We’re going to hit last night’s rumblings in somewhat rapid succession, since there’s nothing entirely new here. There are, however, a couple of wrinkles as it regards the Cubs. More than just their own pursuit of trade targets, the idea that the Pirates have climbed back into the thick of the NL Central race could impact strategy moving forward.
Patrick Mooney wrote Tuesday evening that the Cubs were not as high on the Tigers’ Alex Avila as has been reported, and that Jonathan Lucroy was not a priority. Rather, he said, they could be looking at the Marlins’ A.J. Ellis, a 36-year-old rental backstop who conjures images of David Ross.
Ellis spent 11 seasons in the Dodgers organization before being traded to the Phillies last August. He then signed a one-year deal with the Marlins, who are likely looking to sell off anything of value that’s not nailed to the floor. Like Ross, Ellis is a defense-first catcher who’s used to a backup role and who knows how to handle a staff.
The remainder of his $2.5 million contract is nominal in baseball terms (though would still be about as much as the $1.05M Kris Bryant will earn for the whole season) and his age and sub-par offensive production mean that he wouldn’t cost much in terms of a trade.
Ken Rosenthal confirmed the interest in Ellis and Avila as well, then mentioned Lucroy as a better possibility for the Rockies.
The Cubs could be posturing in order to shift some leverage from Detroit, as it’s been widely reported that the they are in the market for a backup catcher. And then you’ve got the continued talk of Justin Verlander, whose contract the Cubs may be uniquely positioned to assume, even if they don’t necessarily want to.
“Count the Dodgers out of the Justin Verlander sweepstakes, not that they were ever in. The Dodgers are trying to get away from Verlander-type contracts, particularly as they face ongoing luxury-tax concerns.” Ken Rosenthal
Regardless of how much of that deal the Tigers are willing to eat, it sounds like the market for the flame-throwing 34-year-old is shrinking. Rosenthal reported that the Dodgers, who need to be more wary of big contracts in light of their bloated payroll and its luxury-tax ramifications, are out on Verlander.
That could provide the Cubs a little more bargaining power should they feel that a move to a competitive NL team would rejuvenate Verlander, thus making the juice worth the squeeze.
Many believe the Cubs are more likely to pursue a top-flight reliever before they add another frontline starter, which makes sense when you look at the numbers Justin Grimm has put up of late. The concept of shortening games isn’t new, but the Indians helped to really elevate it when they rode their pen to the World Series (which the Cubs won, people forget that). Another starter might help in the regular season, but a high-leverage reliever would cement the final third of games when the competition ramps up.
And in pitchers like A.J. Ramos or Zach Britton, you’ve got next year’s closer under wraps as well. Maybe the Cubs could pull off a coup and land an all-A.J. battery from the Marlins. That’d be something.
But the thing to consider is that acquiring a lock-down reliever isn’t going to be cheap. Like, at all. We’ve seen what Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller have brought in return, so you’re looking at a steep prospect cost to bring in one of the top guys on the market this year.
A potential twist in the Cubs’ plans moving forward, one that might make them more aggressive, is the possible conversion of the Pirates from sellers to buyers. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports that the Bucs — riding a 13-5 run that has them one game under .500 and 3 1/2 back in the division — are looking for a bench bat and bullpen depth.
The Cubs don’t need to outrun the bear, they just need to outrun the other teams being chased by the bear (huh, that metaphor didn’t work as well there as it did in my head), and they’ll have to run faster if said teams pick up the pace.