A stray concern that is developing for me, given how little we know about where things stand financially for the baseball ops budget: what if that amorphous “range” of possible budgets from back in November and December has now been set … and it’s a budget that will require even more salary cutting from here? And, worse, what if the chatter has hit the wire on that front, and other teams know the Cubs have been mandated to cut even more? That would explain why the Cubs are rumored to be refusing to eat salary in a Kris Bryant trade (which you’d otherwise WANT them to do to improve the prospect return). Again, this is all so opaque that we’re doing a lot of guesswork here, but it would also explain why the Cubs have quite literally not been attached to any real free agents in the last few weeks despite the market opening up. The Cubs might be in a spot where they have to wait for the bottom to fall out on certain free agents so that they can get them on non-guaranteed minor league deals.
• Speaking of the Cubs no longer being attached in rumors to real free agents in the last few weeks:
Free-agent catcher Jason Castro in agreement with Astros on one-year contract, pending physical, sources tell me and @jakemkaplan.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 21, 2021
• There was a stray rumor that the Cubs were in on Castro at the end of December, but that was it. The Cubs still need a back-up catcher, but Castro is one of those guys who is closer to being a starter than a back-up, so he would’ve been quite a luxury for the Cubs’ available dollars (if any). Indeed, Castro made more sense for the Cubs if they’d already traded Willson Contreras, which is why the timing of the Castro rumors made you cock an eyebrow (it was around the time when the reported interest in Contreras was really picking up). I wouldn’t say the Cubs not getting Castro means a Contreras trade is now LESS likely, but I would say that the available catching options for the Cubs if they DO trade Contreras just got worse.
• Brailyn Marquez gets a little love from MLB Pipeline, which is rolling out its *positional* rankings (in the run-up to its top 100), as he ranks as the 8th best lefty pitching prospect in the game. More than that, he and Garrett Crochet get tabbed with 80 grades in their fastballs, making them the “best” fastballs in the minors among lefties. An oddity about the list/lefty starting pitching prospects in the minors? Marquez is the only IFA signing among the top 10. The other nine are all US draft picks.
21 years old
Has hit 102 mph
The sky's the limit for #Cubs' Brailyn Marquez.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) January 20, 2021
• Jordan Bastian wrote up a bit on Marquez here, as he participates in the Rookie Program out in Mesa. Although he didn’t pitch much competitively, 2020 was quite a year for Marquez: he worked on his fitness for much of the first half of the year (he’s 21 – that’s part of the learning process), he honed his curveball and changeup, he developed a two-seamer, and he made his brief big league debut. I’m not mentally counting on big league innings from Marquez in 2021 – he hasn’t even pitched at AA – but it is, of course, conceivable that he could see some big league action this year. (You know, especially given how few sure-fire starters the Cubs have right now.)
• The MLB Pipeline catcher list is also up, and the Cubs also have the 8th ranked guy there in Miguel Amaya. That’s about where he’s been for over a year on these types of lists, and whatever, it’s a very deep group of top prospects right now. But I remain of the mind that you don’t have a solidly above-league-average bat at High-A as a catcher who is 2-3 years younger than the average competition unless you’re special. Throw in the fact that his is that rare combination of contact and power – again, he already has quite a bit of power as a young catching prospect – and I think Amaya could be a star. I really hate that we lost the 2020 season of seeing what he could have done at AA Tennessee. We’ll see this year, and if he gets the bump to AAA Iowa at some point.
• Old friend alert, going back to being an old friend where he used to be a friend:
Hello, old friend. pic.twitter.com/osye6wkBWQ
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) January 20, 2021