Whenever I’m asked if I think the Cubs will be buyers this July, several responses race through my mind. On the one hand, the Cubs are clearly in a strategic position buy, given the bigger picture (i.e. they’re in the middle of a competitive window, they should win the division again this year, they’ve shown a history of buying big at the deadline when competitive (2016 and 2017), and they’ve made heavy investments over the offseason for this year).
On the other hand, because they’ve traded away so many top prospects over the past few seasons, the cupboard was relatively bare before they lost one of their better trade chips, Adbert Alzolay, for the year. Plus, there’s just not much of an obvious area for improvement.
The Cubs offense has 10(!) players with at least 200 plate appearances and a wRC+ over 100. Their rotation is full to the brim + 1 (Mike Montgomery), and their bullpen, when healthy, has a dominant closer (Brandon Morrow), two fantastic set-up men (Carl Edwards and Pedro Strop), a mid-game closer (Steve Cishek), two quality lefties, one good for strikeouts, the other for grounders (Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing), and another 4 or 5 depth arms that have all impressed in limited duty.
Oh, and on a normal day, their bench has two switch-hitters, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist. One could hit homers, the other will give you a polished approach, both can play the infield and the outfield. Where exactly are they supposed to add?
- Well, the easiest place to add someone is always going to be the bullpen. Not only is there simply more room to add there, but relievers 1) get injured a lot, 2) are often quite inconsistent, and 3) are disproportionately important to today’s game, particularly in the postseason. The good news is that relievers are also always available at the deadline. The bad news is that two of the more realistic and quality trade targets, Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, have already been moved in extremely early deals.
- But don’t let that discourage you. The Cubs are still going to keep tabs: “We’re always going to be looking for bullpen pieces,” general manager Jed Hoyer said via The Athletic. “Our bullpen has probably been the strength of the team this year so far, and that’s obviously being challenged right now. We’ve got two of our best guys out, so other guys are going to have to step up.”
- Keep in mind: we’re still more than a month away from the non-waiver trade deadline. A lot can happen in between now and then, making the needs much more obvious. (But hopefully not!)
- On the non-trade, but still rumory front, Hoyer seems to indicate that Dillon Maples could be up with the team to help the bullpen sooner than later: “Dillon’s throwing really well the last few weeks,” Hoyer said. “He’s obviously got an electric arm and when he’s commanding, he’s phenomenal. His stuff is really as good as anyone in the big leagues.” Maples’ big problem is command, but over his last nine outings he’s walked just 4 batters while striking out 16. If he can truly get his command under control, the Cubs will have another late-inning candidate in the mix.
- Speaking of those reliever moves, the Braves apparently liked Kelvin Herrera, but weren’t willing to spend the $4.5M he’s owed the rest of the way because it would’ve tapped them out of funds. And while the Braves funds are limited by ownership, this is a reminder that teams like the Cubs do have a salary threshold to keep in mind when making moves this summer. Given the pro-rated nature of salaries, the Cubs should be fine adding almost anyone, but it’s certainly not a given that every player can fit in the budget. It’s just something to keep in mind.
- Anything to keep him from the Cardinals, right:
Sources: #DBacks, #Orioles have been in contact about a possible Manny Machado trade this season. Dialogue remains open between the clubs. This is viewed as due diligence on Arizona’s part as the team’s needs become clear. @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 19, 2018
- On second thought, I think I would love it if the Cardinals traded for Machado, because he’s a rental, is seemingly unwilling to sign an extension (with the possible exception of Chicago), would cost an arm and a leg, and … I think the Cubs can still beat the Cardinals even with him. Of course, in all likelihood, the Cardinals would get him for some no-name scrub anyway, so forget it.
- But the Machado interest is certainly heating up. The Cubs are obviously involved at some level, and I think we know that the Cardinals are probably there too. With Morosi’s info, we can add the D-Backs squarely to the mix, and that’s not all: Jon Heyman is calling the Padres a candidate for Machado. Now, I may not be as tapped in as Jon Heyman, but … nah. Or, if they really are trying to trade for him this year … dumb. The Padres have no reason to trade for Machado (you could convince me they should sign him after the season, though, and maybe that’s mostly what their efforts are about – information-gathering), but Heyman has heard they’re putting in the work, so here we are. On top of those four teams (Cubs, Cardinals, D-Backs, Padres), Heyman also lists the Phillies, Indians, and Dodgers. So just like the offseason, everyone is involved.
- Brett is devilishly sly … and right:
Over the past 30 days …
Bryce Harper: .163/.250/.315, 50 wRC+
Jason Heyward: .322/.372/.494, 133 wRC+ pic.twitter.com/M0rf5rTx4Y
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) June 21, 2018
- Jokes aside, let’s pocket the comparison for now and focus instead on Harper’s rough results and recent struggles, because they are real, and could plausibly have ramifications for his contract this offseason. If his season continues on this way (I doubt it), he probably won’t topple that $300M mark many have predicted. But even then, a 26-year-old Harper is going to generate plenty of interest, slump or not. And in reality, it could be best case scenario for a team hot on his tail, like the Cubs, because they could wind up saving millions thanks to a slump and still get the guy they want/know will be better in the future. And for what it’s worth, Harper’s GM (Mike Rizzo) and manager (former Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez) both say he’s in good spirits and is working hard to bust loose from the slide.
- And finally, at NBC Sports Boston, Evan Drellich discusses the battle between the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East and for trade partners this July. While both teams may be destined for the postseason, only one will get to avoid that pesky Wild Card game, which is the biggest crapshoot of them all. Could they wind up in an arms race this trade season? That’d be both fun to follow, and also potentially crazy for the trade market.