Once the reported interest in Jason Heyward became concrete, many (rightly) expected the Cubs to stay clear of the pricey, but available free agent starting pitchers this offseason.
Although a move for David Price or Jordan Zimmerman was widely expected coming into the winter, those whispers softened as the price for pitching skyrocketed, and the Cubs spent plenty money of their own elsewhere.
In free agency’s place, the focus for the Cubs shifted towards the trade market. “Might this be the offseason where the Cubs finally trade one of their young position players for a cost-controlled starting pitcher?” we asked, as rumor after rumor poured in through the door.
A match was even theoretically ideal between the the Cubs and Indians, because the Tribe was reportedly looking for an outfielder in return for either of their starting pitchers. But that was several months ago, and it seems that the Cubs were not ready to part with some of their MLB-ready outfielders quite yet.
But may something have changed with Dexter Fowler back in the fold? Even if it had, would the Cubs still be looking to pick up another starting pitcher right now anyway?
According to Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) the Indians are still looking for an upgrade in the outfield, and continue to actively participate in trade talks this Spring. With Michael Brantley returning from right shoulder surgery and Abraham Almonte suspended for 80 games after testing positive for PEDs, the Indians are looking for an upgrade in the outfield, and it’s at least conceivable to assume they’ll reach back out to the Cubs (if they haven’t already).
- Trevor Bauer – Bauer has the high pedigree as a former first round pick, but has never quite put it together at the MLB level (ERAs, FIPs, and xFIPs all over four each year in the big leagues, 10.7% career walk rate).
- Josh Tomlin – At 31.5 years old, Tomlin doesn’t match profile of a cost-controlled, young pitcher and he finished just less than 100 innings across five levels in 2015.
- Cody Anderson – Anderson is young and reached MLB for the first time last season, finishing with a 3.05 ERA, but doesn’t project to be nearly as good in 2016. Behind that sparkly ERA came a much more telling FIP/xFIP of 4.27/4.58. And, although his walk rate was fine/good (6.6%), Anderson hardly struck anyone out … like, ever (12.1%).
- Michael Clevinger – Clevinger, 25, is equally young, but just reached AA for the first time in 2015. Perhaps he’ll have a future as a starting pitcher in the big leagues, but that’s a ways down the road.
- T.J. House – Perhaps House would have been interesting after the 2014 season, but he made just nine starts last season, with just four coming at the Major League level. Even still, his minor league numbers at AAA are far less than inspiring (4.00+ ERA in over 200 innings pitched).
So, there doesn’t seem to be a fit right now, unless both teams go well beyond their comfort zone. And, while the plausible availability of a player like Jorge Soler is slightly increased with that Dexter Fowler in the fold (even after trading Chris Coghlan), any trade at this point in the offseason is notoriously difficult to pull off. By now, budgets have been well set, plans have been made, rosters aligned. It’s just not something that’s easy to do – and that goes double if the Indians are unwilling to move the types of pitchers the Cubs will be interested in, anyway.
Similarly, the Indians have options, as Michael Brantley is ahead of schedule to rejoin Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall, but even if he fails to return on time, the Tribe can look at other in-camp options like former first round pick Tyler Naquin, Joey Butler, Collin Cowgill, or any of the minor league deal types like Wil Venable, Marlon Byrd or Shane Robinson.
So, while a trade may yet be in the future of these two clubs, now may not be the time. Still, as we’ve learned in the past, groundwork is often laid now for trades that happen months in the future. Should the Indians fall out of contention in the AL Central, I’d expect a phone call to the Cubs comes sooner than later.