Lukewarm Stove: Keeping Kimbrel, Cubs Starting Pitcher Targets, Shifting Buyers and Sellers, More

Much of today’s Lukewarm Stove is going to be about the Cubs’ glaring need for a starting pitcher, their potential targets, the impact of the market, and so on — and rightfully so, it’s the biggest hole on the roster — but I don’t want us to get one-track minded. This team also needs a backup catcher and they could certainly use another starting-caliber bat.

On the latter point, I don’t really expect them to act. I think we’ll see the Cubs identify Nico Hoerner and Matt Duffy as mid-season “additions,” and will otherwise hope that one of Jason Heyward or Ian Happ turn things around at the plate while the core tries to turn the clock back to May.

The Cubs Plans, Keeping Kimbrel

Before we get into some specifics, I do think you should all take a second to hear Ken Rosenthal discuss the Cubs plans at the deadline early on in the following podcast (starts at 4:50).

The conversation is brief, but it’s a pretty important one coming from Rosenthal. For one, he echoes a sentiment we’ve all shared for a while now: The Cubs have come too far this season – through the toughest part of their schedule – to blow it all up at the deadline now. But he also concedes that, yes, that *was* the plan of both the front office and ownership going back to the offseason and maybe last year (pre-pandemic), too. And perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I do think the Cubs will have to hang around near the top of their division a little while longer (through this Brewers and Reds series) to solidify their role as a buyer this deadline.

For another interesting angle, Rosenthal points out that now that Craig Kimbrel is back to his usual, dominant self, the Cubs should not only not want to trade him or wait until his exit into free agency, they should be itching to pick up his $16M option for next season. He also reminds us that Kimbrel has a $1M or $2M buyout (depends on innings)), making it only a $14M or $15M decision.

Long story short, even if the Cubs don’t buy aggressively this year, that doesn’t mean they’ll be shopping Kimbrel (and, hey, if he’s good again, but the Cubs aren’t, you can always trade him then). (Brett: I have to add this, even if just as a reminder – that option the Cubs have on Kimbrel for 2022 would arguably make him all the more attractive to a would-be buyer in July. Not saying I want that to happen, of course, but I just had to point out that it cuts both ways.)

The SP Market: More Buyers, Fewer Sellers

The Cubs may need a starter as badly as any team out there, but a LOT of teams are in the exact same boat. There are all the obvious teams. But also, on that same podcast, Rosenthal suggests that even the starter-happy Dodgers could look to add starting pitching. Meanwhile, the Yankees don’t expect to get Corey Kluber back until August or September, so you can count them in. And now the Padres are being lumped into this conversation, as well.

If even the PADRES are buying starters, the market is gonna be ROUGH.

There are other teams too, of course, but the problem doesn’t stop on the buy side. As it turns out, one of the premier rental starters, Max Scherzer, is probably coming off the market, shrinking the possibilities further. According to one rival executive (via Robert Murray), the Nationals are probably now going to be BUYERS not sellers, at the deadline, which means Scherzer is staying put and probably Jon Lester, too.

There is a chance that the wheels could fall off for Washington before decisions need to be made, but, heck, they’re only one more game out of first place than the Cubs are right now. There’s plenty of nuance there to make Cubs fans feel better about their situation than the Nationals’, but that is a fact. In any case, if the Nationals do decide to sell, Scherzer could be joined by Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, Brad Hand, and Daniel Hudson.

And, as a total aside, the Blue Jays, who’ve reportedly been the most aggressive team seeking relief help this season, would be thrilled if both the Cubs and Nationals became sellers.

The Cubs SP Targets:

Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney have the piece of the day at The Athletic.

Using a combination of sourced information, institutional knowledge, and some informed assumptions, they’ve collected six realistic starting pitching trade targets for the Chicago Cubs, ranging from aging, half-season rentals, to multi-year higher upside types.

But before we get into the names, I want to make sure their broader point lands: The Cubs do not necessarily need to make an impact starting pitcher addition (especially in a tight market like this, and especially if they don’t get out ahead of the Brewers). Or rather, they probably shouldn’t. What they need to do is preserve the progress their minor league system has made while patching holes on the big league roster in creative ways and giving this team a shot to win.

At the top of the list is … Jon Lester. Which is just comedy at this point. I’m not saying he wouldn’t be a useful addition, but I can pretty easily imagine a series of events that leads the Cubs to DFA Jake Arrieta, whom they ostensibly picked over Lester this offseason, just to add Lester again. And after the Yu Darvish/Victor Caratini trade (which is *exactly* the sort of duo the Cubs need right now) it’s just an embarrassing combination of moves. Really, I don’t know if I can take the Cubs trading for Lester.

Then there’s Kyle Gibson, who went from my under-the-radar perfect addition for the Cubs to the most coveted (realistically available) starter on the market. Jon Gray (rental) and Mike Minor (one more year of control after this one) are two guys the Cubs have targeted in the past, Gray via the draft and via trade and Minor via free agency.

But the Rockies will likely have many suitors on Gray (though perhaps they’d be less willing to trade him to the Dodgers or Padres), and the Cubs weren’t able to find much common ground with Colorado in recent years (they do have a new, interim GM, but still a lot of the same people). And Minor was seen by this Cubs front office as more of a reliever than a starter. I wonder if they’ve changed their mind on that?

The final two highlighted starters are Merrill Kelly, which is a boring, but probably fine addition, and Michael Pineda, who’s on the IL, but would probably be another solid addition.

Other names mentioned throughout as realistic targets: J.A. Happ, Danny Duffy. Other names mentioned throughout as … are we sure these are realistic targets? Jose Berrios, German Marquez, Alex Cobb, Andrew Heaney, Charlie Morton.

There’s some much important context and nuance laced throughout that story, so be sure to check it out. These (Sharma and Mooney) are the two guys you’ll want to follow closely as the deadline approaches. We can dig into those starters as everyone’s intentions clear up a bit over the next few weeks.

Odds and Ends:

•   Tommy La Stella suffered a small fracture in his hand delaying his upcoming minor league rehab assignment (he’s been out since May 4 as it is with a hamstring injury), which is notable because (1) it’s La Stella and (2) the Giants are one of those could-be, should-be buyers, and you wonder how their plans change if La Stella won’t be back until August.

•   Bob Nightengale first indicated the White Sox potential interest in Diamondbacks infielder Eduardo Escobar, and now Jon Heyman backs him up:

•   For what it’s worth, Robert Murray hears that the Nationals could also be players for Escobar, though I suspect the White Sox would be more willing and able to get a deal done.

written by

Michael Cerami began covering the Chicago Cubs for Bleacher Nation as a part-time contributor in 2015. One year later, he joined Bleacher Nation full-time, covering the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball. Today, Michael runs Bleacher Nation, contributing as a writer (Cubs, MLB) and an editor for all sections of the site, including the Chicago Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks, as well as MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL. In 2019, Michael was the co-host of NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs Post-Game Show Outside the Ivy. You can find him on Twitter/X @Michael_Cerami

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