Trade speculation has been swirling around several Cubs players all season, with rumors about Ian Happ‘s potential departure gaining steam as the outfielder keeps adding to the best season of his career. This isn’t just idle talk or a matter of Happ being caught up in the general fire sale vibe, as Cubs Insider has heard whispers from industry sources that the Cubs intend to shop their left fielder aggressively as the deadline nears.
As a quick aside, I can’t help but wonder whether that was a factor in Jackson Frazier accepting his designation to Iowa. Like maybe the Cubs gave him a little wink and said there was a strong possibility that the left field job would be his after August 2 if he cleared waivers.
Barring an injury or sudden drop in performance, Happ’s production and that additional year of contractual control will surely create a robust market. And while it seems like that’s exactly the type of player a budget-conscious team — which should never be the case on the North Side, but I digress — would want to hold onto and even extend, the Cubs may view trading Happ as a way to dry off from the bath they’re going to take on other would-be trade chips.
Willson Contreras left Monday’s game with a hamstring issue and was not in the lineup Tuesday. While there is still plenty of time for him to come back and prove he’s healthy, the best-hitting catcher in baseball has been beset by hammy trouble in the past and this could have teams trying to adjust their offers. Kyle Hendricks has also become a hot commodity, but he too left his last start early with what has now become a recurring shoulder issue.
Wade Miley and Drew Smyly, both ostensibly added to be flipped at the deadline, are still on the IL and have very little chance to increase their desirability by August 2. Miley has logged only 19 innings in four starts after starting the season on the IL due to shoulder problems, so the return will likely be minimal in his case no matter what. David Robertson has been incredible, far better than anyone could have predicted, but the teams who need a high-leverage reliever probably don’t need a closer.
Marcus Stroman is another possibility, but he’s missed a lot of time due to COVID and injuries and hasn’t pitched all that well when healthy. Even if there is a market for him, which Jon Heyman said recently there likely won’t be, the return would probably see the Cubs taking a big net loss.
That leaves Happ as the Cubs’ best overall trade chip, pending the health status of Contreras and Hendricks. At the risk of over-repeating something I’ve written, spoken, and tweeted about many times over the last few months, moving any two of those three would mean the Cubs are intent on punting next season as well.
Jed Hoyer and Crane Kenney have spoken separately about having money to spend when the time is right, with the president of business operations going so far as feed everyone a tremendous line of bullshit about unused payroll being carried over into future seasons. You don’t even have to know a whole lot about the organization to understand that, unless there is a very drastic change in strategy, the time to be aggressive financially won’t come prior to 2024.
The Cubs are getting great results from several young pitchers in Chicago but don’t have many more ready to join that group next season. Of all their highly-touted position players, four of whom are among the top 100 in baseball, only Brennen Davis is expected to be ready in 2023. And he’s going to miss most of this season after undergoing a procedure to alleviate pressure on a nerve in his back.
It’s not actually that difficult to plot out a way for the Cubs to be much more competitive with a few key additions to the current roster and a little good luck. Thing is, they’ve got a bottom-five record in MLB right now WITH Happ, Contreras, Hendricks, Robertson, et. al. Now think about how much they’d need to spend and how many things would need to break right to be good after those players have been traded.
Carlos Correa said recently that he “didn’t want to be part of no rebuilding” while Xander Bogaerts talked about wanting to win every year and how the Red Sox never took this long to bounce back from a down season. Even if the Cubs were to land Bogaerts, which USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported “several executives are predicting,” they could actually be further away from having a wholly competitive roster than they are now.
Does it really make sense to give a monster contract to a 30-year-old shortstop when the first year of that deal may very well be wasted?
There is, of course, one possibility that I’ve overlooked here, which is that Hoyer might not be targeting the same types of prospects as last year. Which is to say that rather than going after a bunch of teenagers who won’t be ready for several years, he might be looking for more MLB-ready talent. If they can get a few young players who are able to compete in Chicago right away, then they get really splashy in free agency, they could finally thread the needle.
I’ll let you do your own speculation on how that could all shake out, but other big-market teams have shown that it’s possible to rebuild quickly with the right moves and a lot of money. Too bad the Cubs have had neither over the last several seasons.