The Rundown: Breaking Down Far-Fetched Trade Speculation, Hamels Signs with Braves, Wheeler to Phillies

Just when I thought all I was going to do today was put any Anthony Rizzo trade speculation into logical perspective, along comes David Schoenfield of ESPN, a writer I’ve generally been impressed with, throwing down the hammer with a hypothetical three-team trade that has the Cubs sending Kris Bryant to the Reds and Willson Contreras to the Astros. So I’ll address both.

Even in a day when news outlets go out of their way to imply truth and bury facts, and paid writers tend to mimic starving bloggers like myself, sifting through the fiction to find a few facts is an exhausting endeavor. My dad used to say “the plain truth seldom looks as pretty as a festoon of rumors” and though I had no clue what that meant when I was 13, I have a pretty good idea now.

The other day, Jeff Passan, also of ESPN, suggested that Theo Epstein is working at a maniacal pace to make a trade, indicating that it’s possible the Cubs would trade Rizzo. There are a number of good reasons why the Cubs could move their all-star first baseman, though just generally shaking things up probably isn’t one. Rizzo will be 31 next season, has had recurring back issues, is at the peak of his career, and has just one year remaining on his contract at a very digestible $16.5 million, with a team option at the same salary for 2021 or a $2 million buyout. If you take off your Cubs blinders for a moment, he actually seems like a perfect trade candidate. Further, he plays a position that is easily replaceable.

There probably isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t want Rizzo, but there are very few teams with a specific need at first base. The Brewers are the first team that comes to mind, but aside from being one of Chicago’s biggest rivals, the two teams don’t match well on any potential trade. I suppose the Rays, Angels, Astros, Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, and Rockies would all consider Rizzo an upgrade from their current options but would they pay the freight Epstein would require in return? That seems doubtful.

And as face of the team with the launch of Marquee Sports Network just two months away, it might be bad for business to send the most beloved Cub packing. That said, publicity alone is not really an acceptable reason for keeping Rizzo if the right trade is offered. Further, trading him would seem to indicate that the Cubs would be going into tear-down mode, which just seems a little unrealistic right now given the rest of their roster.

That brings me to the Schoenfield bomb from yesterday.

The ESPN lead baseball writer proposed a three-team blockbuster that would send Bryant to Cincinnati and Contreras to Houston with the Cubs getting a gaggle of pitching in return. The haul would include Forrest Whitley from the ‘Stros, who would also give the Cubs 3B prospect Abraham Toro and left-handed pitcher Nick Lodolo. The Reds would give Chicago righty Tony Santillan, their No. 5 prospect. Whitley is Houston’s current top prospect. Yes, the proposal is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, but, in fairness to the way teams are holding onto prospects these days, getting any No. 1 would seem like a coup of sorts. That is, when you are not giving up two players who are considered among MLB’s best at their positions.

Whitley and Lodolo could be future stars, but offer no guarantees. Besides, we are talking about a front office that pillaged the Orioles by getting Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and set the Padres organization back a few years by stealing Rizzo for an overhyped pitcher of their own, Andrew Cashner. I just can’t see Epstein taking the type of risk attached to Schoenfield’s wild scenario.

“I don’t wonder why people talk,” my father used to say to me. “I just wonder why others listen.”

Cubs News & Notes

  • Cole Hamels and the Braves agreed to terms on a one-year deal that will pay the lefty starter $18 million. That’s a nice payday for Hamels, who wasn’t given a qualifying offer by the Cubs.
  • While other teams are spending like trust fund babies, our Evan Altman looks at three fringy (read: cheap) pitching options that might interest the Cubs.
  • The Cubs are most likely seeking bullpen help via free agency and trade.
  • The North Siders have been seeking a center field option that can bat leadoff for what seems like decades. “It’s certainly an area of need,” Epstein said of center field. “We’re aware of it.” (subscription to The Athletic required).
  • A change in approach with two strikes by pitchers against Javier Báez contributed to an offensive dip last year. That will be a focus for Anthony Iapoce, whose tutelage led to improved performances from Contreras,  Kyle Schwarber, and Jason Heyward, not to mention Javy’s increased oppo power. It’s easy to see why David Ross and the front office retained the hitting instructor.
  • The Cubs received an extension until March 29 on the rules pertaining to their plaza at Gallagher Way as far as hours of operation and alcohol sales. Alderman Tom Tunney said Wednesday he’s still open to allowing liquor sales on the plaza and is willing to discuss allowing the plaza to stay open longer than one hour after Cubs games end. The Cubs would like to open the plaza to fans who do not possess game day tickets and would like to expand their drinks limitations beyond just beer and wine.

Thursday Stove

Zack Wheeler spurned the White Sox, who allegedly offered more money, to sign a five-year $118 million contract with the Phillies. The ChiSox have become baseball’s annual free agency bridesmaids.

The Reds continue to show interest in Madison Bumgarner.

Gerrit Cole allegedly told the Yankees he holds no West Coast bias in determining where he will sign this winter.

The Angels acquired starter Dylan Bundy in a trade with the Orioles yesterday.

The Red Sox are exploring all options with regard to outfielder Mookie Betts.

The Mets may have new ownership very soon.

Extra Innings

As a baseball community, please consider support for Jen Ramos, who was the victim of a terrible tragedy from earlier this week that left her seriously injured and killed their husband. Jen has previously written for Hardball Times and Baseball Prospectus.

They Said It

  • “If you get a certain amount of upgrade, whether it’s at a position you’re already good at and you go to great or you’re below average and go to above average, it’s the totality that matters. [Center field] is certainly an area where we’re looking to improve our performance, whether it’s with players existing on the roster or from outside. There’s a little bit of corresponding impact, especially defensively. Who you have playing center affects the two other outfielders a little bit, it affects your pitching staff and everything else. We’re also looking to reshape our offense a little bit, so who plays center field will have an impact on that.” – Theo Epstein

Thursday Walk Up Song

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) by the Temptations. Hot stove speculation is such a love/hate relationship.

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