The Chicago Cubs might be the team to watch in the month of August, but not for anything they do on the field. Let’s be honest, any chance of competing for a playoff spot disappeared a long time ago; probably before the season even began. I am not sure that even the most optimistic fan out there can realistically think that this team can still make a playoff push in 2014. That said, the Cubs might be able to do a lot to improve their team for the remainder of this year as well as putting themselves in a good position next year and beyond.
The non-waiver deadline now behind us, but that does not mean that the Cubs are necessarily done wheeling and dealing. The Cubs might be in a great place to improve their team with very little effort; all thanks to the waiver deadline that starts today.
Virtually every player from all 30 teams will be placed on waivers, whether a team wants to trade them or not. Most of them will go unclaimed which means they can be traded anywhere, to any team at anytime. However, if a team does claim a player, they are the only team that he can be traded to. If a deal cannot be made, the team can either pull him back off of waivers, or flat out give the player to the claiming team.
How does this benefit the Cubs you might ask? Because every player will likely be out on waivers, players like Edwin Jackson.
Chances are that Jackson goes unclaimed, because why would a team claim him and risk being stuck with all that money he is owed? With the New York Yankees formerly having interest in him, he might pass through waivers giving them another shot to work out a trade for him. They might risk claiming him to to make sure no other team can make a better offer, but at that point if I were Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, I would just give him to the Yankees without getting anything in return. Any trade the Cubs make with him, the other team will want them to eat some of the contract. At that point, screw the prospect, save the money and give him away.
Getting rid of Jackson and the remaining two years, $22 Million plus left on his contract is not the only way the team can help themselves this month though. The Cubs might also be able to find trade partners for Luis Valbuena, Justin Ruggiano, Nate Schierholtz, Chris Coghlan and Carlos Villanueva. Any one of them might find themselves in a different uniform before the end of August. How many of them have a place on the Cubs next year remains to be seen.
But let’s look at how the Cubs might be able to add, instead of continue subtracting players from their rosters.
Like I said, virtually every player from every team will be placed on waivers. There are teams who still have players they are hoping to deal, and get off of their books. For instance, the White Sox have John Danks who they hope to find a taker for, and could easily be traded in August.
I doubt many Cubs fans would do back flips if the Cubs claimed Danks and either traded for him or got him as a gift without having to give up prospects in return. Danks is not having that great of a season, but might be an interesting add to the rotation if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer think that he can still have a useful place in a contending rotation. But Danks might not be the best player that teams are still hoping to trade; in fact he likely will not even be the best pitcher on the waiver wire.
The Philadelphia Phillies are desperate to start moving some of their players, and have not been shy about letting other teams know. They want to start their own rebuilding project and are hoping to free up space on their roster and payroll. They have been floating around just about every player on their roster at the deadline but had no takers. With that being the case, you can almost guarantee they will place just about everyone on waivers hoping to once again find a trade partner for one or all of their aging players.
Because the Cubs are one of the worst teams in baseball this year, they will have priority over almost every other team if they make a claim. One of the players to keep an eye on is Cole Hamels. If the Cubs claim him, they might be in a great place to land the 30 year old pitcher.
Hamels is signed through the 2018 season, with an option for 2019. Over the next four years, he makes $22.5 Million, with his option year being just $20 Million. While that is a high price tag, the Cubs can easily afford paying him what he is owed. Of course, if the Cubs claim him, they can work out a deal with the Phillies where they eat a portion of the salary in return for a prospect or two.
However, if the Cubs want to play hardball about which prospects they give up, the Phillies might be desperate enough to just give him away which means the Cubs would be stuck with the entire $90 Million left on his contract the next four years. Would claiming him be worth while for the Cubs who are desperately looking for pitching? Hamels is a very good pitcher and would go a long way to helping the Cubs get closer to contending for a division crown or even the World Series title. That price tag might look ugly, but for a pitcher of his caliber that might be a worth while investment. Of course, if the Cubs and Phillies are unable to reach an agreement on a deal, they might just pull him off waivers and keep him. Then they can try once again to trade him in the off season, which is the more likely scenario. I doubt the Phillies would actually let him walk without getting anything in return; not like the Cubs would be eager to do with Jackson.
Another pitcher the Phillies might also place on waivers in hopes of trading him is A.J. Burnett. Unlike Hamels, he is only signed through 2015, which is a mutual option which could pay him $15 Million, but the player option is only $7.5 Million. While a talented pitcher, he is not nearly as attractive as Hamels would be, even at the price tag differences between the two and length of the deal remaining.
If the Cubs wanted to improve their bullpen, they might even be able to snag Antonio Bastardo who could also be on the wish list of players the Phillies want to trade. However, he has one season of arbitration eligibility left and can be come a free agent at the end of the year. Like Burnett, he might not make much sense to claim unless you were planning on flipping him at next year’s deadline.
Even though the Cubs said they are not looking to sign players to trade them next off season, Burnett would be a decent flip option as he would be fairly cost efficient, and talented enough to draw interest from other teams even though he had none this trade season.
There are of course other teams, and other players who will be on the wavier wire which includes pitchers. But no team has been more vocal about their desire to move players more than the Phillies. While they have a lot of veterans who might be valuable to the right team, none make as much sense as Hamels. He could very well be the best fit for the Cubs going forward; even more than pitchers like Jon Lester and Justin Masterson. Even Max Scherzer (who might just be a pipe dream) might not be as good of a fit as Hamel, though I would not say no to any of them.
With the Cubs looking at adding pitching this off season to help their team compete, they might be able to get a head start by checking in on the waiver wire frequently to see if their is a young pitcher they see promise in. Just because the season is lost does not mean you are not allowed to continue building for the future. The waiver wire is a great place to start if you want to get a jump start on fixing the broken parts of your team. Then you can just skip competing with other teams and hoping you can outbid them for a pitchers services; which the Cubs are certainly going to have to do for Lester and Masterson.
While this is all speculation, I do not think you can write this off as something that definitely will not happen. Keep your eyes open, the Cubs might have a few moves left up their sleeves.
UPDATE: So recently the Cubs have claimed two pitchers off of waivers. One being Jacob Turner who was designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins, but the second one is relevant to this piece. A report out if Philadelphia says that the Cubs are the lone team to put a claim in on Hamels. Of course, Hamels would have to accept the trade to the Cubs as he has no trade rights, and the Cubs are not on his current short list of teams he gave when he signed his new contract in 2012. However as the report points out, prior to being signed in 2012, he did have the the Cubs on his short list of teams he was interested in.
He will likely cost one of the top prospects the Cubs have, as I doubt the Phillies would just give him away in order to clear the remaining $90 million off the books. If the Cubs do acquire him though, he could very easily be seen as the Ace of a young pitching staff who needs some veteran guidance.