Do McCutchen, Murphy, or Other Possible Waiver Claims Make Sense for Cubs?

We’re now firmly entrenched in waiver season, which brings with it much of the same intrigue as the non-waiver deadline with a little more cloak-and-dagger feel. It’s not uncommon at all for teams to put players, even big-timers they really have no intention of trading, on revocable waivers. May as well keep all options open, right.

Because of all the rules surrounding waiver trades, it’s uncommon to see a really big deal go down in August. There are, however, some smaller moves that might involve players of some significance who are either aging and/or at the end of their respective deals. If said player’s team can save some money while flipping him to a contender for a lottery ticket or two, it makes sense to try.

Before we get into some thoughts on possibilities for the Cubs, let’s run through a quick refresher on how these waiver trades work.

  • A team can place any major leaguer on waivers, which last 47 hours. If the player goes unclaimed, the team can then trade him anywhere. The exception to this would be players with no-trade clauses or who have earned their 10-5 rights (10 years in league, 5 with current team) and can veto trades.
  • Waiver priority starts with the teams in the player’s current league, then goes by record at the time of the claim. So the Cubs have the lowest priority in the NL and would have lowest overall priority to claim an AL player.
  • If a player is claimed, his team has three options: Work out a trade with the claiming team, revoke the waiver, or just let the player walk. We saw the latter in play when the Padres allowed Jordan Lyles and Tyson Ross to join the Brewers and Cardinals, respectively, with zero recompense.
  • In the event of a claim, the teams have 48.5 hours to negotiate a trade. The player’s current team may only negotiate with the claiming team during that time.
  • If a team pulls a player back from waivers and later puts him back on for a second time, those waivers become irrevocable. That isn’t very common because it greatly reduces the team’s leverage, which is why you may see a team put in a waiver claim on a player they have no intention of trading for just to try to block other teams from claiming him.

There are more nuances to it, of course, but that should be enough to put you on par with my own rudimentary knowledge of the situation. Now that we’ve established that, let’s discuss what this means for the Cubs and how they might take advantage of it.

As you may recall, there was some talk around the non-waiver deadline in the Cubs’ interest in a veteran bat and clubhouse presence. Names mentioned at the time were Chicago native and current Blue Jay Curtis Granderson and longtime Oriole Adam Jones, both of whom have cleared waivers at this point. Jones has been vocal in his desire to remain in Baltimore and has 10-5 rights, which he reportedly already used to veto a trade to Philly.

Granderson presents an intriguing option for several reasons, not the least of which is that he’s only owed about $1 million for the remainder of the season. He’s limited defensively at this point, but he’s still got pop in that bat, which is something the Cubs could really use down the stretch. His .187 ISO and .425 slugging are both solid, plus he can still work an at-bat.

That said, ol’ Grandy doesn’t feel like someone the Cubs would see fit to add prior to roster expansion in September. There’s really no room for him at the corners at this point and he’d be such a short-term add that there’s not sufficient reason to offer up much in a trade. Swinging a deal for a 25-man type would have to involve someone who could give the Cubs more run.

Which brings us to former MVP and longtime division rival Andrew McCutchen, who was reportedly placed on waivers Monday. The Giants are going nowhere fast and McCutchen will be a free agent after this season. While they could simply hold onto him and give him a qualifying offer at the end of the year, the risk of him accepting the roughly $18 million salary might not be worth the risk.

He’s owed about $3.4 million in raw salary for the remainder of the season, but his incredibly team-friendly deal means that he only has about $2 million in AAV. And that includes a $1 million buyout for next season, so we’re talking about a pretty minimal commitment.

But like Granderson, Cutch has fallen off defensively and is now exclusively a corner outfielder. In fact, he has played strictly right field for the Giants this season and is ranked 10th among qualified right fielders in both UZR (-2.2) and UZR/150 (-3.1). He doesn’t have nearly the pop you’d like to see from a corner outfielder, but he can still take a walk and isn’t nearly as susceptible to platoon splits as Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr.

Not that McCutchen should or would take over in center, but the Cubs could slide Jason Heyward over to accommodate the former Pirate. This move would make a lot of sense if the Cubs are truly worried about Addison Russell’s finger and his subsequent struggles at the plate. If Javy Baez moves to short for a couple weeks, Ben Zobrist sees a lot more time at second and frees up time at both corner outfield spots.

There was quite a bit of discourse Monday night in the wake of news that Daniel Murphy had been claimed by a mystery team that was not the Yankees. That report came via Joel Sherman of the New York Post and gave rise to rampant speculation fueled largely by a “sourced” rumor from a protected Twitter account with a few hundred followers. And while we’ve seen enough to know that breaking news can come from anywhere, no reputable parties have confirmed anything more as of post time.

Murphy is far from the only player Washington placed on waivers, as Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post tweeted, but he’s certainly the biggest lightning rod of the group and would present some PR issues for the Cubs.

My own experience discussing the Murphy matter on Twitter was frustrating to say the least, but suffice to say not everyone believes fans should care about a player’s personal beliefs when it comes to how he impacts their favorite team. Listen, I totally understand that some people are much more able to divorce the real world from sports — though such matters often involve the kind of hypocrisy and subjectivity we’ll not explore here and now — as they use sports as an escape.

At the same time, many more are unable and unwilling to take leave of their personal beliefs or better judgement for the sake of their sports team. So when Murphy said of homosexuality that he “disagree[s] with the lifestyle, 100 percent,” that is naturally going to be a problem for a lot of people. He went on to further explain his stance at the time, but the agree/disagree part is at the crux of the issue.

When you’re talking about a team that plays its games in a very LGBTQ+ friendly neighborhood and that boasts the first openly gay owner of a professional sports franchise, you can maybe see how this is about more than just what happens on the field. Then again, the Cubs have previously allowed performance to override certain, er, personality conflicts.

So is his play enough for them to justify such a move, given the potential for backlash? Murphy missed over two months at the beginning of the season recovering from knee surgery and struggled in his first month back. Through July 14 (96 PA), he was slashing .244/.302/.326 with a 69 wRC+ and a .277 wOBA. None of that is good.

In 111 plate appearances since, however, Murphy is hitting .340/.369/.528 with a 137 wRC+ and .379 wOBA. He’s a lefty batter who can play first and second base and who crushes right-handed pitching, nice traits if Russell is indeed dinged up. And if the Cubs believe Murphy can even play a little third base over the remainder of Kris Bryant’s absence, that’s another mark in his favor.

He’s still owed about $3 million in AAV, though, and the Cubs don’t have much wiggle room under the cap at this point. Given everything involved, both in terms of optics and personnel, they’d have to be convinced that his production down the stretch would be enough to markedly improve their offense.

And there are other options out there as well, some of which we saw in the tweet above. But don’t get your hopes up for Bryce Harper because that’s not happening. What about Josh Donaldson? It seems unlikely that he’d make it around to the Cubs, but you know how everyone loves to talk about former prospects that got away. And hey, he’s played shortstop at Wrigley before.

In the end, I’m skeptical of any biggish deals involving the Cubs, at least not for the next several days. There are just so many moving parts this time of year and you’re still dealing with roster crunches. A DL stint can alleviate some of that for the time being, but a little flurry closer to September might make more sense.

We have a comments section below for a reason and, even though I’ve been warned many times not to read it, I do enjoy the (usually) civil dialogue therein. To that end, I’d like to close by inviting thoughts on the topics above as they involve both team needs and potential personal conflicts.

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