The Rundown: Winter Meetings Get Underway, Cubs Handcuffed Again by Budget Limitations, Sunday Baseball Notes

The Winter Meetings are here, and based on a lot of insider chatter, the Cubs are expected to make a big move or two this week in San Diego. Will they move Kris Bryant in a blockbuster trade? What about Willson Contreras? And will Joe Maddon ask his new bosses to try and poach a player or two from his old organization? Jo Adell of the Angels would make a for a nice long-term center field solution for the Cubs.

If you remember last year, the Winter Meetings began with similar hype as Theo Epstein was on a mission to make his team better — a reckoning, if you will — but did not make a single move. If the front office is shut out again this week, it might be worth considering why it is so difficult for Epstein and his entourage to make a move or two. Does he overvalue his players? Are other front offices loath to trade with the Cubs? Is it a matter of sticking with his players too long?

It’s certainly going to be interesting to separate fact from fiction this week, but while other teams have already made big moves and started restructuring their rosters, Epstein has just signed a couple of castoff pitchers, and is said to be close to re-signing Brandon Morrow to a minor league contract. A lot of Cubs fans have applauded the strategy of building pitching depth, but are we to genuinely believe that any of the recent additions will be significant contributors to the Cubs in 2020? To me it feels too much like last winter, when the Cubs made a few low-cost fringe moves before announcing their big free agent signings of 2019, Brad Brach and Daniel Descalso.

The Cubs probably won’t be active in free agency this week and you’re likely to hear that Craig Kimbrel was the big acquisition for this season, even though he signed with the Cubs last June. In fact, Epstein said as much at the time of the signing. At this point I suppose we should all applaud the president of baseball operations for jump-starting the 2020 market. I know the Cubs are operating with a Tom Ricketts sleeper hold on the team’s checkbook, but a decently priced starter like Dallas Keuchel might be a nice way to shore up the rotation. Too bad it probably won’t happen.

And if you are hoping for the return of right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, I would advise against holding your breath. You should probably focus instead on potential Rule 5 options. The draft takes place Thursday morning and is the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings. Epstein has to find a way to add a 26th man onto the 2020 roster with just a few pennies to spend, after all.

In the meantime, what do we think the Cubs will do as far as trades this week? I’ve read the over/under line is set at 2.5 moves. I suppose that might mean Bryant and Contreras are traded, and Jed Hoyer takes Dayton Moore out for drinks one night and somehow convinces him the Royals need Descalso. The smart money says not to bet the over, however, but maybe we’ll be surprised. Few will admit it, but if I could take an honest temperature reading among Cubs fans, I’d say they secretly want Epstein to blow the whole thing up and start over.

Cubs News & Notes

Apropos of Nothing

If you have access to Hulu, The Last Days of Phil Hartman is an excellent documentary. I watched it last night and was glued to the television.

This Week’s Baseball Trivia

Before Chicago’s North Side baseball team unofficially became the Cubs in 1902 when they went through their first ever roster rebuild, they went through a number of name changes. Can you name them all?  The “Cubs” designation was made official in 1907 according to historian Jack Bales.

Updates On Nine

  1. The Yankees are prepared to break the bank to sign Gerrit Cole and might be planning on grabbing Stephen Strasburg as well.
  2. The Mets are expected to have a lot more spending money once Steven A. Cohen becomes the franchise’s majority owner. In the meantime, GM Brodie Van Wagenen has his sights set on former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello.
  3. World Series hero Howie Kendrick is staying with the Nationals. The 36-year-old utility player is fresh off a 2019 season in which he slashed .344/.395/.572 with 17 home runs and 23 doubles in 121 games. Kendrick and Washington agreed on a one-year deal worth $6.25 million with a mutual option for 2021.
  4. Zack Wheeler was reportedly offered more money by the White Sox, but chose to sign with the Phillies instead.
  5. The Phillies also have eyes on Cole, Strasburg, and third baseman Anthony Rendon. Signing one or more of the three would put Philadelphia over the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, but the penalties for first-time offenders are somewhat manageable, especially for a team with deep resources. As a bonus, they could be plucking Strasburg and/or Rendon from the roster of their biggest division rivals.
  6. Jordan Lyles agreed to terms with the Rangers on Friday night and most MLB insiders believe Texas will go all in on Rendon next. By the way, the White Sox were also runners up on Lyles, and it’s beginning to seem like a lot of players just don’t want to play on Chicago’s South side.
  7. White Sox farmhand Alec Hansen might be a sneaky good upside pick in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. The lanky right-hander led the minors with 191 strikeouts in 2017 with three plus pitches. Hansen was moved to the bullpen last season and had a great deal of trouble with command (103 walks in 103 2/3 innings), posting a 5.45 ERA at AA Birmingham, and obviously needs a complete reworking of his mechanics.
  8. A’s starter Mike Fiers seemed like a hero of sorts, especially to his fellow pitchers, when he blew the whistle on the Astros for their alleged use of electronics to steal signs. But some think he is no more than a disgruntled snitch, and that “what happened in the clubhouse should have stayed in the clubhouse.”
  9. If you have ever wondered how the bigger deals at baseball’s Winter Meetings are negotiated, takes a look at five of the biggest free agent December signings of all time, including the seven-year $142 million contract that Epstein gave outfielder Carl Crawford to play for the Red Sox in 2010, a deal that effectively started the beginning of the end of the GM’s tenure with Boston.

Extra Innings

Huzzah! Congratulations to the Schwarbers!

They Said It

  • “We put Nico [Hoerner] in a really challenging spot and he couldn’t have responded better. His makeup, competitiveness is fantastic; his poise was really impressive.” – Jed Hoyer
  • “I think you could make strong arguments [for Hoerner] on both sides. I think a lot will depend on what else we do and yeah, sure, what type of spring training [he has] might be a factor as well. We’re not at the point where we’re ready to make that decision yet, but we’re open-minded.” – Theo Epstein

Sunday Walk Up Song

Wind of Change by the Scorpions. Could be an interesting week for Epstein and Hoyer. Not for nothing, I really love this song but have no real reason for that. It always puts me in a good mood though.

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