The Rundown: Kyle Hendricks as Very Unlikely Trade Chip, Cubs Interested in KBO MVP, Manfred Could Be Focus of Winter Meetings

The Winter Meetings are underway and the very frugal Cubs have declared themselves unable to afford to sit at at the high stakes tables (or any of the tables) without shedding a contract or two. It’s fair to wonder then how Theo Epstein intends to fill the team’s glaring holes before the start of Spring Training. Since Cole Hamels departed and signed with the Braves, the Cubs need at least one starting pitcher. Of course, there is the continuing need of finding a legitimate, contact-hitting center fielder who would ideally bat leadoff, and the bullpen needs a few arms just like every winter since the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.

Starting pitching would appear to be at a premium based on some of the contracts signed so far, namely Zack Wheeler (five years, $118 million) and Kyle Gibson (three years, $30 million). I suppose you should include Hamels’ deal with the Braves (one year, $18 million) as well, and the decision by Jake Odorizzi to accept the $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Twins. Gerrit Cole will earn the largest contract ever given to a starting pitcher, and it’s quite possible that he and Stephen Strasburg will earn at least $30 million in AAV on their upcoming deals.

With that in mind, the Cubs aren’t likely to land a starter in free agency unless it’s someone who was recently non-tendered, such as Kevin Gausman, and even that may be a stretch. Junior Guerra, a swingman cut loose by the Brewers last week, signed with the Diamondbacks for $2.55 million the other day. That’s more than the Cubs can afford right now.

All of the sudden that “championship window” feels like it was slammed shut when the Cubs weren’t paying attention. The North Siders won just 84 games in 2019 and appear to be trending downward as their core players continue to get more and more expensive through arbitration raises. It must be an exasperating feeling for the team’s brass, who cannot afford to whiff while shopping the sales racks. As fans, are we delusional for thinking that a few minor additions on the periphery will restore this squad to its once lofty status of perennial World Series contenders, let alone a threat to win the Central Division?

A name that has yet to be mentioned in trade talks is Kyle Hendricks. That’s probably because the Cubs need starting pitching and can ill-afford to subtract from a rotation that is anchored by Hendricks and Yu Darvish, with the inconsistent José Quintana and the diminishing skill set of Jon Lester following.

Hendricks, who just turned 30 and is locked into a four-year, $54 million contract with a vesting option for the 2024 season, is a veritable bargain in today’s market. I imagine that one of the teams looking for starting pitching would pay a heavy premium to pry the Professor from the Cubs. Epstein has said on a number of occasions that this team has no untouchables, and if the Cubs really wanted to take advantage of the market over-exuberance displayed by front offices looking for pitching, Hendricks could be the bait.

Given that the Cubs have every intention of moving a player or two to find a way out of their current payroll hellhole, it’s at least fair to consider what Hendricks would mean to the Cubs as a trade chip. I’m certainly not intending to start a rumor, nor am I suggesting that Epstein blow the whole thing up and start over. That said, Hendricks may be worth more this winter than he will at any point during the remainder of his new contract. If some team, say the Rays or Astros, came looking for a cheaper alternative to free agency, the sensible response would be to at least listen to the pitch.

Cubs News & Notes

  • If you still cling to the notion that the Cubs might be able to re-sign Nick Castellanos, you should probably let that dream die.
  • Earlier this morning, MLBTR reported that the Cubs have shown interest in pircher Josh Lindblom, a free-agent righty who won 20 games and an MVP award playing in Korea in 2019.  Lindblom is set to turn 33 in June, and pitched to a 4.10 ERA/4.27 FIP in 147 innings spread across five MLB seasons through 2017, pitching for the Dodgers, Phillies, Ray’s, A’s, and Pirates.
  • This proposed trade with the Astros for Willson Contreras could work out well for the Cubs. As a reminder, it is not an actual rumor, just a writer’s suggestion.
  • Despite lacking elite framing skills, and with robotic umpires or automated strike zones at least a possibility in the near future, Contreras may be too valuable to trade right now.
  • It’s fair to wonder if trading one of the Cubs star players is absolutely necessary if the goal is pure salary relief.
  • Finding a starting pitcher and a setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel would seem to be the main objectives for Epstein this week.
  • Pat Hughes will find out Wednesday if he is this year’s recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award and induction into the broadcast wing of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

On Deck

The Winter Meetings may be more about Rob Manfred than many of us will be able to stomach.

Monday Stove

Marvin Miller, the union leader who revolutionized baseball by empowering players to negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts and to play for teams of their own choosing, was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame by the Modern Era Committee on Sunday, along with former Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons.

The Angels are hoping to land a starting catcher this week.

The Twins are reportedly interested in free agent pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The Reds plan is to remain aggressive this week in San Diego and for the rest of the offseason.

The Dodgers should be attached to several rumors this week, whether it is signing one of the big three of Cole, Strasburg, or Anthony Rendon, or as part of trade rumors involving elite players like Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, and Mookie Betts.

The Phillies are looking for a productive infield bat.

Rumors spread early yesterday morning that the White Sox has signed free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, though they were ultimately proved to be false. That said, Ozuna is likely on Rick Hahn’s radar. lists seven storylines that should be at the forefront of news from San Diego all week.

They Said It

  • “The Nationals are experiencing a revenue festival in 2020. The franchise value has increased by nearly $2 billion since their purchase. The Nationals made an extra $30 million winning the World Series. Attendance will increase by more than four to five hundred thousand. TV ratings and advertising rates all skyrocketed. Everyone in DC knows special cherry trees create revenue bloom.” – Scott Boras

Monday Walk Up Song

How We Operate by Gomez. Welcome to what is traditionally baseball’s busiest week of the offseason.

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