Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

javy baez cubsEarly at the Winter Meetings, before the crazy flurry of ZobristCastro activity late on Tuesday, and long before the Cubs locked down Jason Heyward, the hot rumor had the Cubs talking to the Rays about the possible swap of a young position player – Javier Baez was the Rays’ prime target. Talks eventually “cooled,” and the Cubs went on to say publicly that they envisioned Baez as a big part of the team in 2016 – their own version of Ben Zobrist (you know, even though they had actually already signed the original).

That may well have been that, especially after the Cubs picked up Adam Warren in the Starlin Castro trade, but you could still make an argument that the Cubs could stand to add a late-inning reliever and another starter – maybe even a quality starter. No, the Cubs don’t necessarily need to acquire those pieces to be competitive in 2016, but when you’re analyzing the roster and trying to think in advance where the holes might most easily develop, you’re looking at the rotation (great depth, but if they lose one of their two or three impact arms early in the year or in Spring Training, that would really create an issue) and the bullpen (lots of good arms and good options there, but very few that you know for sure you can trust in the late innings).

Further, if the Cubs do elect to deal Jorge Soler at some point this offseason, sliding Heyward into right field, there will still be an obvious hole on the club in center field.

For all those reasons, then, it’s not necessarily surprising to hear Bruce Levine suggesting that the Cubs and Rays could still be a fit in trade. Although Levine doesn’t mention Baez this time around, Soler does come up, as well as Rays pitchers Matt Moore and Jake McGee, arms we discussed previously.

It’s also worth pointing out that earlier this weekend, Jon Morosi indicated that trade talks about McGee had “intensified.” He doesn’t mention involved teams, but, given the previous rumors – both Cubs/Rays explicitly, and then also that previous rumor about the Cubs targeting a closer – it’s fair to guess that the Cubs are at least feeling out the price tag.

McGee, a hard-throwing 29-year-old lefty, has been incredibly good for the Rays over the last four years, is under control for two more years in arbitration, though, as a Super Two, he’s already up there in salary – projected to make $4.7 million in 2016. The other catch with McGee, who had Tommy John surgery back in 2008, had a minor elbow procedure before the 2015 season to clean up a loose body, and then also had an arthroscopic knee surgery during the season. Throughout, he pitched quite well in terms of results, but he saw fluctuations in his velocity, and you do have to wonder whether the risks going forward are not sufficiently unnerving to reduce what you’d otherwise give up for an elite reliever like McGee.

The other name Levine mentions is Matt Moore, the formerly-well-followed up-and-coming lefty starter who underwent Tommy John surgery back in 2014, and then did not look right when he returned in mid-2015. Moore finished out the year relatively strong, but there are significant questions about just what he’s going to be in 2016 and beyond – keep in mind, before the surgery, a lot of what folks liked about him was still projection-related (his peripherals were only “decent” at that point). He throws hard, is still just 26, and has a lot of potential … but, like McGee, there’s a lot of risk.

Moore’s contract is also unique: he’ll make $5 million in 2016, and then has a $7 million team option for 2016 ($2.5 million buyout), a $9 million team option for 2017 ($1 million buyout), and a $10 million team option for 2018 ($750K buyout). In other words, if Moore breaks back out in 2016, it’s a great contract. If he doesn’t, it’s a series of tough decisions, at best, or some dead money and a wasted trade, at worst.

All in all, I can’t say that, for example, Jorge Soler or Javy Baez for McGee and Moore would be an unfair trade for either side, because Cubs fans need to be honest with themselves: as much upside as there is with Soler and Baez, there’s also a whole lot of risk. But at the same time, I’d still struggle with seeing the Cubs acquire two huge-injury-risk pitchers for such a tantalizing 23-year-old talent.

Of course, the Rays have a ton of other interesting pitching talent – Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Brad Boxberger, Drew Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez, etc. – so there are other angles here. Further, the Rays have the kind of outfield talent that could entice the Cubs in center field, including ace glove man Kevin Kiermaier (whom I would very much doubt is essentially unavailable, though) and Desmond Jennings, who is coming off of a down year, but who can play solid defense all over the outfield and has some offensive potential (and especially crushes lefties).

There are fits here, so, again, I’d not be surprised to learn that the Cubs and Rays are still talking.

But, that said, as we discussed Friday, the Cubs are in the enviable position of not having to do anything if they choose not to. If it comes down to a requirement to include a Baez or Soler, maybe the Cubs just don’t do it. Maybe instead they can put together a smaller deal involving prospects to pick up one of the Rays’ arms.

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