Now that we’ve officially entered the “second half,” and there are just 15 days before the Trade Deadline, it’s really time for rumor season to ramp up. And when you’re a team loaded with short-term talent and fading in the divisional race, the buyers will come calling. That is the reality for the 2021 Chicago Cubs and the fans who follow them.
But what about those buyers? What reality are they going to be confronted with when they ring up Jed Hoyer and start asking about who is available, how much they’ll cost, what the Cubs want, etc.? To that end, I figured I would go through every single player on the Cubs’ roster and comment in their situation relative to the upcoming Trade Deadline.
Cubs Starting Pitchers
Let’s just lead things off controversial, shall we? Should teams ask about Hendricks – and they will – what they will find is a Cubs front office that knows better than to deal Hendricks (and his three reasonable years of control after this season) without getting back an absurd, near-term package. Even as Hendricks would contribute to a run this year for some contender, I have a very hard time seeing a team offer up enough to turn the Cubs’ head when they absolutely need and want him for the years ahead.
No one is untouchable, but there’s little point in asking about Alzolay. Cubs want to keep developing him.
A rental who has pitched very well since May in a very thin starting pitching market (3.05 ERA over his last 14 starts). It’s highly likely that Davies is traded, and, given the market, I suspect the Cubs can get back a pretty nice prospect or two. A top 100 type? Oh, probably not. But there could be multiple suitors and upward pressure on the price if a whole lot more sellers don’t enter the market.
On the Injured List, and untradable even if he were not. If a team wanted him, they need only pick up the prorated portion of the big league minimum. I don’t see that happening.
I’m sure he’s available, and I’m also sure there are some teams that would really like to pick him up, given the versatility and pre-arb salary. Given the highs and the lows, it’s pretty hard to value him in trade – maybe a similar positional guy? But then, why make that move if you’re the Cubs unless it fills an even clearer need than swing guy (which looks like it’ll still be a need in 2022)?
Mills, 29, has a 3.65 ERA and 2.52 FIP over his five starts since moving back into the rotation. That now-heavily-used sinker is really playing.
It seems unlikely that Williams will establish himself enough over the course of two or three starts before the Deadline to become a valuable trade piece, even in this market. It’s possible, but the return might be so minimal that it’s worth more to the Cubs to just let Williams pitch out the rest of the year so they can decide about bringing him back in 2022. We’ll see how he looks after the All-Star break, now that he’s back from his appendectomy and there’s a spot for him in the rotation.
Cubs Relief Pitchers
Arguably the most impactful player known, for sure, to be on the market this month. Kimbrel is back to being the best version of himself, and he also comes with a team option for 2022 at $16 million. No matter how some pundits try to spin it, a super-elite closer on a one-year, $16 million deal is positive value. So you add that on top of the value of adding an impact closer for the stretch run and the playoffs, and a buyer here is going to have to expect to pay a “ton” for Kimbrel. More dissection there at that link.
The Cubs should be plenty open to eating salary to improve their return in a Kimbrel deal, either by way of taking back an ugly contract or simply sending some cash along with Kimbrel. They had the money to make additions this month, per both Jed Hoyer and Crane Kenney, so there should be no excuse for not paying out salary that is already on the books, if it could mean a better trade package.
While not as valuable as Kimbrel, Chafin has been nearly as dominant (1.42 ERA, 2.61 FIP over 38.0 innings), and he’ll make less than $1 million for the final two months of the season (so every single buyer could be in). For the fun and the success, I kinda hate that the Cubs are nearly certain to deal Chafin, but he’s a free agent after this season (mutual option of $5.25 million is unlikely to be the perfect sweet spot for both sides). His value is so high that the Cubs really might land a surprisingly compelling package.
Like Kimbrel, a bonus with Chafin? His performance (results and data) was completely unaffected by the sticky stuff enforcement.
Before the performance struggles that came prior to his Injured List stint (calf), Tepera was performing as well as Kimbrel or Chafin. Maybe even better. But because the timing of those struggles came with the sticky stuff enforcement, and preceded an Injured List stint, teams are going to need to see who he is over the final two weeks before they would offer up a significant package. Were the Deadline today, I’m not sure Tepera would be moved. But in the relief market, it doesn’t take a whole lot for teams to decide a guy is good to go and worth bringing in as a supplement. And when he’s right, Tepera is an impact guy.
