Let’s begin by saying that I’m glad the Chicago Cubs have an ownership group that is not afraid to invest in winning when it makes sense, and has a good long game in mind as they hope to keep this competitive window wedged open for years to come. I suppose most of you have heard about the impending Giancarlo Stanton trade, which had a former Cubs favorite as collateral damage. Everything about the Miami Marlins these days smells fishier than normal, and plenty of people have jumped on that franchise for being terrible, and deservedly so. It’s good to know that the Cubs are no longer terrible, both in terms of the ownership and the product on the field.
We also know that, aside from the obviously rebuilding teams and the aforementioned Marlins, most of MLB won’t sit idly by while the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cubs, the suddenly very super-powerful New York Yankees, and the defending World Series champion Houston Astros (among others) continue to run the table year after year. The Cubs did take their shot at Shohei Ohtani but couldn’t make it happen; however, they will be out of the penalty in summer of 2018 and can try to start spending on the next Gleyber Torres or Eloy Jimenez. In the meantime, they do have to focus on the short game as well, which is to return the Cubs to the playoffs for an unprecedented fourth year in a row. At least I think it’s unprecedented, since I don’t know what happened in the 19th Century.
Since I wrote this article the summer before the Cubs started their perennial playoff run, it has arguably gotten more difficult for an elite, big market team like the one on the North Side to both stay elite AND get new impact talent to keep the pipeline flowing. The CBA has made international spending much more restricted, and free agent-based compensation for the Cubs has dropped their potential pick from somewhere in the 30s and 40s all the way down to the 60s or so. And because teams have gotten smarter (not just the Cubs), it will be much more difficult to identify an edge through scouting and analytics that another team hasn’t figured out yet.
The good news is that most of the position player core of the recent Cubs playoff teams is intact for several more years. Yeah, they need a backup catcher and a couple of relievers and maybe another starting pitcher or two after getting Tyler Chatwood while losing out on Ohtani. But they are in a good spot to add via free agency, with perhaps a Yu Darvish or an Alex Cobb or maybe someone under the radar. They could also try the trade route, as the latest rumor seems to suggest:
[Chris] Archer and [Alex] Colome would knock two huge items off Theo Epstein’s offseason to-do list. But as Rogers mentioned, it will likely take a big-time return package to net a couple of All-Star pitchers. The Cubs’ minor league system has been seriously depleted in recent years as many of the organization’s biggest names have either reached the big leagues — helping the team to that curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 — or been traded away in midseason deals for Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana in the last two years. That means it’d likely take multiple guys on the major league roster to acquire Archer and/or Colome. The same names that have been speculated about this offseason would once more figure to come into play in this discussion: Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. But perhaps Javier Baez and others would be needed to swing a deal like this, too.
I won’t automatically reject this trade, because who knows what magic Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer can whip up. But a trade like this seems counter-productive because of having to move one of the core position players I mentioned above, with no obvious replacement in house or via trade/free agency that would keep the Cubs engine running, keep them under the luxury tax, and maintain enough flexibility to sign, say, Bryce Harper next winter. I understand that there will come a time when a tough trade will need to be made, and we’ve seen this before with the Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana trades. However, this does not seem to be the right time or fit for a trade, especially when the Cubs can use free agency to fill the major holes in the roster for now.
I think I can see the Cubs avoiding Cobb due to him being tied to a qualifying offer (rejected), so they can keep whatever draft picks come their way. I’m sure, as the reports said, that they would keep tabs on both of their current QO’d free agents in Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis. But if I were playing a long game, I’d get Yu Darvish since he wouldn’t cost a draft pick (just a boatload of money), and let Arrieta and Davis go elsewhere to snag more draft picks to secure more pool money. After all, the Cubs have to try to stay good past 2022, and having some impact talent in the minors to replace whoever might leave is better than a full on tank mode plan like the last time.
(Then again, Bruce Levine says the Cubs are in on Cobb, so what do I know?)
The Winter Meetings start up on Monday, so we will get at least some answers to how the Cubs intend to bolster their team now that the big fish have been snagged. I imagine with Chicago being a premium destination (as evidenced by their inclusion in both Ohtani and Stanton’s lists), they will get plenty of bites.