Whenever Fourth of July weekend comes around, I’m immediately brought back to July 4, 2014. That’s the day the Chicago Cubs traded Jason Hammel *and* Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland A’s for Addison Russell and Billy McKinney. Setting aside how well that trade “worked out” for either side (and everything Addison Russell did wrong off the field), I find the deal fascinating and educational for so many reasons.
First, it happened very early in the trade season, probably earlier than we’ll ever see a trade of that magnitude again – at least, as long as the draft continues to occur during the All-Star break instead of mid-June. Second, it was the rare trade of an UBER prospect. Nowadays, you’ll almost never see top 25-40 prospects moved at the deadline, let alone a legitimate, consensus top-5 prospect. The league has changed and the value teams put on these guys is through the roof.
And lastly, it was also the rare combination-trade. Teams don’t often package two desirable big league players for prospects, electing instead to spread out the risk/return over multiple deals. This isn’t as rare as a top-5 prospect being dealt, but most trades that include multiple big leaguers for only prospects are fan-driven fantasies to improve the return.
Jacob deGrom’s Preference
This offseason, Jacob deGrom, 34, intends to opt out of the remaining two years and $63 million on his contract with the Mets. We all know deGrom has dealt with injuries throughout his career, and hasn’t even pitched this season, but when he’s healthy there’s literally no one like him in MLB. And after seeing a 37-year-old Max Scherzer get a three-year, $130M deal just last winter, I’m sure deGrom is feeling just fine about the bag awaiting him this offseason.
So … where does he want to go? At least one early rumor has him eyeing the Atlanta Braves.
This will likely be a very tricky courtship, though. Given his age and injuries, deGrom is probably not going to sign a particularly long deal, but it is going to be a VERY pricey one. There are only so many teams capable of doing that, and he already plays for one of them (and they are already paying one starter $43.3M/year).
The Braves could probably fit deGrom into their plans – they’ve had a couple of good years, financially – but it’s at least questionable. A top free agent can usually make it work if he really wants a certain spot, but I just have a feeling the deGrom sweepstakes are going to come down to the teams with the deepest pockets (Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Red Sox … Phillies? Rangers? Nationals? etc).
The Cubs need a front-end starter like humans need oxygen to breathe, but I just can’t imagine they’re going to spend that much *and* I can’t imagine deGrom choosing the Cubs over more obvious contenders. That’s just one of the reasons why rebuilding stinks.
Xander Boagerts and the Cubs
I haven’t decided which of the four big free agent shortstops (Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson) would fit best with the Cubs next season — especially now that Nico Hoerner has tweaked the conversation a bit — but I’d be happy with any of the above.
But because Bogaerts was in Chicago this past weekend, Gordon Wittenmyer chatted with him about his perspective on the Cubs as he approaches free agency. In short, Bogaerts grew up watching the Cubs because of WGN, citing players like Aramis Ramirez, Derek Lee, and Sammy Sosa (he has good taste).
Wittenmyer prodded him on the Cubs apparent lack of competitiveness (I wish he’d stop telling to-be free agents how much the Cubs stink …), and he responded politely:
“I’ve been through some rough years with the Red Sox also,” said during Friday’s conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “It’s not been as much years. For the most part we’ve done a lot of winning here. But I’ve been in some rebuilding years, but it hasn’t taken as long.
“We’ll see how it is with this team this year, man. They [Cubs] have a lot of good young players.”
The broader point here is that Bogaerts would need some assurances from Jed Hoyer on the Cubs immediate plan to get back to contention: “I would think everyone would want to,” Bogaerts said, “to have an idea, have a vision, something like that.”
But that’s not beyond the Cubs/Hoyer’s M.O. If you recall, back when the Cubs were selling Jon Lester on being the first big free agent through the gate in Chicago, Epstein/Hoyer showed Lester a big board of the future with Jason Heyward pencilled in as the right fielder a year before he was even available. Maybe Hoyer will show Bogaerts a board with Shohei Ohtani on the mound and at DH … ha … ha?
Willson Contreras’ Market
Despite the Cubs’ extreme efforts to protect Willson Contreras lately (he’s been DH-ing more than he’s been catching for about a month), Contreras was pulled from the game with hamstring tightness late yesterday afternoon.
Obviously, if he’s out for an extended period of time, that’s going to impact trade discussions. But until we hear more about the severity of the injury, let’s just assume he’ll be back in a couple days, with the rest of the plans moving forward as usual. Specifically, that Contreras is very likely to be traded, with the only remaining question being to whom?
The New York Yankees have been reluctant to add any catcher to the mix given how well their pitching staff has performed, but they’re routinely mentioned among his possible suitors in articles from The New York Post, and the same goes for the Mets.
For as much pushback as we’ve seen from some teams, I think the ability to DH Contreras – and the quality of his offensive performance this season – is just too enticing to pass up … no matter what B.S. people try to say about his “inattentiveness.”
Is he overly aggressive behind the plate? Sure. Is a good framer? Probably not. But inattentive? What even are we talking about. He’s arguably TOO attentive.
The Astros are another team that could clearly use Contreras’ bat behind the plate, but they’ve also been reluctant – at least in public rumors – to commit to adding a catcher mid-season, because of Martin Maldonado’s rapport with the staff.
That said, catcher Jason Castros is on the IL and DH Yordan Alvarez had a little injury scare, as well. I’m not rooting for any injuries, but I just think it’s silly to pretend that Contreras’ bat couldn’t immediately upgrade almost any team in MLB.
Along these lines, David Schoenfield writes that “if the Astros want to think big,” Willson Contreras would be the answer. He also counts the Mets in as a “perfect fit,” and guesses that the Guardians could use him, though only if the Cubs eat some money, which they should be happy to do.
I do get the issue with integrating a catcher mid-season, though. And, indeed, that’s why we thought the Cubs kind of fumbled this entire process from the get-go. If Contreras wasn’t hitting the ball like an MVP candidate right now, they might’ve really screwed up.
Reds Are Biggest Seller? Blue Jays Biggest Buyers?
The Cubs may have the top bat (Willson Contreras) and closer (David Robertson) on the market, but the Reds may actually be the league’s top seller. Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle are two of the better available starting pitchers, and that’s the only position more desirable (and less available) than closer each year.
“I think the Reds are the most important seller just because they have those two starters,” one American League exec said. “So that’s two pieces that every team needs. And as always, there are not enough of them.”
“I could also see them getting creative,” another exec said. “I know they’d love to move that (Mike) Moustakas contract, and they’re willing to eat a lot to move him. So would they do something where you have to take Moustakas to get Castillo? It wouldn’t surprise me.”
In that same article at The Athletic, Jayson Stark calls the Blue Jays the league’s biggest buyers, particularly on the starter and relief market. Meanwhile, the Padres are still expected to do a “buy-a-prospect” style trade that saves money (we discussed that recently with respect to the Cubs), and Kyle Hendricks was (again) briefly mentioned as a potential trade target.
Odds and Ends:
- According to Ken Rosenthal, the Brewers probably still aren’t going to trade Josh Hader this offseason, even as he’s routinely included in every single trade rumor. He also says that the Brewers might not be as aggressive in the trade market this month as they’d like to be, because of the Cardinals staying close on their tail and the franchise-record $131.9M payroll.
- With that said, he did imply that Andrew Benintendi – the Royals “big prize” at the trade deadline, was a fit for Milwaukee, as well as the Blue Jays.
- We haven’t heard much on the market for David Robertson just yet, but it’s fair to guess that the Twins could be involved.