Inside the Clubhouse: Struggling Cubs could ‘reshape the deadline’

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images /

Inside the Clubhouse looks at how the Cubs’ slide could affect the trade deadline, Shohei Ohtani’s unique dominance, the latest MLB trade rumors and more.

After the Chicago Cubs no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 25, retaining their share of first place in the National League Central for a 14th consecutive day, they appeared primed to be buyers ahead of the July 30 trade deadline. But an 11-game losing streak, most recently featuring a humiliating 13-3 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies, has all but sealed their fate as sellers.

One rival executive believes that the Cubs emerging as sellers could “reshape the deadline.” But if they indeed decide to sell, just how far might they want to go?

While it’s important to Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to put a winning product on the field, the future of the organization would benefit from trading Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and/or Javier Baez. There is expected to be a trade market for Joc Pederson, who is signed to a one-year deal, and there should be a market for Willson Contreras after he generated interest in the offseason. Andrew Chafin also figures to draw interest as seemingly every contending team searches for bullpen help.

The Cubs, however, may benefit from holding onto Craig Kimbrel. He would easily be the best reliever available at the deadline, but unlike Bryant, Rizzo and Baez, the Cubs hold a $16 million option on Kimbrel, 33, for next season. And considering his level of production — 0.59 ERA in 30.2 innings — a $16 million price tag for a future Hall of Fame reliever is well within reason for a franchise that may want to return to contention sooner than later.

There is still a chance the Cubs turn things around, with six of their first 10 games after the All-Star break coming against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who own the worst record in baseball. But Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer already indicated what direction he was leaning when he traded Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres in December.

An early-season surge appeared to put those plans on hold. But with an 11-game losing streak and nine-game deficit in the division, the Cubs’ players have made Hoyer’s decision a whole lot easier.

Staying in the National League Central…

A rival National League executive said that the St. Louis Cardinals should strongly consider selling if they came out of a 13-game stretch against teams with sub-.500 records with a losing record.

But even after going 5-8 in that stretch, falling nine games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, it feels unlikely that the Cardinals emerge as sellers. Besides, who do they have to sell? They will not trade Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are going nowhere. Alex Reyes is someone they want to build around long-term, perhaps in the rotation. Their best trade chip would be Tyler O’Neill and there is little-to-no chance the front office considers moving him as he has become arguably their best hitter this season.

The most likely scenario is that the Cardinals are calculated buyers, with any potential addition helping the club in 2021 and beyond. Of course, such moves come with a greater acquisition cost, which could prove complicated as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has indicated to rival teams that he does not intend to trade any of his top prospects.

But the Cardinals will have to come out of the deadline with one, perhaps two, starting pitchers as their rotation has been decimated by injuries and poor performance. They are also expected to look for another bat to improve what has been one of the most inconsistent offenses in baseball through the first half of the season.

Aroldis Chapman, James Karinchak and All-Star ‘snubs’

Getting worked up over the All-Star selections is mostly a pointless exercise, mainly because each player who is deserving of a selection ends up making it after withdrawals and injuries. But it was rather noteworthy that New York Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman made it over, say, Cleveland relievers James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase.

Yes, Chapman was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball for the first two months of the season. He had a 0.39 ERA on June 6 with a 43/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 innings. But his ERA has since soared to 4.71 and has been one the worst relievers in baseball in the last month.

Chapman’s downfall coincided with baseball cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances. He has lost spin on both his fastball and slider, though he is also dealing with a fingernail issue that has impacted the command of his fastball and is working through some mechanical problems with his delivery.

Karinchak, meanwhile, has a 2.41 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. He ranks second among qualified relievers with a 15.43 K/9. His rWAR (1.8) is higher than Chapman’s (0.0) while his fWAR (0.9) also exceeds Chapman’s (0.2).

It’s still possible that Karinchak is selected to the All-Star Game after other pitchers withdraw. But that he, or any other deserving reliever, didn’t make it over Chapman appears to be one of the biggest oversights.

Other snubs: Walker Buehler, Freddy Peralta, Justin Turner, Tyler Rogers, Sean Manaea, Will Smith.

We have never seen a player like Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani became the first player in MLB history to be named an All-Star as both a pitcher and position player because, well, we have never seen a player like Shohei Ohtani.

“If you go by fWAR, he’s a top-5 hitter and a top-75 pitcher,” one agent said. “What are those worth each on the open market? His WARs are Fernando Tatis and Sonny Gray. That’s like 40M+.”

Ohtani, 27, is hitting .277/.363/.695 in 282 at-bats. His 31 homers lead baseball and put him on pace to hit 62. He also leads the league in triples (4), with no player leading the league in both categories since Jim Rice. He entered a June 30 start against the New York Yankees with a 2.68 ERA, only to allow seven runs in 0.2 innings and have his ERA soar to 3.60.

“If you think about it, a 6-win player is worth more per win than two 3-win players because of limited roster spots,” the agent said. “Remember when he was coming over, the thought was Ohtani was a high-end pitcher who could hit some. The offense has way exceeded expectations. There’s no one like him.”

Who will be the biggest name moved at the trade deadline?

I asked a National League general manager who he thinks will be the biggest player dealt at the July 30 trade deadline.

“Could see some different scenarios for sure, ultimately I might bet the downside on big names moving,” the GM responded.

One of those different scenarios, he said, is more deals similar to the biggest trade thus far — shortstop Willy Adames going from the Rays to the Brewers for relievers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen — in a deal that filled needs for both clubs.

Around the Horn:

  • Free-agent reliever Roberto Osuna is being scouted by as many as five teams as he pitches for the Diablos Rojos in the Mexico League. He has a 1.32 ERA, six saves and 0.87 WHIP in 13.2 innings while he has controlled all of his pitches, with his fastball sitting 95-97 mph and occasionally touching 98.
  • As the Washington Nationals emerge as buyers, teams are likely to ask about infielder Carter Kieboom in trade talks. Teams did homework on Kieboom in 2020, who has struggled to get consistent at-bats in the majors, and the Nationals could be more open to dealing him if the right deal presents itself.
  • The Colorado Rockies have 31 home wins, which is tied for the most in baseball. They only have six road wins, which is the lowest in baseball.
  • I don’t know why Major League Baseball scheduled the draft during the Futures Game and Home Run Derby.

Inside the Clubhouse. Washington Nationals trade plans, Ketel Marte and more. light