The Chicago Cubs pulled up the truck this week, threw open the doors and apparently started a sale of star players that could make the offseason a lot more interesting.
The Cubs, the big-money midwest ballclub, aren’t supposed to be one of those teams that makes cost-cutting moves. They’re supposed to be like the Yankees and the Dodgers and the other contend-every-year teams. But when Cubs ownership decided to part ways with Yu Darvish for a bundle of young prospects and eight figures of savings, the message was sent: Anybody could be yours.
And teams like the Padres — and others around the league angling to go deeper into October — might see a buyer’s market developing. If that’s the cost for Yu Darvish, then heck, why not make a few phone calls to Wrigleyville and see who else might be cheaper than expected.
After winning the 2016 World Series, the Cubs seemed stacked with talent and were rubber-stamped as a dynasty in the making. That didn’t quite happen. There were early playoff exits. Joe Maddon left. Now this offseason, Theo Epstein walked away. Kyle Schwarber got cut loose. Some big-name players are free agents after 2021. So here we find the Cubs at a crossroads.
It’s already been reported that catcher Willson Contreras is getting shopped around “extensively” — and there’s surely more to come. So if the Cubs really are sellers (and if the prices are Darvish cheap) then here are the other players who could be drawing calls, ranked by how likely they are to move:
1. Kris Bryant
Bryant, the former MVP, was on the block before the Darvish deal. With free agency on the horizon and an $18.6 million salary in the season ahead, Bryant seems like sure-thing trade fodder. The only question being whether the Cubs try to let him rebuild some value and move him at the deadline as opposed to the offseason. Injuries have really thrown him off his trajectory as one of the game’s best players, but he will just turn 29 in January, so a change of scenery could make the difference.
Teams who should be calling: Nationals, Braves, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Mets
2. Willson Contreras
He’s not exactly J.T. Realmuto, but Contreras could be a very fine consolation prize for whoever doesn’t sign Realmuto, one of the offseason’s biggest free agents. The Phillies would seem to be the favorite now that the Mets signed James McCann, but even then, plenty of teams could use a catcher of Contreras’ caliber. He’s a two-time All-Star, solid behind the plate and a good bat. He’d also come with two years of team control.
Teams who should be calling: Phillies, Angels, Blue Jays, Nationals, Astros
3. Javier Báez
Báez is known as El Mago (The Magician), and he might be ready for a disappearing act. Like Bryant, he’s in his final year before free agency. He’s likely due about $11 million in 2021. For any team that has sights set on Francisco Lindor, Báez isn’t a bad fallback. He may be cheaper too. Baez is a bit more inconsistent than Lindor, but has good power and dazzles at shortstop. His 2020 was dreadful — he sank to a .203 batting average and .599 OPS — but if he plays like he did in 2019 or his breakout 2018 campaign, he’s a difference-maker.
Teams who should be calling: Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Twins
4. Craig Kimbrel
Once among the league’s best closers, Kimbrel has been inconsistent, to put it nicely, since 2018. Such is life for a high-leverage relief pitcher, unfortunately. At 32, there’s plenty of reason to think he can still find his gusto. And with $16 million on the books for his services each of the next two years, the Cubs have every reason to find someone who believes in Kimbrel. A deal here might require paying down some of Kimbrel’s salary, but he’s still a bigger name than any of the closers on the open market. Not necessarily better, mind you, but he’s a name brand. If he can find his old magic, he could help a team.
Teams who should be calling: Phillies, Braves, Mets, Padres, Angels
5. Anthony Rizzo
Would the Cubs actually trade Rizzo? Sure, he’s a free agent to be, but he’s beloved in Chicago. It would be like the Giants trading Buster Posey at this point. But if money is money, and Rizzo is scheduled to make $16.5 million, then it could happen. He doesn’t have the same sort of dynamic high ceiling as the top three players on this list could be, but he’s steadily productive and a clubhouse leader that could add to a young team. The question is whether there would be an active market at first base.
Teams who should be calling: Marlins, Yankees, Angels
6. Kyle Hendricks
Somebody has to pitch for the Cubs, right? It’s for that reason that trading Hendricks ranks at the bottom of this list. After Hendricks, their most seasoned pitcher is the newly acquired Zach Davies. Hendricks is effective but isn’t too expensive ($14 million each of the next three years), so while the contact could be interesting to some teams, he seems like the veteran most likely to stick around.
Teams who should be calling: Angels, White Sox, Twins, Braves, Mets
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