With the Cubs turning things around, and – regardless – looking more on the “buyer” side of the ledger again this trade season, rumors have already started to percolate about at least one premium target the Cubs might consider – Manny Machado.
From where I sit, it’s always made a lot more sense for the Cubs to stay committed to Addison Russell at shortstop this year (he’s 24!) and then re-evaluate things in the offseason, when Machado is a free agent. Adding Machado as a rental would cost a premium – likely on top of Russell – and then he’s certain to test free agency thereafter.
Theo Epstein joined the Bernstein & McKnight Show on The Score today and was asked about the possibility of trading for a rental at the trade deadline in general, but it’s pretty clear to me that, given the recent rumors, the guys doing the asking, at least, were talking about Manny Machado.
“Look, we’ve only paid a real premium for a rental one time, and that was when we traded Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman,” Epstein said. “And that was a sort of special circumstance in our mind. We felt we had a team that was an extraordinarily strong contender for the World Series, but there were some things going on in our bullpen that led us to conclude there was going to be a real need down the stretch and especially in October, and if we didn’t do something, we weren’t going to win the World Series.”
It wasn’t a secret at the time that (1) the Cubs were overwhelming favorites to win their division and compete in the postseason, and (2) there was some softness in the bullpen that could be really exposed if the back-end broke down at all (which it did). Adding Chapman to that particular team was overwhelmingly impact (especially when you consider how back-end relievers can be used in the postseason).
So, “as a rule,” Epstein said, the team will *not* be paying premiums for rentals. Although Epstein of course said the Cubs will work to improve the club at midseason if the circumstances justify it, giving up significant talent – from the roster or the farm system – for pure rentals is not going to be the first plan of attack.
“If we play ourselves into a position where we can benefit from some improvement and we’re a legitimate championship contender, absolutely we will be pushing the envelope to try to get better,” Epstein told The Score. “But that will probably not include paying a significant premium of future assets for a rental, because we have to build this organization and keep our focus on this group and this year’s team and the immediate future in the next couple years but also keep an eye on what’s going to happen after 2021. We can’t be sacrificing all of our future assets in drafting guys exclusively to trade them …. We need to start growing the farm back as well.”
Hey, did you catch that “probably not” in there?
Epstein is never going to fully close any door, but I think we can take him at his word that trading a ton for a guy like Machado right now is not going to be the Cubs’ priority. Building back up the farm system so that it can support a big league team that is going to get more and more expensive? That’s the priority.
As for Machado, specifically, I expect that the rumors will probably continue, and I think it’s worth bearing in mind that the Cubs very likely did engage at some level about him this offseason – there were too many rumors from different sources pointing in the same direction for there not to be at least some fire. But, it’s also worth bearing in mind that those rumors centered around Addison Russell … and no trade happened. Without something fundamental happening now to change the situation, I don’t see why that trade would suddenly come together (by either side).
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.