Wittenmyer: Cubs’ trade deadline commodity power rankings originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
CINCINNATI — The Cubs opened a road trip Monday against the hardest-tanking, worst team in the National League, with the likelihood of a second-straight trade-deadline selloff looming regardless of how the four-game series against the pitiful Reds plays out.
Cubs team president Jed Hoyer may claim “I don’t know what the definition of a rebuild is.” And manager David Ross may claim to still be trying to catch the Brewers in the NL Central.
But the standings and the roster in transition don’t lie.
“It’s a shame that a team in Chicago is doing this,” one rival scout said before Monday’s game.
Whatever Hoyer has up his sleeve for the winter and next season, the die is cast for a busy deadline of goodbyes again this summer.
And it’s in that spirit that we unveil the first installment of NBC Sports Chicago’s weekly Trade Deadline Power Rankings of Cubs assets:
1. Willson Contreras. As one of the top catchers in the game today and top hitters available at the deadline, he probably already was at the top of the list. But when Ross said Monday he’s “confident” Contreras will avoid the injured list with the sore hamstring that has kept him out of the lineup the last two games, that secured his ranking for another week.
The only thing left for the two-time All-Star to do before he goes the way of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Báez one year later is to try to beat the Cubs in arbitration in a couple weeks, and then become a three-time All-Star.
One thing’s for sure about that last part: Hoyer certainly knows the definition of a trade asset’s rising value.
2. Marcus Stroman. The Cubs’ top pitching acquisition of the offseason might be their most valuable veteran pitcher on the staff, despite the $55.2 million that would be left on his three-year contract at the deadline — and maybe because of it.
Stroman has been one of the league’s more durable, productive starting pitchers in recent seasons, making that kind of commitment for two-plus remaining years of club control a value acquisition for any team with designs on winning now.
That, in turn, would make him the Cubs’ multi-year-contract flip guy 2.0 (after having perfected the sign-and-flip one-year free agent process a decade ago).
3. Ian Happ. The switch-hitting, defensively versatile Happ moved up a spot Monday on the strength of a fourth-inning double that drove home Seiya Suzuki with the first run of the game and three-run homer later in the game. His improved work against left-handers this year gives him a chance to keep a solid top-three ranking — especially given his year-plus of club control before free agency.
4. David Robertson. The veteran closer is having the kind of dominant start to the season at 37 that inspires visions of his previous All-Star self after missing most of the past three seasons because of Tommy John surgery (and some pandemic-related time lost).
If there’s an upside in this COVID-19 world, Robertson brings it as a vaxed and boosted player who appeared fully recovered when he returned from a five-day bout with the virus this month. Whether that provides some kind of double-immunity, at the very least it means he’s allowed into Canada — eh, Yankees and Rays?
5. Wade Miley. The left-handed starter debuts at No. 5 with a bullet — which describes both his quick pace of work on the mound as well as the immediate high-impact value he showed in his second and third starts since a long-anticipated return from a spring bout of elbow inflammation (13 innings, three runs in those starts).
Yankee Josh Donaldson’s one-game suspension from MLB for Saturday’s racist “Jackie” remark(s) directed at White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson missed the mark by at least as much as Donaldson’s attempt to defend it by suggesting it was an inside joke from past similar exchanges with the opponent who appears to be anything but a friend.
MLB called Saturday’s incident “disrespectful and in poor judgment, particularly when viewed in the context of their prior interactions. In addition, Mr. Donaldson’s remark was a contributing factor in a bench-clearing incident between the teams, and warrants discipline.”
If that’s MLB’s finding then one game is clearly not enough.
Don’t like my take?
Save it. Suck it up. Not your column. Your take doesn’t count.
Pick any of those micro-aggressions you like.
Josh Donaldson saying “What’s up, Jackie” to Anderson?
That’s a racist micro-aggression that should pick up at least a few more games from MLB.
Donaldson reportedly is appealing the one-gamer.
If that defense consists of trying to show the league he’s something other than racist, Donaldson might actually find an unwitting character witness for his defense in the White Sox clubhouse.
Said Sox reliever Joe Kelly Monday on 670 The Score: “He’s a douche.”
Stat of the week
Rookie Chris Morel has spent seven days in the major leagues — and started for the Cubs at four different positions: third base, second base, centerfield and, on Monday, shortstop.