There was a time when he was going to be a nice trade piece, but three of his last four outings have been quite ugly, and his 7.36 ERA since the start of sticky-stuff enforcement is probably going to give some teams pause (whether it’s just a small sample artifact or something genuinely concerning). His season results still look great (2.32 ERA), but the peripherals have always been dodgy because of the way he succeeds (i.e., lotta nibbling walks, not a lot of strikeouts, a lot of bad contact). I’m not sure a buyer would be willing to give up a meaningful piece to add him to their bullpen for the stretch run.
Currently on the Injured List on a very long rehab stint, but it’s pretty clear from his Iowa outings that he’s basically himself. Is there a team out there that wants to take a chance on the arm talent and commit the 40-man spot to him over the offseason? If so, the Cubs might trade Maples for a younger flyer. If not, the Cubs will have their own decision to make on him in the offseason.
At times, looks like he’s finally got it all back together and can be a dominant lefty in a contender’s bullpen. At other times, he loses his command so badly that he’s not usable, especially in the three-batter-minimum world. He’s gotten results this year (with even better peripherals), but would contenders see him as an upgrade to their bullpen? He’s cheap and comes with extra team control, so maybe that moves the needle a little. On the whole, though, you’d probably have to be pretty hard up to trade a notable prospect for Brothers right now. It’s possible. I can’t go any further than that. And I wouldn’t hate it if the Cubs kept him anyway and saw where things stood after the season. The good version of Brothers is so dang good.
Coulda been a trade piece if things had played out differently, since he’s had that past big league success and was so good at Iowa, but things did not play out differently.
The Cubs are already fixin’ to give Thompson and Justin Steele some second half starts, and I don’t see a reason Thompson (or Steele, when he returns) will seriously be the subject of any trade talks.
Trades for starting catchers in-season are always tricky because of the curve associated with adjusting to a new pitching staff. You might get a great catcher, but you might not get the best out of him in that season. Contreras, of course, is controlled for one more year, so maybe a team still wants to try to take a swing. The Cubs will listen if a team wants to blow them away, but I just don’t think they’re ready to close the door on signing a three-or-four-year deal that keeps Contreras behind the plate for several more years. I’m sure teams will ask. I’d be shocked if a deal came together in-season. Teams will then ask again after the season.
Who … even is the Cubs’ back-up catcher right now? Name him without looking! (It’s Robinson Chirinos, who is not going to become a trade piece.)
Between the step back in performance the last two years (141 wRC+ from 2014-19; 108 wRC+ from 2020-21) and the back issues, I don’t know that there’s a major trade haul out there waiting for the Cubs on Rizzo if they were even interested. I think it’s far more likely that the team simply rides with Rizzo into free agency, probably makes him the qualifying offer, and then figures out if a re-signing can take place.
Even if teams did come calling, you don’t trade Rizzo – the heart of the team for the last decade – for a middling, lottery ticket return. You would trade him in that situation only if he wanted a chance to compete with a winner down the stretch, and you were accommodating him (believing that a re-signing wasn’t happening in any case).
Like with a lot of younger guys, I’m sure there’d be plenty of interest, but Hoerner will be sticking with the Cubs for the foreseeable future. He’s the starting second baseman (or shortstop?) in 2022.
If he came back from his shoulder separation looking fantastic for the final 10 days of the first half, I suppose it’s plausible a team could come calling for a utility infielder with power. But Bote hasn’t quite shown enough – especially this year – to justify the confidence a team would need to make that trade. Under control for several more years, the Cubs will see what Bote looks like in the second half and consider the offseason fit/position/etc. accordingly.
I don’t see teams calling on Alcantara, who was a waiver claim before the season. The Cubs will keep him around as an up-down guy this year, and we’ll see where things are in Spring Training.
Similar here on Wisdom. The hole in his swing is really substantial, and he’s going to have to work through that – at an advanced age and in the big leagues – before a team could believe he’s a sustainable starter or even upper-tier bench guy. I would like to see him keep getting starts into the second half so that the Cubs have as much information as possible for the offseason. That is all to say, I don’t expect a team to want to “buy” him for their second half run.
