Reports continue to surface that the Cubs are trying to get younger as they look to deal their impending free agents and core players. The latest rumors surrounding Willson Contreras indicate just that and if you dig a little past the muck of what is starting to feel like a full rebuild, it’s not difficult to see the plan a little more clearly.
San Diego GM AJ Preller danced around the subject a little bit when Yu Darvish was traded to the Padres, but indicated that Jed Hoyer was specific in the type of return he wanted for his ace.
I asked #Padres GM AJ Preller if the 4 really young minor leaguers going to the #Cubs in the #Darvish trade was more a function of what Chicago wanted out of the deal or what San Diego was willing to do. Here was his response. pic.twitter.com/WUabxwjhIk
— Jay Cohen (@jcohenap) December 30, 2020
Unlike other professional sports, MLB limits the trading of draft picks except in some instances. The league does allow teams to swap competitive balance picks and international free agency pool money or future considerations when completing deals. A potential swap with the Marlins for Contreras seems to fit within the constructs of the Darvish trade, indicating that the Cubs’ president of baseball operations has an unambiguous MO.
“The interesting part I can tell you from the Cubs perspective,” said Marlins insider Craig Mish, “[is] it looks like they are trying to go really young. And I’m not talking about players that are playing in the big leagues right now. The Cubs are very interested, just like in the Darvish trade, in acquiring draft picks from 2019 and 2020.”
In distilling those quotes, it looks like Hoyer is essentially trading his players for the equivalent of first- and second-round picks rather than trying to take chances with players that have high floors but low ceilings. If we were to say instead that Hoyer got a first, two seconds, and a third round draft pick for Darvish, that sounds a little more palatable than reeling off four prospects with almost no professional experience.
The Cubs are also expected to sign five international free agents this week, including shortstop Cristian Hernandez, one of the top players available this year. Those signings should be announced Friday and will add more firepower to an improving minor league system, though one that still lacks impact pitching.
Looking at things from a higher level, it appears the Cubs are attempting to build their farm system to emulate that of the Rays, but without all of the extra draft picks that Tampa Bay always seems to have because of the competitive balance rules. Getting three or four more low-level, high-ceiling players for Contreras would seem to align with Hoyer’s plan. It does, however, put a lot of pressure on his developmental staff, an area where the team has failed in recent years.
That said, Jason McLeod is no longer involved with developing minor league players and, though he’s not fully responsible for recent shortfalls, it appears that Hoyer fully trusts VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz and his team, which includes Matt Dorey and Bobby Basham. The front office may not have a traditional GM in place right now, but they’ve certainly got minds that are bright enough to fill that role in a de facto capacity.
Though the Contreras rumors don’t have very strong legs right now, at least we are starting to see a pattern develop. And though the elephant in the room is the financial capital the Cubs are saving this year and next, the fruits of that type of organizational reconstruction appear to be a system that could eventually be 10-15 deep in high ceiling prospects. We’ve said for many years that Theo Epstein failed to provide a pipeline of young talent for the parent club and the team’s current financial situation is allowing the front office to execute a reset.
Cubs News & Notes
- One of the underlying forces driving the current direction of the Cubs has been the lack of extensions for their core group. Friday marks the deadline for teams to exchange proposed salary figures with any remaining arbitration-eligible players. For the Cubs, that group is headlined by Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Contreras.
- The Cubs and their NL Central rivals appear to have hit the snooze button on the hot stove season. If we count the 2019 season (since last year’s schedule was just 60 games), Chicago has lost 19.5 fWAR without replacing Darvish, Victor Caratini, Kyle Schwarber, and Jon Lester, among others. That makes the Cubs about a 72-win team on paper as the roster currently sits.
- Albert Almora Jr. is drawing some interest from the Mets.
- The Cubs were one of several teams that watched a bullpen session by free agent starter Corey Kluber yesterday.
- Tomorrow would have marked the opening of CubsCon ’21 were it not for the current pandemic. If the event had gone on as scheduled, what would you ask the Ricketts family if you had the chance (podcast)?
- With no event this year, at least Tom Ricketts gets to avoid the controversy surrounding the exile of former fan favorite Sammy Sosa.
Odds & Sods
I’m not a fan of Don Mattingly the manager, but he earned every accolade he received as a player.
Have you ever seen a lefty third baseman?
Don Mattingly played three games at third in his career and looked pretty smooth at the hot corner. pic.twitter.com/QHdARwIZKf
— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) January 13, 2021
Judging by the construction of rosters right now, the NL seems to be divided on whether the league will implement a universal DH for this season.
Because the league is planning on a 162-game schedule, teams with younger pitching staffs are going to have to build rotations that go 8- or 9-deep.
Curt Gowdy is not as appreciated as some of the legendary broadcasters in the history of baseball, which is unfair, but fans of the versatile announcer can watch The Sounds of the Game on MLB Network tonight for a taste of his warm and genuine delivery.
In the absence of this year’s Cubs Convention, fans of Chicago’s North Side baseball team will miss out on the annual state of the game address as provided by the team’s CEO and Chairman.
On our opening #SBJDealmakers panel, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said the way teams are built is changing: "The next wave is player development. Once you draft a player, what can you do to make that player the best he can be?" pic.twitter.com/0CJcmMTer7
— Sports Business Journal (@SBJ) December 4, 2019
Sliding Into Home
I’m going to give Scott Crandall a call today. If there is anything you’d like me to relay to him, please include it in the comments section.
They Said It
- “I think there’s a strong chance that we’re looking at four or five years of players down the line, maybe two or three years. So that’s just something to keep an eye on. When the Cubs make these trades for the future, I don’t know about bringing players back that are going to play right now. I think it’s the players down the road, at least from some of the things that I’m hearing.” – Craig Mish
- “There are certainly players that we have that we’d love to keep long-term. There’s no question about that. We just haven’t — with this group — been able to get to that place where it made sense. I’m really proud of the offers we’ve made.” – Jed Hoyer
- “Honestly, man, that guy’s got balls. Just to see his fire, just watch that. That’s incredible. That’s what I want to do. I want to be able to throw 50 pitches then go do that the next day, and that guy went out there and did it.” – Aaron Bummer
Thursday Walk Up Song
Give a Little Bit by Supertramp – Maybe we have been to quick to judge Hoyer. He probably doesn’t get the same grace period that someone completely new to the team might have, but he deserves our trust, at least for now.