It’s rare that we see an early-May Lukewarm Stove, but I’ve got a feeling (and, as you’ll see below, Jayson Stark suspects the same) we’re going to see rumor season – real, meaty rumor season – kicking up earlier than we are used to this year thanks to the continued *extreme* stratification of teams. Even as there have been some great surprise early contenders as rebuilding clubs turn the corner, there have also been so many tanking teams that have, as expected, looked like dog plop.
We’re going to know as soon as ever which teams are selling, and their wares will be on the market soon.
- To that end, Jayson Stark joined McNeil and Parkins on 670 The Score, and the very first topic they got into was the inevitable and obvious coming Manny Machado trade. Although teams don’t start unloading in early May, Stark believes the rumors are going to kick up much earlier than usual because the sellers are going to want to get out in front of the pack. But with a guy like Machado – as far as an actual trade goes – Stark believes the Orioles will hold onto him for a while because he’s such a key trade piece. They know they’ve got to get an absolute haul for him, and selling early, ahead of the pack, may not be the best way to do it. (As with anything, there are countervailing forces – the earlier he’s moved, the more another team should be willing to pay, since they’re getting more games (but the pool of buyers might be smaller, since fringe contenders might not yet be ready to push all the chips in); but the longer you wait, the more you risk injury or a serious turn in his performance.)
- Stark doesn’t see the Cubs as out of the question for Machado, and even called them “the perfect fit” … if they’re ready to move on from Addison Russell. Even to Stark, though, it seems too early to pull that particular trigger. Russell is just 24, has shown flashes of so much talent (how many times have we seen young players do this, where they finally break out, as projected, in their mid-20s?). Eventually, though, the bat has to show up, according to Stark. That’s why, as I’ve said before, I think it’s conceivable the Cubs could decide they’re ready to move on after this season depending on the trend lines, but doing so at mid-season in a rental trade just seems too early.
- It should be pointed out that Stark, who says he could see the Brewers and Blue Jays as possible fits, noted that the Dodgers are a tough fit for luxury tax cap purposes, and I’d say is also a consideration for the Cubs, who’ve left only about $10 million or so in buffer.
- Meanwhile, Bruce Levine writes about the Cubs’ possible interest in adding a veteran outfielder to the bench – someone in the mold of Peter Bourjos, who can play defense all over, and run the bases well. You’ll note that the Cubs had Bourjos in on a minor league deal, he didn’t make the club, was let go to sign with the Braves, who have since bumped him from the big league roster and re-signed to a minor league deal. So, I’d say he’s plenty available if the Cubs came calling, but I’m not entirely sure adding him to the roster fits/makes sense until and unless the Cubs decide Ian Happ needs more time at AAA, something they’ve said they’re not yet considering. Would it be nice to have a guy like Bourjos available for late-game pinch-running opportunities and defense? Sure. But the bat won’t provide you much, if anything, and the Cubs have only three spots available on the bench for non-catchers. One of those spots unquestionably and immutably goes to Ben Zobrist and another goes to Tommy La Stella. That leaves only Happ or Albert Almora getting bumped, unless the Cubs are going to drop down to seven relievers, which is not something they’ve indicated they’re interested in doing.
- (The Cubs have Mark Zagunis at AAA with a probably-big-league-caliber bat if they absolutely had to bring up an outfielder, but he’s a corner outfield guy, not a defensive type. If the Cubs are concerned Jacob Hannemann can’t be a big league caliber 5th outfielder type, then, sure, it would be nice to get Bourjos in the house on a minor league deal. My guess is his new minor league contract with the Braves has a June 1 opt-out, though.)
- The Hyun-Jin Ryu injury is the worst version of a groin strain there is – the muscle tore from the bone – and the Dodgers are going to be without the lefty (who’d been fantastic) for a long time. Top prospect Walker Buehler takes his spot for now, and maybe that’s a neutral move for them. But Buehler is on an innings limit, which will limit his availability as an every-turn starter. With Corey Seager out for the year, I think you’re going to see the Dodgers get aggressive on the trade market as soon as any team – and, given that they’re up against the luxury tax cap, they’re going to have to get creative, too.
- Speaking of which, Jon Heyman reiterates the hurdles the Dodgers face in landing Manny Machado in trade, despite the obvious and perfect fit between the two partners’ desires/needs. There’s the luxury tax issue, which I think the Dodgers could ultimately get around by including a better package of prospects to get the O’s to eat more salary. But then there’s the acquisition cost, which may very well include Buehler … which, I would point out, now seems even more unlikely given the Ryu injury. As a key NL playoff contender – and a team that may prove to have overlapping interests with the Cubs (in trade at midseason and in free agency after the season) – I will be keeping a close eye on the Dodgers in the coming months.
- More generally, Heyman runs down the early list of the top 40 trade candidates. There are a surprisingly large number of interesting players that figure to be available this year. It’s a fun list to peruse, but as far as the Cubs are concerned, I’d argue that their most pressing in-season trade need … has not materialized yet. The rotation is healthy and full. The bullpen is full, fantastic, and has a whole lot of exciting young depth behind it in the upper minors. The positional group is already overflowing with starting-capable players. To be sure, the Cubs will *ALWAYS* explore upgrades, but I think it’s going to take a dramatic turn for them to seriously pursue a starting-level-player at the deadline.
- (That is not me jinxing them – do not knock on wood – I’m just saying that’s where things stand here in early May, when we’re nearly three months away from the deadline. So much can change, from injury to underperformance to other moves that clear out other spots.)