I do not think the Chicago Cubs will become sellers by MLB’s Trade Deadline on July 31. That would not be my bet. Just last weekend, Theo Epstein essentially said on The Score that he couldn’t picture it happening, and left only the tiniest crack that it could happen if the Cubs came out of the break in total disaster mode.
That is all to say, a sane and rational discussion of the Cubs becoming sellers this year must begin with this point: it is extremely unlikely to happen.
Even as the Cubs have looked lifeless at times, even as they stand two games under .500, and even as they stand 5.5 games out of first place in the NL Central, they are a talented team, objectively capable of winning enough games in the second half to overtake a Brewers club that may not keep winning at this pace. Any time that’s true in July, your team should not be selling. The value of a playoff race – to the fans, to the clubhouse, and to the coffers – is simply too great to give up unless it looks a lot less plausible than it does today for the Cubs.
Should the Cubs come out of the break on a losing streak, and deal with another significant injury or two, while the Brewers (and perhaps the Cardinals, too) keep winning? Then I think the dynamic of this conversation could change rather quickly – in part because it would have to change rather quickly if the Cubs were going to set a new course at that point with just a couple weeks left before the Trade Deadline.
So let’s imagine that the shocking happens, and the Cubs find themselves pretty clearly in a position to sell within a week or two. What would that look like?
Given the carryover talent (and cash) the Cubs have heading into 2018, it would make no sense to do any kind of significant teardown right now. Trades must (1) improve the team for 2018, and/or (2) trade expiring assets.
To that end, we have to be realistic of what the Cubs actually even have to sell at this point.
The bullpen is unquestionably loaded with attractive pieces, including short-term guys like Wade Davis, Koji Uehara, Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop, and a maybe-possibly-revitalized Hector Rondon. Davis, of course, would carry the disproportionate weight of that value, and could net a legitimately very good and valuable prospect package.
Bear in mind: under the new CBA, compensation for big market teams like the Cubs are reduced when a qualified free agent walks. If the Cubs made Davis a qualifying offer at the end of the season and he rejected it, they would now receive only a pick after the second round of the draft, not the first. The difference in value there is significant, making a trade all the more attractive.
Again: assuming the Cubs became sellers, which we are still saying is not a likely path.
Would I consider trading Davis even in a scenario where the Cubs aren’t “sellers”? As in, cash in Davis’s value now, let someone like Carl Edwards Jr. take over the closer’s job and see what happens? You know what? If the return for Davis was utterly insane, I would consider it. But I’d also have to be REALLY careful to manage the messaging to the team, because trading away your rockstar closer when you’re trying to come back in a playoff race is a tough thing to pull off. So tough, that I think this is all academic.
So, then, if the Cubs are not full-on sellers, I do not expect them to shop Davis. But if they’re kind of meandering in the standings over the next two weeks? I don’t think you can entirely rule it out, given the potential value proposition.
As for the Cubs’ other short-term assets, the big name is Jake Arrieta, but I think his rental value has taken an enormous hit this season, from the erratic results to the diminished velocity to the $15.6 million he’s making this year. Is he tradable for something of note? Probably. But does he get such a haul that you’re trading him no matter what if you become sellers? I’m actually not sure. Maybe with a few dominant starts here out of the break (but then, with three great Arrieta starts that net the team wins, that could be enough to move the needle on the Cubs’ sell decision anyway).
On the positional side, there’s extremely little you’d consider moving as a “seller.” Jon Jay could be a nice complementary player for a playoff team, and … that’s actually probably it. There are other guys the Cubs could move, of course, but none have the short-term contract/decent value combination that makes the most sense in July sell trades.
At the end of this discussion, I’m left with two thoughts:
(1) I think it’s very unlikely that any of this matters, because the Cubs will probably stay close enough to the Brewers over the next few weeks to prevent them from seriously considering selling (especially if they start buying!); and
(2) Even if the Cubs did become sellers, they have a relatively limited pool of short-term, impact assets that teams are going to pay a really attractive price to get. That, in turn, makes selling even less attractive.