Although the latest Cubs mailbag at The Athletic isn’t necessarily crawling with rumors, Sahadev Sharma hits on so many of the big picture topics you want to discuss. Here’s just one small section from the end:
Very few fans will want to praise a GM for spending responsibly. Nobody in ownership would be losing sleep over their finances if this team held a payroll above $230 million every year. The Cubs need to be able to put out a competitive product consistently. There are reasons a reset was needed, but fans shouldn’t have to wait much longer. This season has gone too far off the rails as it is; a repeat in 2023 would be absolutely unacceptable.
And yes, there are bad contracts. They happen all across the league. But was spending on Jon Lester a bad move? Wouldn’t Bryce Harper and his MVP trophy look good with the Cubs? Wouldn’t it have been nice if the Cubs traded for and extended Mookie Betts? Would it be irresponsible of them to be aggressive this offseason to try to add someone like Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts or Trea Turner?
In addition to Harper and Betts, two recently available young superstars passed over by the Cubs, I’ll add Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado, both of whom are in the MVP race this season, to Sharma’s point. The Cubs did not seriously try for any of those four players, but any one of them could’ve helped smooth this transitional period and helped the Cubs into the future. Instead, they reset. Or rebuilt. Whatever.
Hopefully, they don’t make the same mistake again this offseason, with younger starts like Correa (27), Bogaerts (29), and Turner (28) available. Oh, also Dansby Swanson (28).
Here’s some rumors to feed your soul.
Ian Happ “Expected to Hit the Market”
Even if he doesn’t have the votes, Ian Happ has been an All-Star caliber player for the Cubs this season. And although he’s still young (27) and comes with one more year of team control, it’s impossible to ignore the potential trade rumors coming our way.
On the latest episode of The Show, with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman, Happ’s market began to take shape. Sherman identified the Blue Jays as a team that is (1) all-in on competing this season with (2) a glaring need for someone that can bat left-handed, specifically mentioning Happ alongside Josh Bell, Anthony Santander, Andrew Benintendi, and Tyler Naquin.
Jon Heyman chimed in to add the Mets to that conversation, a position he doubled down on later in The New York Post, where he identified Happ as a player “expected to hit the market.”
As far as I’m aware, that’s the first external recognition that Ian Happ could be shopped before the trade deadline. Though I will say, if the Cubs choose to trade Happ alongside Willson Contreras, I do not see any obvious path for contention as soon as next season.
Alas. Happ is expected to hit the market and the Blue Jays and Mets are the early potential destinations.
Luis Castillo and the SP Trade Market
There are some familiar names underneath Castillo, including Frankie Montas, who was involved in seemingly every rumor last winter, Kyle Freeland, and … Kyle Hendricks?
Although I think the Cubs *should be* happy to trade Hendricks if the opportunity presented itself, I … don’t think it will. Hendricks has struggled for a while now and is only intermittently the guy he once was (a guy that was ALREADY undervalued league-wide). More to the point, there’s exactly zero chance the Cubs would trade him to Milwaukee, which is listed as one of the two best fits (Angels are the other one). I think that’s just a Jim Bowden special, right there. Hendricks is not going anywhere.
Not included on that list of ten is any of the other Chicago starters, the Cubs were certainly hoping to market this July: Drew Smyly and Wade Miley, in particular. Both guys have been effective during their limited time on the mound, but neither has spent much time healthy. If they aren’t able to rattle of 3-4 healthy (let alone productive) starts before the deadline, the may not be going anywhere.
And that would be a double whammy for the Cubs, who (1) wouldn’t get the prospects they were hoping to secure in those deals and (2) may have fewer opportunities for guys like Caleb Kilian and Keegan Thompson (and that’s assuming the plan for Adbert Alzolay and Matt Swarmer is a move to the bullpen, where there might also not be much room).
Shohei Ohtani, 27, is under team control for just one more season (2023), before he hits the market as one of the most fascinating free agents in MLB history.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Angels already began extension discussions this spring, but were told any acceptable deal would have to surpass Max Scherzer’s $43.3M … which they were reportedly willing to do, but not for the length of time Ohtani was seeking (per Jon Heyman): “Ohtani, only 27, is looking for a very long deal. And this wasn’t it.” No surprises there – all around.
The Angels, of course, want to keep him, but after this season, they owe center fielder Mike Trout, 30, $35.45 million annually through 2030; and third baseman Anthony Rendon, 32, is guaranteed $38 million annually through 2026. An average salary for Ohtani of, say, $45 million would leave owner Arte Moreno paying nearly $120 million to three players for the next four years.
In other words, an older, more expensive version of their already underperforming team.
As a brief aside before getting back to Ohtani, Rosenthal closes that conversation with an absolute atomic bomb, questioning whether a decision NOT to extend Ohtani might eventually lead to an Angels rebuild, which could, in turn, result in a trade of … MIKE TROUT. It’s too unconscionable to wrap my head around at the moment, so we’ll just have to skate past that part for now. Just know this is the first time EVER that has been seriously proposed by anyone credible.
Jon Heyman joined the Ohtani chorus, himself, citing a rival GM, who stated: “If you’re the Angels, you have to sign Ohtani. But once you sign him, you can’t win.”
Another one of Heyman’s rival executive said he believes there are “likely many teams” that would pay Ohtani $50M per year for four years. On a deal that short, at his age, I think most of the major market teams should be crawling over themselves to do it.
Fascinating stuff. I can’t wait to see how the Angels get themselves out of this tricky spot.
Odds and Ends:
- Cole Hamels is never going to stop pitching: