No sooner did Cubs fans start resting easy about Kris Bryant staying, Theo Epstein made some rather ominous remarks.
Epstein spoke Monday of the July trade deadline. “In the middle of this season, if we have a legit World Series contender,” Epstein said, “that is really meaningful. But if we don’t, you can’t be blind to the realities of the following 18 months.”
The reference to “18 months” refers to the Cubs’ players who’ll gain free agency after the 2021 season. Epstein doesn’t seem to want to wait until players have just one year of control left before deciding to trade them if the Cubs don’t see extensions being a reality. The concerning part of this was Epstein’s words about a “legit World Series contender,” as the Cubs aren’t predicted to be anywhere close this season.
Possible Trade Targets
KB has been the center of attention all winter, so his name should come as no surprise. Bryant wants to say in Chicago, and the Cubs seem to want him, but one thing stands in the way.
Super-agent Scott Boras represents Bryant and he expects him to get paid – big – after he reaches free agency. Bryant denied rumors of a $200M extension offer, but the keyword there is “$200M.” Bryant never said there was never an offer made.
Boras has said they would listen to “any reasonable offer,” with the keyword being “reasonable” in that sentence. Boras netted over a billion in contracts this winter, and it’s unlikely that owner Tom Ricketts is going to pay what Boras and Bryant demand.
I thought that Bryant’s service-time grievance would spell the end, but the sides appear to have ironed things out – for now, anyway.
I’ve always described Quintana as “quietly solid.” The veteran lefty had a bad season last year and may become a trade target for salary purposes. The Cubs want to get under the luxury tax this year and offloading part of Q’s $10.5M salary would help.
The Bench Guys
Albert Almora Jr.
Almora wants regular playing time, but he’s buried in an outfield full of talent. Ian Happ is already projected to be the Cubs’ starting centerfielder this year, leaving Almora stuck platooning.
Both Almora and Happ have had a good spring so far, but if Happ continues to produce at the plate (from both sides), he’ll have an edge.
Caratini has emerged quickly as a very competent, second-string catcher. Caratini’s switch-ihitting abilities and consistent bat make for an interesting trade target.
Caratini has worked hard to improve but remains in the shadow of Willson Contreras. Should the Cubs actually break up what is arguable the best 1-2 catching duo in MLB, Caratini will either move or become the Cubs starting catcher.
Less Likely Targets
Contreras was (briefly) the subject of rumors this winter. His skills behind the plate are amazing, but that also means he’ll have significant trade value.
Contreras is controllable through 2022, making him that much more attractive, but I’m hard-pressed to see the Cubs parting with him.
“Ken! Bite your tongue!” Yes, I know. Javy has become the heart and soul of Chicago, but there is a glitch. The Cubs wanted to lock him down to an extension this winter, but talks went nowhere.
No Cubs fan wants to fathom losing part of a core that brought the team a World Series win in 2016. The problem is, baseball is a business and that business is about money and winning. Epstein’s remarks seem a little ominous, but he’s said things before that never came to fruition.
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