old stove featureWith some struggles in the last week, the Cubs have fallen back quite a bit, and no longer look like a realistic contender in the NL Central. That’s what happens when the team at the top of the Division is on a damn historic pace. Not much you can do about that.

But the Cubs remain very firmly in the Wild Card race, and, thus, any suggestions that the Cubs should suddenly flip from prospective buyers to sellers is hilariously premature. The Cubs should not be aggressivewin-at-all-costs buyers, but picking up quality pieces to help ensure they stay in the Wild Card race (and then, from there, you just never know what happens)? Of course. I hope and expect that very much remains the focus. And those pieces could take the form of inexpensive but useful rentals, or longer-term pieces that help now and in the future.

  • The weekend’s big rumor had the Cubs discussing Mets lefty Jon Niese in trade, but Jon Heyman says that was all in the past – the Cubs discussed him, together with other ideas, but aren’t in on him now, says Heyman. Heyman doesn’t mention it, but, like I said yesterday, the contract seems like a tough fit as a back-of-the-rotation type for the Cubs, especially coming from a team that’s not going to want to eat much or any salary. As part of a bigger deal? I can still see some merit. Tough to piece it together otherwise. (Oh, and “bigger deals” are tough to piece together, too. So, you know, basically: trades are hard, man.)

  • Jed Hoyer reiterated the Cubs’ likely focus in the coming weeks, if you had to pick just one thing: starting pitching depth (Cubs.com). A lot will depend on what happens before July 31, but Hoyer also reiterated what Theo Epstein said last week – the market is really thin right now, and there simply aren’t many sellers. You won’t see the Cubs do anything reactionary or hasty, but I’d be shocked if – assuming they stay north of .500 – they don’t pick up a rotation piece before July 31. Still, waiting for clear sellers to emerge is the first step.
  • A reminder that the next IFA period opens up on Thursday, July 2, which could kick off some trades around the league, as teams move bonus pool slots that they don’t plan to use. While slot deals tend not to be super sexy in isolation – those slots have only so much value – they are often paired with bigger trades. Just two years ago, the Cubs deal Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for a bonus slot … and Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.
  • I tend to think the Dodgers will eventually pull away in the NL West, making the Giants a primary Wild Card contender, so following their movements this month should be fairly important. GM Bobby Evans discusses their plans to focus on depth additions, and the unlikelihood that they’ll add a significant starting pitcher.

  • Nick Cafardo’s latest includes a host of interesting rumor-related bits and is worth a read. Among Cafardo’s notes is the difficulty the market is having in valuing Jeff Samardzija in trade, given his struggles this year. If you check out the advanced metrics on Samardzija, there are some things he’s not doing as well this year (strikeout rate is down), but mostly it appears to be the kind of bum luck that will turn around over the course of a full season. If the White Sox don’t find a robust market for him in trade, Samardzija sure seems like the type of rental the Cubs could target – but would they? Samardzija had the best success of his career working with Chris Bosio.
  • In theory, Cole Hamels is open to being dealt anywhere, though he’s not been approached about his willingness to approve a deal to any particular team (CSN). Hamels can block deals to all but nine teams (one of which is the Cubs).
  • Evan Drellich reports that Johnny Cueto is the Astros’ preferred pitching trade target right now, though Peter Gammons reports there is “buzz” in the organization about a potential Scott Kazmir deal. It’s safe to say that the Astros are very much in the market for pitching, and they very much have the young talent to get just about anyone.
  • The Padres may seriously have to consider selling, even after their offseason rampage of additions – it simply didn’t work. Buster Olney writes about that difficult spot for the Padres, and there’s a line about rival officials wondering if James Shields to the Cubs could make sense. But here’s the thing on that: the Cubs clearly wanted Shields in the offseason, but they were looking to do a three-year, $60 million deal. Had they wanted Shields on a longer, pricier deal – like the four-year, $75 million deal he got from the Padres – they probably would have increased their offer. Furthermore, the structure of his deal with the Padres would be a nightmare for an acquiring team – Shields makes just $10 million this year, and then $21 million each of the next three years (with a $2 million option buyout at the end). And he’s also got an opt-out after the 2016 season, though he’ll be 34 next year, so that may not matter. In other words, acquiring Shields now on this deal is acquiring a cheap 33-year-old for the stretch run this year, and then an extremely expensive 34, 35, and 36-year-old for the next three years. The Padres would have to eat a ton of salary to make that contract sensible for the Cubs, especially with a large free agent pitching market on the horizon. (And none of that is to say anything about the hurdle of signing the hometown guy to a four-year deal as part of an offseason binge, and then dumping him four months later a la the Marlins. It’s a really bad look.)

  • MLBTR takes a look at the Marlins’ possible trade chips if they decide to sell. Not a lot that looks terribly interesting to a team like the Cubs, though it’s possible a complementary piece come late July could look like a fit.
  • The Pirates had DFA’d outfielder Jose Tabata (again), and it seems like this time it might finally be the end of the line for the former top prospect.
  • The Phillies are expected to officially hire Andy MacPhail today to run their baseball operations department. Smart move to get him in place before they start dealing in July. Expect the Phillies-related rumors to pick up significantly.

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