And he’s done it in five games started total — one of only two players in modern franchise history (since 1901) to do that.
The other: Solly Hofman, who played short, left, center and right in his first four starts as a Cub in 1904.
Canada’s continued policy forbidding foreign visitors who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 has given the Blue Jays a predictable home-field advantage in the early going.
Players from all but two teams that have visited the Jays so far has been forced to leave some players behind, including former Cub Albert Almora among four Reds transferred to the restricted list for the just concluded weekend series.
The most notable missing the Toronto trip was Seattle ace Robbie Ray, who won a Cy Young with the Blue Jays last year and who had his schedule shuffled to pitch the day before the trip to Canada to mitigate the impact on a series the Mariners lost two games to one.
The Blue Jays’ 14-8 home record is tied for sixth-best in the majors and is the reason they not only have an overall winning record but resided in the final playoff spot in the American League standings through Sunday.
The only team to beat the Jays in a series in Toronto this year is the only one that traveled intact to Canada since the first week of the season: the Yankees.
And don’t expect the Jays to feel sorry for the unvaxed left behind.
“Rules are rules,” Jays manager Charlie Montoya said last month. “From experience, nobody gives a sh—. Nobody cared about us when we were in Dunedin.”
The Blue Jays spent much of the last two seasons as home-field nomads, playing the 2020 pandemic-shortened at their spring home in Dunedin, Fla., and much of last season in Buffalo.
Take the poll
With the new Deadline Power Rankings now in, who will be the first Cub traded away during this summer’s selloff?
As much as we all know baseball has changed over the generations — in no area more dramatically than pitching — it’s still so hard to fathom from today’s perspective the 267 times Fergie Jenkins finished a game he started.
Even in his day, it was more than almost all of his contemporaries (Bob Gibson had 255 CGs, Steve Carlton 254).
Consider that since the Cubs won that World Series in 2016, there have been a total of 231 complete games in all of major league baseball — through four full seasons, the 2020 shortened season and counting the six this year (through Sunday).
“It’s just crazy numbers. Stuff that will never be touched again,” said CC Sabathia, a lock for the Hall of Fame, who attended Friday’s unveiling of Jenkins' new statue at Wrigley Field, in part as respect for one of his mentors and also, he said, as a representative of the Black Aces — the 15-man club of Black pitchers to have won 20 games in an MLB season.
“But when I see Fergie’s stats, I’m like, ‘Should I even be in this group?’ “ Sabathia said. “The man’s got more complete games than I’ve got wins in my career .”
The final word on the subject comes from Jenkins himself: “I never had a sore arm.”
That’s not even fair.
Sabathia, who joined MLB’s office last month as a special assistant to the commissioner, said he hasn’t met yet with some of the others brought aboard to help fix what ails the game — namely Ken Griffey Jr. and/or Theo Epstein.
But he loves the game, loves the idea of helping, he said, and definitely has ideas.
“I do,” he said. “But I’m not going to share them.”
Six weeks into the new job and he still hasn’t delivered the pitch?
Probably safe to assume he’s not in charge of pace of play.
The Cubs might not seem like they have much going for themselves these days after a third consecutive losing homestand.
But at least they have Miley. And even more than Miley’s competitive pitching, that means they’re doing their part to support the commissioner’s efforts to speed up the pace.
One of the quickest workers in the game, Miley typically takes barely half the time between pitches as most pitchers — including just 10 seconds a few times Sunday.
The results during seven- and six-inning starts his last two outings have produced the quickest nine-inning game of the Cubs season (2:29) and one tied for the fourth-quickest (2:43).
“Yan is going to have to work on his conditioning,” Ross said of the catcher in the shorter start, Yan Gomes, “[to improve] on how fast he can get into his catching crouch.”
Making the trek to Cincinnati this week for cheap tickets and plenty of space at the ballpark?
FYI: The suds and festivities keep flowing postgame at the Holy Grail Tavern and Grille, just past Johnny Bench statue and across Joe Nuxhall Way from Great American Ball Park (home plate entrance side).
Walk this way
Since Joe Maddon intentionally walked Corey Seager with the bases loaded on April 15 to shake up a losing team that wasn’t playing well, the Angels are 23-13 and a game out of first place in the AL West (through Monday).
Only the Yankees (25-10) and Angels division-rival Astros (25-14) have been better in the American League in that stretch.