Cubs Could Be ‘Trying to Go Really Young’ in Rumored Return for Willson Contreras

Because I go out of my way to avoid Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, and because life sometimes gets in the way of blogging, I’m a little late to the party on this one. But in the interest of keeping everyone abreast of the Willson Contreras rumors, I felt it behooved me to share the latest on the Cubs’ reported talks with the Marlins.

Craig Mish tweeted about those talks on Tuesday, being careful to note they had not gained any actual traction. He countered that a bit by adding that the Marlins liked to swing big trades and had more than enough young talent to get a deal done. Jon Heyman subsequently confirmed the mutual interest, tempering it by saying the Marlins might not have room in the budget to get it done.

That part’s pretty laughable because Miami is currently sitting around $26 million under last season’s payroll, but whatever. We know for certain that the Cubs are trimming payroll and that they’re probably more heavily focused on the future than new president Jed Hoyer has indicated publicly. Speaking of which, you might want to salt the hell out of the idea that the Contreras rumors are “fictional.”

Put that all together and you’re looking at a strategy that might not call for getting MLB-ready prospects in return. As noted in that earlier piece, the Marlins are a veritable Starbucks after giving cups of coffee to so many young players last season. One of only two prospects ranked in their top 11 who didn’t get a call in 2020 is outfielder JJ Bleday, who says could be up this season.

As Mish tweeted Wednesday in response to a question about his earlier statements, however, “the Cubs will not be getting anywhere close to JJ Bleday” if a deal were to happen. In fact, Mish said he’s not heard any of the Marlins’ top 10 prospects mentioned to this point. That’s both familiar and perplexing after the Cubs were not able to pry any of the Padres’ top 10 prospects loose in return for Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini.

Now we come back to Russo’s MLB Network scream-fest, on which Mish was a guest Wednesday. With full understanding that this is all based on sourced info and/or scuttlebutt from conversations that have yielded little of substance thus far, it’s worth hearing out.

“I think there’s a chance,” Mish said when asked about the viability of a trade. “I wouldn’t say that it has serious traction at the moment. But the interesting part I can tell you from the Cubs perspective, Chris, 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.

“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.”

If we cross-reference that with a brief perusal of Miami’s system, the first player to jump out is lefty Dax Fulton, the No. 40 overall draft pick from last summer. He’s only 19 and has no professional experience, so he still needs a few years to develop. What’s more, he’s ranked outside the top 10 (12) and is the only one of the Marlins’ top 18 with an ETA later than 2022.

Righty Kyle Nicolas was the Marlins’ third pick (No. 61 overall) and he’s ranked No. 21 in the system at this point. A hard-thrower with tons of raw talent that could use a little polish, Nicolas feels like the type of pitcher the Cubs have shifted their focus to after so many years of overly conservative evaluation and development.

Rather than go through the whole list, I really just wanted to pick out a couple of prospects who made sense based on Mish’s comments and what we know about the Cubs. After netting no young pitchers from their previous deal, it’s logical to assume they’d be looking to balance that out if they ended up moving Contreras. It’s also entirely possible that they’d acquire one of Miami’s two catchers, much like getting Zach Davies to “replace” Darvish.

You may not like the idea in the least, I get it, but it’s starting to feel more and more like Hoyer’s “small reset” is really more of a full renovation.

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