One of the topics of the day yesterday was about how the Tampa Bay Rays could emerge as a possible trade partner for the Chicago Cubs, given their intriguing reserves of both young starters and impact relievers.
And, sure enough, those talks seem to be happening.
Bruce Levine reported late last night that the Cubs and Rays were “talking” about some “intriguing” trade match-ups, and he mentioned reliever Jake McGee as one possible Cubs target. And, now Marc Topkin reports out of Tampa Bay that the Rays are “focused on getting” Javier Baez from the Cubs in exchange for pitching. Among the pitchers Topkin lists as possibly tradable by the Rays, it’s the familiar group of relievers McGee and Brad Boxberger, together with starters Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez.
To be sure, neither Levine’s nor Topkin’s reports get into the seriousness or depth of the talks, and Topkin cautions that there’s no deal yet and there’s not even yet a sense that there’s likely to be a deal. Talks are just talks, and talks happen all the time this time of year.
However, given the obviousness of the fit here, and the Cubs’ previously-indicated desire to pick up young pitching via trade, this is probably a good bit more serious than your typical fly-by-night rumor.
With the Cubs having inked John Lackey to a two-year deal, they’re likely now to focus on trading for a younger, controllable starter, while sitting back in the free agent market and seeing if any other pitchers slip into bargain territory. The Rays’ arms are certainly interesting, with Moore, 26, being a high-upside type, albeit coming back from Tommy John surgery and coming off a rough half season in 2015. His contract pays him $5 million in 2016, and is followed by three relatively pricey options, at $7.0 million, $9.0 million, and $10.0 million. He’s got upside, but I’m not sure how much trade value he actually has, because there’s so much risk.
Ramirez, 25, is a solid middle-of-the-rotation type, perhaps without quite as much upside as Smyly or Moore, but he was pretty good last year with the Rays, and is just now first-time arbitration eligible as a Super Two.
And then you’ve got Odorizzi, 25, who’s been very good for the last two years for the Rays, and is not even arbitration-eligible until after next season. He doesn’t project to be a future ace or even a number two, but he could be a good three for several inexpensive years.
(I know, I know. You’re wondering: what about Chris Archer!? I just don’t think he’s available. He’s too good and too cost-controlled for the Rays to move. And, even if they did consider it, the price tag would be much, much more than Javier Baez. Uncomfortably more.)
On the bullpen side, if McGee is healthy, he’s an attractive arm, though he’ll make upwards of $5 million in arbitration next year, and can be controlled for one more year after that. Boxberger isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet, but is coming off a pretty meh season.
It would be interesting to see how the Rays would use Baez, a natural shortstop who showed off plus defense at second base and third base in recent years. He’s also adding center field to the tool belt this offseason, so maybe the Rays want a new super utility player in the mold of Ben Zobrist, or maybe the Rays simply don’t trust newly-acquired Brad Miller at shortstop. Baez, who just turned 23, improved some of his issues at the plate last year dramatically after a 2014 big league stint that presumably taught him a lot about the things he needed to change.
Baez’s upside remains incredible, and he’s controlled for so many cheap years yet. I don’t want to be a homer by suggesting that there’s no trade to be had here, but, within that combination of arms, it’s tricky to see a perfect fit that will make sense for both sides without expanding things a little.
We’ll see if this rumor develops any further throughout the day or the week. Welcome to the Winter Meetings, friends.
UPDATE: There have been small bits here and there about this rumor throughout the morning, but when Ken Rosenthal gets involved …
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 7, 2015
… you listen a little more closely. Rosenthal tends not to drop things like this out of nowhere just be a “me, too.” This suggests, especially together with the earlier reports, that serious conversations have been had. As I said above, finding the right fit without a semi-expanded deal is tough. The smallest version that could make sense for the Cubs – just as an example/hypothetical – would be something like Odorizzi/Boxberger for Baez, but would the Rays do that? I’d argue they probably should, but it’s debatable. A larger deal that incorporates a starter, a reliever, and an outfielder (no, I don’t think Kevin Kiermaier is realistic, but maybe Desmond Jennings) from the Rays? That could make a lot of sense, but those sized deals are tough to pull off.
Also, with Trevor Cahill back in the fold, the Cubs’ need in the bullpen is arguably less significant.
I doubt we’ve heard the last of this. Even if it ultimately doesn’t go anywhere, I suspect we’ll hear more.
UPDATE 2: Interestingly, Rosenthal says the Cubs are “surely” talking to other teams (with young pitching) about Baez, which would suggest that the Cubs and Rays aren’t close to pulling the trigger on a deal. Of course, we all know these things can come together and/or be finalized very quickly.
UPDATE 3: A related conversation about the Cubs and Braves, who are still talking.
UPDATE 4: Marc Topkin adds some more detail to the situation, saying that the Rays are definitely targeting Baez, specifically, but the Cubs are weighing possible deals with other teams involving young pitching. Meanwhile, he also tweeted about an extension offer that the Rays made Odorizzi, about which I can only speculate: is it possible they made him a Rays-friendly offer and, if he accepts it, he stays … if he doesn’t, he’s dealt?
UPDATE 5: I wasn’t sure if Alex Cobb would be on the table (or of particular interest to the Cubs) since he underwent Tommy John surgery in May, and probably can’t help the Cubs out of the gate in 2016, but:
Think Matt Moore/Alex Cobb not Archer if Cubs/Rays matchup. Relievers also in play obviously but have to get a starter back
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) December 7, 2015
Just another name to keep in mind. I’m down with the Cubs getting Cobb as a nice roll of the dice (ditto Moore, though he’s much more expensive in dollars), but I’d hate to see that be the primary piece for Baez.
UPDATE 6: Sure enough, Cobb could be a Cubs target:
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) December 8, 2015
Assuming he’s recovering well from the surgery, I do like Cobb for the Cubs, who might not need him right out of the gate in 2016 anyway. All he’s done in the big leagues? 3.21 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 3.36 xFIP. No wonder the Cubs are interested. But would the 28-year-old Tommy John recoveree be the main return in a deal involving Baez? Seems like the Cubs would need more – maybe more, even, than just one of the above-mentioned relievers.
Also of significant consideration: Cobb is already in his arbitration years, having made $4 million last year, and has only two years left before free agency.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) December 8, 2015
With apologies to the Rays, if they’re expecting to get Baez for Cobb and a less-valuable piece than McGee or Boxberger, I can’t fathom the Cubs doing that deal. Are we just crazy about Baez’s value? Or is the rest of the baseball world sleeping on it? I ask that mostly seriously. I always want to be checked if I’m letting any homerism cloud my analytical approach.