. Eddie Murray (1,642)
    3. Willie Wilson (1,639)
    4. Wade Boggs (1,597)
    5. Dale Murphy (1,553)

    Willie Wilson gave himself a good head start with 230 hits in 1980, but Yount and Murray managed to make up the difference before the end of the eighties. The Royals’ great did crush the competition for most triples in the decade, however, with 115 (Yount was second with 83).


    1. Pete Rose (2,045)
    2. Rod Carew (1,787)
    3. Al Oliver (1,686)
    4. Lou Brock (1,617)
    5. Bobby Bonds (1,565)

    No surprises here, with Rose and Carew atop the list.


    1. Roberto Clemente (1,877)
    2. Hank Aaron (1,819)
    3. Vada Pinson (1,776)
    4. Maury Wills (1,744)
    5. Brooks Robinson (1,692)

    For the decade, Clemente hit .328/.375/.501. He took the batting crown four times and hit over .350 twice (1961: .351 BA, 1967: .357 BA).


    1. Richie Ashburn (1,875)
    2. Nellie Fox (1,837)
    3. Stan Musial (1,771)
    4. Alvin Dark (1,675)
    5. Duke Snider (1,605)

    Integration wasn’t exactly a comprehensive process from the jump when Jackie Robinson first appeared for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, so we’ll make the fifties the last decade. All in all, Pete Rose unsurprisingly was the most prolific hits leader in any decade with 2,045 knocks in the 70s, but I’m not sure there’s a more impressive name on there than Ichiro, whose wizardy with the bat came up just 15 hits shy of Rose in just 9 seasons from 2001 to 2010.

    Otherwise, definitely some names you might have expected (Rose, Young, Clemente), but it’s not as if a 3,000 hit king rules every decade. Ashburn, like Grace, hit the league at the perfect time to snag this award, as his career spanned from 1948 to 1962. He joins Grace and Cano as the non-3000 hit players to lead a decade in hits (though Cano still has an outside shot to get there). For their careers, Grace takes the distinction as the player with the least career hits to lead a decade in the category.

    Who else on these list surprises you? Al Dark? Elvis Andrus? Who did you expect? Let’s hear your takes in the comments!

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Cubs Don't Expect To Lose Any Minor League Affiliates ]]> 2020-04-24T05:36:21Z 2020-04-24T05:36:21Z
  • Contraction of minor league teams seems to be on the way, but the Cubs won’t be among the franchises affected, Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago details. They’re not in position to lose any of their affiliates, which Cubs senior director for player development Matt Dorey told Wittenmyer is “not surprising at all.” The Cubs have been impressed with the work that all of their lower level teams have put in, Dorey explained to Wittenmyer, and they believe those partnerships will continue. “It’s amazing how much investment in resources they’ve made to put our players in the best position to develop,” Dorey said.
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