Seeing as it’s June now, I’d like to say we’ve officially arrived at trade season, but the dates are all pushed back (again) this year.
The first pick in the MLB Draft won’t come until July 17, the All-Star Game isn’t happening until July 19, and the actual trade deadline has been pushed back to August 2. In the past, the draft was in mid-June, giving front offices time to refocus their efforts on the trade market once all their picks were in, but not anymore. And that could slow things down.
I still think we’ll see very serious trade rumors pick up by early next month – perhaps even with a few pre-Draft deals – but the majority of the actual movement will get done after July 20. That’s just how it goes.
We’ve got some fresh (and early) rumors for you today, many of which directly implicate the Cubs, but in case you missed the first big rumor (and pushback of the season), the Nats are totally going to trade Juan Soto … and also they’re definitely not going to trade Juan Soto. The latter sure seems more likely to be true.
Mets Need, Cubs Have
At The Athletic, Tim Britton took a look at the various needs of the New York Mets, who are marching their way to a division title (and then some?) with one of the best records in baseball here on June 2. For each perceived need, Britton provides at least one potential “big swing” addition and one more reasonable target. Two Cubs players are name-checked among their biggest needs.
Let’s talk about the big-swing first: Willson Contreras.
According to Britton, the Mets’ biggest needs are behind the plate and at DH, which, well … that’s the 2022 version of Willson Contreras in a nutshell:
“This is the biggest offensive upgrade the Mets can make with a player likely to be moved by Aug. 2. Contreras is one of the three to five best offensive catchers in the sport, and he’d turn New York’s backstop production from bottom-five to top-five at the position.”
Mets catchers are slashing .204/.240/.281 (53 wRC+) this season, tied for fifth worst in MLB. Contreras, meanwhile, has been one of the best hitters in MLB: .275/.395/.514 (156 wRC+). Britton wonders if the Mets have the guts to send another top prospect for a rental position player one year after sending Pete Crow-Armstrong to the Cubs for Javy Báez (and Trevor Williams). But they are in such an extreme go-for-it mode, I don’t actually think it’s crazy. Not that you should necessarily expect a player of PCA’s caliber — that required a perfect storm of need, injuries, the Mets wanting cash, and luck to get done. It’s also much more difficult to integrate/maximize the value of a new starting catcher so late into the season.
Beyond a catcher/DH, Britton believes the Mets need a late-inning reliever (because, who doesn’t?). And although the “big swing” of this section is Pirates closer David Bednar, Britton sees David Robertson as a more reasonable target.
And that’s really a no-brainer. So long as he’s healthy, David Robertson *will* be traded at this deadline. Everyone needs late-inning relievers in October, Robertson has been as good as anybody out there, and he comes with TONS of experience closing games for all sorts of markets, including Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.
If the Mets want Robertson, they’ll likely have a lot of competition.
Other Contreras Suitors?
While we’re on the subject of Contreras, I’ll add that the Houston Astros catching tandem (Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro) has been the single worst offensive catching tandem in MLB by a very wide margin, slashing just .120/.212/.209 (29 wRC+) this season.
They’re all set at DH with Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley hitting everything in sight, but it’s easy to see how they might want an upgrade behind the plate. The Astros are currently in first place of the AL West, but the Angels might actually be a threat to them this season. I’m speculating here, but perhaps Houston is another potential suitor for Contreras/the Cubs.
For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman thinks there will be plenty of action on the Contreras front: “They have not really made a move toward extending Contreras, and he is a free agent after the year. It’s been a down year for offense, but it’s certainly been a down year for catching offense all over the place, so I think that will be a big trade piece that people will be interested in, is Willson Contreras.”
Trading Stroman or Happ?
From that same podcast, Jon Heyman had this to say about our favorite baseball team:
“I see the Cubs as a seller, with some pieces to sell. I don’t think they’ll sell [Kyle] Hendricks, but I could see [Ian] Happ potentially, I could see [Marcus] Stroman, and certainly the catcher. That will be a big one, Willson Contreras has hit very well.”
We’ve already discussed Contreras above, but what about the other three? Kyle Hendricks may not be pitching well enough to be traded for anything of significance at the deadline (and I don’t think you dump him for a nothing return), but Happ and Stroman are putting together nice seasons. The tricky part is that each comes with another year of team control.
Maybe you feel comfortable in your ability to replace Ian Happ next year either internally or in free agency (and selling high on him isn’t the worst idea in the world), but trading Stroman right now feels like it’ll set the Cubs back massively ahead of 2023.
As of now, Stroman is the only virtual lock to contribute in the Cubs rotation next season. We certainly feel decent about Justin Steele. And there are other internal options like Kyle Hendricks, Keegan Thompson, Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, and Caleb Killian (among others), but they all come with question marks. Eliminating Stroman from that conversation will make it very difficult to build a credible rotation in 2023. And I’m not really up for another season that looks lost before it begins.
So I guess my point is the Cubs should probably not trade Stroman at the deadline unless they are completely overwhelmed by an offer.
Odds and Ends:
• After being released by the White Sox, Dallas Keuchel is officially a free agent. According to Andy Martino, the Mets, Brewers, and Giants are among his potential suitors.
• Steve Adams did a rumor chat at MLBTR, including a brief convo on the potential return for Willson Contreras: “It’s still about a 2-month rental. I get this question basically every week, and every time I point to last year’s returns for Báez, Bryant, Rizzo … they’re not going to get a franchise-altering return for Contreras. They’ll get one solid prospect who’s probably ranked lower than most of the guys you’re eyeing up in rival teams’ systems, plus a secondary piece or two.” Frankly, if the Cubs matched those returns for Contreras at the deadline, that’d hardly be a disappointment (if they’re trading him at all, I mean).