I will not tell you that a significant trade after Spring Training begins is impossible, because sometimes circumstances dictate a rare deal. And obviously circumstances this year on the roster side of things are indeed rare.
However, history tells us that you almost never see a major, roster-transforming trade once Spring Training begins. Big signings? Absolutely. But big trades that fundamentally alter what two+ teams are doing in the season ahead? Nah. You just don’t see it.
So that is to say, I’ve mentally ballparked the next week as the final week of obsessively wondering whether the Cubs were going to send off a guy like Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras for prospects. The last couple offseasons, I’ve mostly been agnostic about what the Cubs should do – I can see merits and demerits as a team evaluator and a fan – but where I’ve landed as of this moment is that I just want it to be over. So, either do something, or get me to Spring Training so that I can mostly presume the rumors are over, and just project the Cubs’ roster as including Bryant and Contreras, among others.
None of that is to say that the Cubs are going to rule out a trade, after Spring Training begins, and certainly not in the immediate future:
With spring training around the corner, Jed Hoyer isn't done making changes to the roster. Another starting pitcher being added is almost assured, but could a big trade still be pulled of in the coming weeks? https://t.co/Bn8CQ0dOQb
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) February 9, 2021
“As far as assurances, I’ve had conversations with players and their agents,” Hoyer said of possible trades, per The Athletic. “Obviously I would keep that between those parties, but I think the most important thing is being honest and telling them what those conversations are like and where they stand. We talk about this all the time, we don’t have any untouchables in this game. When you give assurances, you can kind of tell them the status of conversations and try to be transparent about that. But I think giving them complete assurances is probably impossible at any given time just given the fact that a phone call can always come in.”
To be sure, you could take Hoyer’s comments there as just being a generic “no untouchables” thing, but he knows the situation right now is more specific than that. It was just last year that Kris Bryant arrived at Spring Training and revealed that Theo Epstein had recently told him he would be with the Cubs on Opening Day. Hoyer, it seems, is making no such similar guarantees at the moment to Bryant or anyone else.
Right now, you’ve gotta figure that Contreras is just about wholly safe. There were a lot of rumors earlier this offseason, but as the catching market has finalized itself, there was no more follow. Usually, if a trade is being held up by the free agent market (or other trades), once those things are resolved, you find out whether a trade is going to happen or not. Given that the catching market has kinda been settled for a good long while and the rumor mill on Contreras has been mostly quiet, I’m not expecting a resurgence of those rumors (for example: I don’t think Yadi Molina’s expected return to the Cardinals is going to have caught some other team by surprise such that they now have to get desperate and trade for Contreras).
Moreover, once pitchers and catchers report, it’s awfully difficult to swap out a starting catcher and expect him to max out his value on a new team, given the limited time to work with a whole new set of pitchers and coaches. More than another other position, you want to know your catchers on day one of Spring Training, and make no changes from there.
As for Bryant, you could certainly argue that Justin Turner’s continued presence on the free agent market is a potential hold-up (as was the trade availability of Nolan Arenado). It’s not at all hard to imagine, for example, the Dodgers waiting on Turner before making one last pass at Bryant. For the most part, the costly part of the positional market is resolved, however, so if there is money out there to be spent on Bryant’s $19.5 million salary for 2021, it isn’t going to change in a considerable way over the next week. Either a team comes calling for Bryant soon, or it just isn’t going to happen (again).
That is to say, I don’t expect a resurgence of Bryant rumors, but we know that it sure seemed like a deal was close earlier this offseason, so maybe some team(s) circles back before finalizing their roster. The Cubs have never had to deal Bryant, however, and might be content at this point to go with what they’ve got in these guys heading into walk years, and then re-evaluate at midseason.