Quite a bit to discuss from the rumor mill as we roll over into June …
- Ken Rosenthal writes that there’s no obvious starting spot on the Cubs for Ben Zobrist, whom the team might pursue this Summer, but he doesn’t think that’ll stop the front office and Joe Maddon from wanting him given the rough bench situation. I agree completely, though it seems Zobrist’s value to the Cubs is highest now, before they find out whether Arismendy Alcantara can turn things around (he’s killing it at AAA lately), whether Tommy La Stella or Mike Olt can come back healthy and effective, and whether Javier Baez can change the roster equation. All of those items will be coming into focus for the Cubs within a month or less, which would suggest the Cubs should move quickly on a deal for Zobrist (not likely, since teams are reluctant to part with their trade assets this early in the year when the market isn’t developed), or wait until they’ve gotten some of those answers in July. In other words … I suspect we’ll hear a lot more about Zobrist in the coming weeks, and the Cubs’ aggressiveness on him could be tied to how their bench comes together. Right now, it’s ugly.
- The Cubs continue to be connected to Phillies ace Cole Hamels in trade speculation, with Ryan Lawrence joining the party and running down plausible trade options for the Phillies. He zeroes in on the Cubs as possibly the best fit, noting that Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Billy McKinney, and Albert Almora could be trade targets (with a particular emphasis on Schwarber, whom he guesses could be close to untouchable (increasingly, I’d agree)). To be sure, I think having Hamels for the next three and a half years would be a fine thing for the Cubs, but I remain of the mind that dealing for a rental – if it comes to that – and exploring the hefty free agent market after this season will be the Cubs’ best approach unless the price tag on Hamels comes way down.
- Speaking of which, it seems that Ruben Amaro, Jr. still wants to get a tip-top prospect package for his lefty ace, and he may be realizing that the only way to do that is to make Hamels’ salary significantly more attractive than the scenario I just laid out. Rob Bradford reports that the Phillies are willing to eat more of Hamels’ salary now than they were earlier in the year. How much, exactly, is unclear, but it seems unlikely that they can get an elite prospect package unless they make Hamels something akin to a $16 to $18 million pitcher over the next 3.5 years. As it stands, he makes $23.5 million this year, and the same each of the next three years (plus a $6 million buyout on a 2019 option, at a minimum). Hamels is 31.
- And speaking of potential rental targets, Scott Kazmir had a pain-free bullpen session (shoulder), which is the first step in him getting back out there and building up value in advance of July 31. Even if he pitches healthily and well between now and then, though, will teams be nervous about giving up a top prospect for a guy whose arm might give out on August 1?
- That’s among the questions asked by Jeff Passan in his latest piece on the impending trade season, though his focus in that regard is Johnny Cueto, who recently underwent an MRI on his elbow, but reportedly came out clean. Ken Rosenthal wonders the same thing about Kazmir and Cueto, especially with their free agency looming. Nick Cafardo also writes about how teams may pull back on those two starters now, as well, among many other things.
- Cueto’s agent is already greasing the wheels for his client to be traded, though, telling MLBN that a trade makes the most sense if the Reds aren’t going to be competitive (h/t MLBTR). The Reds should probably make it happen if they can get a nice return.
- Ken Rosenthal also writes about some of the post-2015 free agent starting pitchers, and how their free agency is shaping up. It’s an interesting read if you haven’t been keeping track on these guys. One pitcher I keep forgetting about when discussing the huge group is Orioles righty Wei-Yin Chen, who doesn’t turn 30 until next month, and could be an interesting sleeper heading into the offseason. He’s not an overpowering guy and his numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he’s been steadily solid since coming to MLB four years ago.
- Tonight’s opponent, Miami, is 11 games under .500, but they aren’t thinking about selling, according to Joe Frisaro. From where I sit, a huge sell-off would never make sense given their young talented core (Jose Fernandez will be back soon), but if they keep languishing over the next month, maybe they’ll sell off shorter term pieces like closer Steve Cishek, who already costs a lot and will only get more pricey next year.
- Speaking with executives, Joel Sherman hears that four teams are already sellers – the Phillies, the Braves, the Rockies, and the Brewers. No surprises there. Interestingly, he hears that the next potential group of sellers could be the Marlins, Reds, Diamondbacks, A’s, and (this would be a bit of an embarrassment) the Padres. If all of those teams do sell, that would mean eight(!) NL teams would be selling, leaving five playoff spots for seven other teams. I can’t see that actually happening, because the math of selling when you’re that 8th team simply doesn’t make sense. That said, if six or seven NL teams do sell, the Cubs will almost have to be aggressive buyers just to keep pace – the sellers’ wares would have to be going somewhere, after all.