It’s not the best place to be if you’re like me, where the only respite from the dreariest possible Cubs offseason is the Hawks. If you lean more to the Bulls, well, it’s not much better for you, is it? When was the last time we were envious of White Sox fans? Fuck. What a state. Thank god for Liverpool (HAHAHA Killion you moron!).
In that state, I will reach for any straw I can that will leave me any hope of continuing as a Cubs fan any longer (yes, a Kris Bryant trade simply to save money would probably cause me to turn my card in, and I’ve been consistent about this). I don’t want to have to be something else. I’ve been this all my life. But eventually, there’s only so much you can take. So when I saw this making the rounds yesterday, first saw it on Cubs Insider, it was at least a flash of hope. A brief streak across the sky.
There are caveats of course, and plenty, as Evan mentions within this piece. Clearly whoever David Kaplan is talking to hates Kris Bryant, as the idea that he’s not even a top-30 player in the league isn’t something you’d hear spewed out of the gaping maw of the biggest meatball on a barstool in Bridgeport. Fifth Feather might say it just to piss me off, but he wouldn’t mean it. Second, whoever willingly talks to David Kaplan also must have their own issues, because I’d rather be speedbagged in the face by a werewolf than deal with Kaplan, and I know I’m not alone. Third, David Kaplan can’t count to six.
Now that that’s all out of the way, the idea or report that the Cubs’ asking prices for either or both of Bryant and Contreras isn’t a huge surprise. They should be! One’s a former goddamn MVP who only trails Betts and Trout in WAR since coming into the league and the other is what, the second-best offensive catcher in the league now that Buster Posey can’t bend his knees? Technically he was even better than Grandal at the plate (127 wRC+ vs. 121), and you can take Mitch Garver’s numbers and shove them. Nothing that happened at Target Field last year is real, other than them losing to the Yankees in October. That’s as real as it gets. Also, Contreras is due to make pretty much nothing this year, only upping his value.
So their prices should be in the stratosphere. These players don’t just come on the market, trade or free agent, that often. If you had to trade them, and make no mistake the Cubs most certainly don’t have to, you need to be getting multiple pieces back that help right away to soften the blow of not having a genuine difference-maker anymore. Otherwise, you’re just hurting yourself.
The hope is that Theo Epstein, who must know deep down how stupid this all is and dreams of drugging his boss to get him to see reality as it is, keeps the prices so high the next six weeks that a deal either can’t be done or he gets an actual good baseball trade out of it (Gavin Lux and Dustin May and that’s just for starters, assholes). Given the more likely scenario of the former, then he can go to Ricketts and say, “Look, I tried, but I’m not going to make a bad trade that hurts the team short- and long-term just to save money. That’s not what you hired me for.” That’s the hope, at least.
Because as we all know, and Theo knows, even this team as constructed right now isn’t bad. It’s still got as good of a shot as anyone to win the Central, and that’s with a hole in center, second-base (which might even be filled by Hoerner some point soon), and the bottom of the rotation. Still, all that would require is a bounce-back year from Quintana, and you’re basically a 90-win team as is right now (and Q’s underlying numbers suggest he was way more effective than most realize). The more you think about it, the nearer it gets to impossible that the Cubs could make a trade that Theo would think is acceptable.
Still, there’s the problem of getting under the luxury tax, which seems to be the directive. Right now, the Cubs need to shed about $6M to get there, according to most projections, and probably more to have any flexibility during the season. The elephant in the room is that it should be Jason Heyward’s name being thrown about, because that’s really the only obviously bad contract on the books. Does Darvish’s $22M look so bad after Zack Wheeler just signed for $21.5M? Dear reader, it should not.
The hurdles with Heyward are obvious. You’ll never clear all of his $23M. He has a full no-trade. Even eating half of his salary probably still requires throwing in a non-lottery ticket prospect to sweeten the deal, even if he agreed to go. And yes, he gave the speech that ate the cat that ate the rat in the house that Jim Thome built. I know all that.
But it’s that deal that’s affecting everything. Even with his plus-defense in right, he’s been a one-WAR player during his time here. He hit 20 homers in a year when everyone hit 20 homers. At this point, his power is probably not coming back, because one’s bat-speed doesn’t tend to get better in their 30s and velocity is only becoming more prevalent from pitchers. Even if you can clear $12M off the books, that’s under the luxury tax with minuscule flexibility. Yes, you’d probably have to fill another hole, which might just involve throwing Bryant out to right more often and letting Bote play third. It’s not ideal, but it’s a fuckton better than having Bote play every day because you have Heyward in right and no Bryant.
Who might be interested? Might I suggest the other side of town? Right now, Nomar Mazara is slated to play right, and ladies and gentlemen let me tell you, though he looks the part perfectly he is very much not the part. He didn’t hit in Texas with the juiced ball, so he’s probably not going to. He’s also a butcher in the field. Already with Eloy in left and the glove on his head, the Sox need outfield defense. And with the amount of kids they have, they could always use more leadership which they keep telling us Heyward provides to cover for the fact he’s been going to bat with several sticks of pasta instead of a bat. The Giants are always mentioned, because they need a true hero defensively to cover the Costco parking lot that is right field at Oracle Park (that’s what it is now, right? Who the fuck can keep track?)
Just an idea. But crowbarring Heyward off the roster would be a much less damaging way to shed money than losing actual contributors. Anyway, this is my hope. It’s forlorn I know, but it’s all I have.