The Rundown: Roster Upgrades Still Needed, Options Dwindling, Astros Personnel Make Damning Admission

I apologize in advance for more of the same old, same old, but there just isn’t much to write about these days when it comes to Chicago’s North Side baseball club.

Though nothing has been finalized and most rumors are still just that, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around a Cubs roster that may not include Kris Bryant and/or Willson Contreras. There is little doubt that the front office has engaged other teams in conversation about those two players, and probably just about anybody else on the team’s roster, but there has just been too much chatter to dismiss the fact that either or both may be moved before spring training.

Don’t look for Bryant in the team’s latest ticket promotion, by the way. I’m not saying that’s any type of legitimate foreshadowing. I’m just pointing out the fact he is noticeably absent, considering the third baseman has been the face of the franchise and most of its marketing campaigns since he was initially called up in 2015.

With just about 50 days until pitchers and catchers report, the Cubs have yet to make an impact addition. Addison Russell was non-tendered and Cole Hamels has signed with the Braves. Relief pitchers Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek are free agents, Ben Zobrist is mulling retirement. All of those players need to be replaced, whether internally or externally, and internal options are either unproven or come with shaky big league experience.

When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over, the promise was that the Cubs would foster a winning culture and create a strong enough farm system to provide a continuous supply of young players that could step up and play at better than replacement level. And though the Cubs have had at least 84 wins in every season since 2015, the pipeline from the minors has all but dried up.

Further complicating matters is the purported freeze on salary additions through free agency. Since the 2018 season ended, the Cubs have been able to add only Brad Brach, Daniel Descalso, and Dan Winkler on the open market. Craig Kimbrel was a costly midseason pick up last June, made possible by the extended unpaid leave of absence by Zobrist. Additionally, the Cubs seem intent on lowering last season’s $237 million salary figure, trying instead to get near or beneath the $208 million luxury tax threshold for 2020.

All of that makes the weekend buzz surrounding the rumored return engagement of Nick Castellanos equally pathetic and laughable. The Cubs are not going to throw any more money at the current roster, which would seem to indicate that the team is primed to either retool softly or take the more constructive approach of replacing veterans with minor league additions. That would be a risky proposition.

Now that most of the impact free agents have signed contracts, Epstein and Hoyer will have to rely on the trade market to change the roster. It has been eight weeks since the season ended and their shopping list still includes a starting pitcher, some bullpen help, and a leadoff-type hitter that can ideally play center field. At some point, Nico Hoerner will replace Russell on the roster, and the front office hopes that Winkler can fill one of the vacated bullpen slots. The Rule 5 acquisition of Trevor Megill gives the team another bullpen piece, too. That leaves the 2020 roster a serious work in progress as options continue to dwindle.

Cubs News & Notes

Monday Stove

Astros personnel have admitted to Major League Baseball that the club used a center-field video camera to relay pitching signs in real time, according to a report published by Andy Martino of SNY. Baseball considers that illegal and will punish accordingly. Harsh discipline for Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch remain in play.

The Rangers acquired starting pitcher Corey Kluber from the Indians for former Rule 5 pickup Delino DeShields, Jr. and minor league reliever Emmanuel Clase.

The Indians cleared roughly $18 million from their payroll for 2020, and potentially ’21 as well, in the Kluber trade. That could make the oft-rumored trade of superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor less likely now that the Tribe’s payroll constraints aren’t quite as dire.

Madison Bumgarner has agreed to a five-year contract with the Diamondbacks. The veteran starter will earn $85 million over the life of the deal, with the final $15 million deferred. Bumgarner’s deal also includes a limited no-trade clause that features five teams.

Though the Dodgers lost out on signing Bumgarner, they’re said to still be interested in trading for Lindor and/or Mike Clevinger.

Reliever Blake Treinen, who just signed with the Dodgers, believes he can be elite again.

The current MLB trend seems to be not only a return to a quickly moving free agent market, but one that emphasizes starting pitching.

The bat used by Babe Ruth when he belted his 500th home run was sold on Saturday for just north of $1 million in a California auction. Ruth was the first of 27 Major League Baseball players who have topped that career mark.

Extra Innings

Happy Monday Morning everyone.

They Said It

  • “The [Yu Darvish] you saw in the second half, that’s one of the best pitchers in the game to me. I’m excited to get to know him, create that relationship with a guy I don’t know a ton about, or have the same relationship that I do with the other guys. I’m super excited about that aspect.” – David Ross
  • “The way the starting-pitching market has moved — and as quickly as it’s moved — you couldn’t get a guy like Yu Darvish on that kind of number now. Let alone with what’s left on his deal.” – Theo Epstein

Monday Walk Up Song

I Need a Dollar by Aloe Blacc. Will somebody please help out Tom Ricketts? Times are a little tough on the North Side these days.

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