Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

old stove featureThe Chicago Cubs stand at 25-21, very much in the thick of the playoff hunt as the calendar readies itself for June flipping. That record doesn’t yet mean a whole lot for August and September – so much can happen, good and bad, between now and then – but it means quite a bit when it comes to Trade Season. If the Cubs hang around in this area for the next month (over a really tough schedule, by the way), they will undoubtedly be buyers in July. Maybe even aggressive buyers. Maybe even buyers in June. You never know.

  • The Braves and Dodgers got together on the rare unremarkable 6-player trade this week. Third baseman Juan Uribe went to the Braves as the Dodgers seek to unclear their absurd positional glut (Alberto Callaspo came back to the Dodgers in the deal, but he’s been struggling, and, I’d imagine that he’ll be out the door as soon as one of Corey Seager or Hector Olivera is ready to go). Pitching prospect Chris Withrow went to the Braves as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery and back issues, and pitchers Eric Stults, Ian Thomas, and Juan Jaime went to the Dodgers, who were in desperate need of some pitching depth.
  • Jesse Rogers spoke with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer at ESPN, and you can listen here to Hoyer discuss, among other things, how the Cubs will be evaluating their strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward improving. Hoyer says that the biggest thing he thinks about day and night is pitching depth. No surprise there.

  • To that end, Bruce Levine hears that the Cubs have been checking in on pitchers who’ve had rough starts to the season to see about supplementing their own bullpen.
  • Mark Gonzales writes that teams are scouting the Cubs, who are discussing their approach going forward internally. Theo Epstein tells Gonzales that, while the Cubs will be ready if opportunities present themselves, you can’t force trades to happen this time of year. In his piece, Gonzales mentions the Phillies, specifically, as a team scouting the Cubs, which will make folks wonder about guys like Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, though any theoretical interest there would not be a surprise. The interesting thing, though, would be the Phillies scouting the Cubs’ big league team this weekend against the Diamondbacks.
  • If Scott Kazmir is on the Cubs’ radar as a potential rental this year, you can bet they are following his recent shoulder development closely. Although an MRI showed no structural damage, Kazmir had to leave his last start with shoulder tightness. Any shoulder issues – even minor ones – make you nervous, but that goes double for Kazmir, who succumbed to some shoulder trouble earlier in his career just before he had to go on a multi-year odyssey to get himself back to the big leagues. We’ll see if he comes back strong with in a week or two, but teams are going to be loathe to give up a lot for a Kazmir rental knowing that the shoulder issues could pop back up at any time. I don’t think it’s going too far to suggest that, for some teams, even this minor thing could take Kazmir off their midseason radar altogether.

  • You may recall that the Cubs were briefly tied to reliever Grant Balfour before he re-signed with the Rays on a minor league deal, but he’s now opted out of that deal. Marc Topkin reports, though, that Balfour is leaning toward retirement at this point.
  • Jesse Rogers writes about Jordan Zimmermann as a possible fit for the Cubs after this season. As I’ve said before, Zimmermann is one of the top arms in a loaded free agent class after 2015, so he’s likely to come up a lot. A big part of those discussions will be something we saw firsthand this week as Zimmermann pitched against the Cubs: his velocity is down from last year, and his strikeout rate is way down. Although his results were strong in the game, he didn’t look particularly overwhelming for Cubs hitters. Just one game, though.
  • Another day, another top Cuban youngster coming to the States. This time it’s Cuban Serie Nacional Rookie of the Year Alfredo Rodriguez, a slick-fielding shortstop, per BA. He’ll be subject to IFA signing rules, and will be eligible to sign July 2. The same is now officially true for big-time righty Yadier Alvarez (Ben Badler), who is expected to get a monster bonus from the Dodgers.
  • The Orioles have designated outfielder Alejandro De Aza, 31, for assignment, and, while I think the Cubs would take a look at most lefty bench outfield options out there for cheap, I’m not sure De Aza is the right fit. His walk rate is down a bit this year, and his strikeout rate is way up.

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