MLB Rumors: Cubs Connected to Lefty Relievers, White Sox Trade

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Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Connected to Lefty Relievers, Is Barnes a Target? White Sox Trade Interest, More

Chicago Cubs

The one bad thing about offseason activity going back to normal — as in, the majority of free agency being complete by early January — is the lack of MLB rumors to dissect between now and Spring Training. There’s still some stuff going on, that’s why we’re here right now. But the rumors are necessarily fewer and farther apart. They’re also smaller in scale, based on the quality of players left on the market.

That is until the Angels decide to trade Shohei Ohtani, now that they’re not selling the team anymore ….

Cubs Relief Targets

At The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal discusses the ongoing free agency of three quality left-handed relievers, two of whom have been connected to the Cubs multiple times over the last few weeks: Zack Britton, Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore.

As we’ve discussed, the unexpectedly pricey deal for a different reliever, Matt Strahm, has slowed down all progress for these three lefties, with one executive laying it out plainly: “That deal destroyed the market.”

Nonetheless, the Cubs remain involved, though there’s plenty of competition:

According to sources with knowledge of the market but unauthorized to speak publicly, the teams with varying interest in left-handed relievers and varying amounts to spend include the Rangers, Angels and Astros in the AL West; Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays in the AL East; and Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs in the NL Central.

The Cubs have history with Andrew Chafin, who seemed to really enjoy his brief time in Chicago, and have had long-standing interest in Matt Moore, dating back to his days with the Tampa Bay Rays. Either arm would look *excellent* in the Cubs pen, and I really do hope the Cubs land one of them.

For what it’s worth, Patrick Mooney also mentioned today that the Cubs are still in the market for a reliever.

What About Matt Barnes?

In the first-half of the 2021 season, Red Sox righty Matt Barnes (1.8 fWAR, 2.61 ERA, 44.1K%, 19 saves) was among the top-5 relievers in MLB by pretty much any category you’d want to measure. So with free agency looming, the Red Sox decided extend Barnes on a two-year, $18.75M contract with a club option for 2024.

And then he immediately became awful.

Since the day after he signed that extension, Barnes has compiled a 4.95 ERA with a 21.6% strikeout rate, an 11.8% walk rate rate, and -0.1 WAR, while also spending some time on the injured list with inflammation in his throwing shoulder.

So with all that in mind, the Red Sox have decided to designate Matt Barnes for assignment, despite what it’ll cost them in 2023:

And guess what … Yes. I’m here to say I would kinda love the Cubs to take a flyer on Barnes on a minor league deal (or maybe even for the Major League minimum), presuming he makes it through waivers unclaimed, which he absolutely will because of the contract. That’s especially true if his velocity still looks as strong as it did at the end of last season. I still strongly prefer the Cubs to make a run at Chafin or Moore, and it’s true they have WAY more internal options than ever before. But they’ve had so much success with formerly dominant veteran relievers in the past, I’d love to see if they could crack this nut, as well.

For what it’s worth, ZiPS is projecting a 4.27 ERA over ~46.0 innings pitched with a 25% strikeout rate in 2023. A note on the velocity:

Oh, and as a reminder: The Cubs were one of just four teams in MLB last season with an average fastball velocity BELOW 93 MPH out of the bullpen. As Brett pointed out on Twitter, there is more than one way to get an out/velocity is not the end-all be-all. HOWEVER, it does create a greater margin for error. That’s just the reality.

For what it’s worth, both Matt Moore (94.0 MPH) and Matt Barnes (95-96 MPH) would help the Cubs in that department. Chafin, by contrast, was in the 91-92 MPH range last year.

White Sox Interested in Nicky Lopez

A few days ago, a thin, but moderately plausible rumor popped up regarding the Nick Madrigal and a potential trade BACK to the Chicago White Sox.

Like we said at the time, for however unlikely that particular trade feels right now, there is at least some logic to it: from the over-abundance of middle infielders on the North Side, to the need and familiarity on the South Side.

Today’s update isn’t exactly direct, but does offer further confirmation that (1) the White Sox do need another infielder, preferably a second baseman, and (2) they’re willing to explore the trade market to fulfill that desire:

Lopez offers high-quality defense up the middle – better than Madrigal – but is an extreme liability offensively. Consider that even in Madrigal’s worst offensive season by FAR, his 70 wRC+ was much stronger than what Lopez posted in 2019 (56 wRC+), 2020 (53 wRC+), and last season (57 wRC+).

Lopez did have one above-average season in 2021 (105 wRC+), but that was supported by a completely unsustainable .347 BABIP, which was WELL above his .294 career average. Point being, for as crazy as it sounds, Madrigal is likely a much better offensive play for second base. And it’s not like he’s a butcher there defensively, either. I guess it just depends on what the White Sox are really seeking.

And furthermore, an intra-city trade with the Cubs is no more difficult to imagine than an intra-divisional trade with the Royals.

What About Gleyber Torres?

With that said, if I were the White Sox, I would see what it would take to get Gleyber Torres out of New York. The Yankees are absolutely looking to trade one of their infielders, and they reportedly dangled Torres to the Marlins at the last trade deadline.

Here’s Ken Rosnethal’s latest on that effort:

Excluding first base, they’re currently looking at six players for three spots, including top prospect Anthony Volpe, who is not yet on their 40-man roster.

The easiest path to start the season would be to demote Volpe, who has played only 22 games at Triple A. But barring injuries, a trade of second baseman Gleyber Torres, shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa or third baseman Josh Donaldson eventually might be necessary to clear the impending logjam.

Rosenthal believes the Yankees may be most motivated to move Donaldson, who’s owed $21M this season plus a $6M buyout in 2024, given their proximity to the highest tier of the luxury tax. But that might be a tough sell for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is Donaldson’s way down age-36 2022 season (.222/.308/.374/97 wRC+).

Odds and Ends

  • The Baltimore Orioles are reportedly exploring trades for a starting pitcher, which just makes me REALLY want to know who’s realistically out there.

“All that really matters is how we play,” Hoyer said. “Going into the offseason, when I thought about how we could maximize the dollars we had and the positions we had, I think we ended up really close to where we wanted to be. From that standpoint, it’s really satisfying, but ultimately all that matters is how we play. I’ve seen it when people crush your offseason moves and you have a great year. And I’ve seen the other side of it, too.”

  • And for what it’s worth, Mooney said that “The Cubs aren’t done yet.” Noting that the addition of a “late-inning reliever with some closing experience” and perhaps a “veteran hitter” for the bench could make a lot of sense.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami