There are still two weeks until the MLB trade deadline, but the Chicago Cubs got a bit of a jump on the market Thursday when they sent outfielder Joc Pederson to the Atlanta Braves.
The move comes as speculation ramps up about the Cubs’ future direction. While that conversation revolved around whether the Cubs would buy or sell at the trade deadline earlier this season, it has quickly changed tone in the wake of the team losing 13 of its final 15 games before the All-Star break, putting themselves in the likely position of being sellers before that July 30 date.
The question then is just how far are the Cubs willing to go if they’re selling off pieces?
The team could take a more cautious approach, trading players who would be viewed as rentals by their future teams. That group would certainly include relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel, who has a mutual option on his contract for next season but is currently having his best season as a member of the Cubs.
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Andrew Chafin could also be on that list, as the hurler currently has a sparkling 1.42 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 40 appearances for the Cubs so far this season.
Outside of that duo, there are three other players that will certainly draw attention, and would certainly cause some angst among Cubs fans if they are dealt. That group is headlined by All-Star Kris Bryant, who is set to become a free agent at season’s end. The team has been hesitant to deal Bryant in the past, but with time running out on his contract, and with his strong stat line at the plate this season, the Cubs may choose to deal him for prospects rather than settling for a compensation pick in the 2022 MLB Draft if Bryant leaves in free agency.
Things get a bit more complicated with Javier Baez, who has 21 home runs but has also struck out 115 times in 290 at-bats this season, and Anthony Rizzo, who has 10 home runs this season but has also been dealing with back issues for a good chunk of the campaign.
Both players are on expiring contracts, making them potentially attractive rentals, but the price could potentially be too low for President Jed Hoyer to accept, leading to one or both players potentially staying on the team through the end of the season.
Players on team-friendly deals, or who are under contract beyond this season, could pose another interesting challenge for Hoyer, as they could bring in richer returns while also causing longer-term issues in terms of replacements.
Pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who is under contract through the conclusion of the 2023 season, is one of those players. With a 3.77 ERA and an 11-4 record in 18 starts this season, Hendricks could be an extremely attractive option thanks to his mix of deceptive movement and precision control, and a team-friendly contract could entice teams to pony up a solid prospect haul for his services.
Catcher Willson Contreras could be another player that could draw interest, as he has 13 home runs and 31 RBI’s so far this season. Contreras remains under contract through the conclusion of next season, and as one of the top catchers in the game, he could fetch a solid return if the Cubs opt to deal him away.
Regardless of how many players ultimately pack their bags between now and July 30, the Cubs’ brass is signaling that the team is ready to undergo some pretty significant changes, and fans who have grown attached to the team’s current core will likely have to say some tough goodbyes in coming weeks.