Not sure where else to put this, so I’ll mention it generally in this spot: the point is not just about valuing these players overall, but it all takes place within the world of a mid-season trade. What you’re getting, for example, on the controlled guys is not just their contracts. It is the impact they provide this season. So even if a team really wanted Happ longer-term, you’d be more likely to see the trade now if they also REALLY felt he could impact their 2021 stretch run. And I don’t see a team thinking that.
A nice bounce-back year – in his own, unique way – has Báez back to being a nearly 4-WAR-pace guy, though the strikeouts and defensive lapses might give a buyer pause. And I also think the price tag would have to be considerable to justify the Cubs not riding things out and potentially signing Báez to a new deal after the season. It’s also worth noting that, unlike some of the other rentals on the market, I see less potential here for a team that already knows it wants to sign Báez in the offseason, and thus pushes extra aggressively to acquire him at the Trade Deadline.
For some teams, the upgrade to Báez at shortstop would be substantial. Let’s not sleep on that just because we’ve become overly familiar with Báez. But unless a team goes over the top with a surprisingly large offer for a rental position player – something that almost never happens anymore – I don’t see the Cubs giving Báez away just to grab a lottery ticket. There’s value in keeping him and re-evaluating things in November.
He’ll be back in about a week from his long-term back injury, and while he was definitely an interesting contributor for the Cubs before going down, I don’t see a worthwhile trade offer coming along. Instead, the second half value to the Cubs is in getting to see how Duffy plays after mending, and then deciding if you want to try to re-up with him before he hits the market again.
I could’ve put him in the outfield group, because obviously. Bryant’s value, even as a rental, is significant. Will trade offers be enough to make the Cubs move on – ceding not only the draft pick compensation but also the small chance that they could re-sign him later? I tend to think a trade is more likely than other pundits, because I think there has been a design to trade Bryant for a long time (precluded by circumstances – first his grievance being dragged out, and second by the pandemic).
The value is still going to need to be there, though, and rental position players simply don’t net huge trade returns in this environment. A top 50 overall prospect is not going to be attainable, but if you can get multiple top 15 system guys? I do think you have to consider it, and weigh it – very honestly! – against the unlikelihood of Bryant re-signing with the Cubs on a monster contract after the season. It happens for some outgoing free agents, of course, but the tea leaves have never pointed in that direction.
The Cubs should also be VERY open to eating salary to improve the return here.
Brought in on a one-year deal (well, there’s a mutual option after the season, but that was just a salary-deferral tactic), Pederson has not hit like he has for the rest of his career (.230/.300/.418, 95 wRC+). He has been split-neutral for the first time in his career, so maybe that helps his market, but the defense hasn’t been overly impressive (he’s been switched out of left field defensively late in games at times, and that’s just flat out concerning), and the power has fallen off.
If you want to play it positive, you point out that he’s been much better since returning from the early season wrist issue (.254/.310/.463, 108 wRC+), and he’s probably better than the guys some contenders have in their corner outfield spots right now after various injuries have ravaged a couple clubs. Does Pederson get you a significant prospect? No. Does he get you an interesting guy or two, justifying a trade? Yeah, maybe. UPDATE: Pederson has been traded, and he did indeed net an interesting guy!
A very solid complementary outfielder who runs well, can play all over, and is showing great power. If I’m a contender, I love the idea of bringing him in to join my bench. Big return in trade? No. Interesting, high-risk/lower-ceiling prospect? Yeah, I bet you could land that. The question is whether it’ll be enough for the Cubs to justify squeezing that prospect onto a lower-level roster (recall, there is a 180-player roster limit in the minors now, and fewer teams overall). A Marisnick/reliever package could be a nice combo move for the right contender.
The Cubs will work with Happ the rest of this year to set him up for success in 2022 and beyond. You don’t want this to be a lost year, but so far it’s been really rough. I don’t see trade partners calling at the Trade Deadline here.
Because of his deep struggles this year, I don’t think there would be any interest even if the Cubs were eating virtually all of the remaining dollars on Heyward’s contract. I think the bet here is that the Cubs let Heyward play out the season, and then they re-evaluate the situation in the months ahead. Heyward is signed through 2023.
A minor league signing who has been a depth bench guy for the Cubs this year, I don’t see Ortega becoming a trade piece.