It’s still on the early side to be thinking too deeply about this summer’s trade market (da cubs gonna be slleRs), but it’s not too early to start sussing out what the market might be, and also what trends might inform the coming movement.
For example: Joel Sherman hears from various personnel around the league that this year’s trade market could kick off much earlier than usual. Typically, we don’t hear much in the way of serious rumors until after the draft in early June, and then we don’t see too much in the way of completed transaction activity until after the All-Star break in mid-July. This year, however, Sherman is hearing that things could be accelerated this year, with much more actual trade activity taking place between the draft and the All-Star break.
There are multiple plausible reasons for this: the pitching market figures to be loaded with options, as there are a number of starters in the final year of their deal; there are a number of thought-to-be-contenders that have already fallen far behind, including the Blue Jays, Giants, and Rangers; and it only takes one or two aggressive teams trying to get out ahead of things to jumpstart the market early.
It’s interesting to consider from the perspective of a team like the Cubs, who’ve fallen a bit behind already this year, but absolutely still project to be in the NL Central race, and may therefore be especially inclined to want the benefit of a rental as soon as possible. And if a few teams out there with rental starting pitchers start shopping early, it’s possible that one of them gets itchy enough not to miss out that they do not require a king’s ransom to make an early move.
As a practical matter, though, the caliber of pitcher the Cubs would target – and the timing – are still tough to nail down just yet. The team only just inserted Eddie Butler into the rotation, and he looked mighty good in his debut outing. That is *not to say* you would avoid the trade market solely because of one or even five good-looking Butler starts, but it is a reminder of just how much information we’re still lacking about the Cubs’ rotation. The other four starters are all healthy, and it’s virtually impossible to say the Cubs right now should be actively seeking to replace one of them in trade. If injuries or continued stark ineffectiveness continue into June and July, then maybe the conversation changes. At present, however, despite the Cubs’ struggles, there is not a particular area of this team that I would say should be targeted already for a rental trade.
Should a longer-term, cost-controlled starting pitcher become available? Well, of course, that’s a different story entirely, given the Cubs’ needs in that department after this season.
OK, and now I’m going to be a total turd and go against a lot of what I just said about it being too early to know anything about specifics. Since we’re already in this mode and having the conversation, I wanted to mention one possible rental target to keep an especially close eye on: Yu Darvish.
The 30-year-old righty is fully recovered from his 2015 Tommy John surgery, and is pitching reasonably well, though he’s seen a dip in his strikeout rate and a rise in his walk rate. He is a free agent after this season, and extension talks with the Rangers have reportedly not gone well. With the Rangers a game under .500 and already 7.5 games back of the scorching hot Astros, and without Cole Hamels for a couple months due to an oblique injury, it’s not at all inconceivable that Darvish becomes a trade candidate.
If that happens, I’d mention that: the Rangers and Cubs front offices have dealt well together before, the Cubs liked Darvish enough in the past to bid on him when he was posted, and Darvish otherwise seems like a potential Cubs free agent target anyway (all the better to get him in the door first).
The Cubs wouldn’t be the only team with theoretical interest in Darvish, however, as this Dave Cameron article underscores: “Yu Darvish May Be the Rental Everyone Wants.”
Ken Rosenthal reports, however, that Darvish has a limited no-trade clause, which could impact any trade talks (and could also make him an even more realistic trade target for the teams to whom he cannot block a trade or to whom he would explicitly accept a trade (those names are not yet known)). There are enough wrinkles here that monitoring Darvish’s trade market is going to be worth doing over the coming weeks.
(Some would also point out the Shohei Otani connection to all of this, but it’s unlikely that any team is going to be able, financially, to sign both players this coming offseason, and further, if Otani does come to the United States after this season, he is expected to be subject to IFA signing restrictions – and the Cubs are still in the penalty box.)