Cubs

The Cardinals are absolutely coming after the Cubs now

The Cardinals are absolutely coming after the Cubs now

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cubs may not be looking over their shoulder, but the Cardinals are hot on their tail. 

St. Louis pulled off a whopper of a trade on the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings, setting the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort abuzz Wednesday afternoon by trading for stud outfielder Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins.

Ozuna just turned 27 last month and is under team control for the next two years. He finished 15th in National League MVP voting last season after hitting .312 with a .924 OPS, 37 homers, 124 RBI and 93 runs scored.

He has made the All-Star team two straight seasons and also won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in 2017.

The move gives the Cardinals arguably the most dynamic outfield in the NL, with Tommy Pham (who finished 11th in NL MVP voting last year) expected to slide over to center field full time and Dexter Fowler filling out whatever other corner outfield spot Ozuna doesn't take.

Those three players — Pham, Fowler, Ozuna — will likely make up the heart of the Cardinals order for at least the next two seasons.

In return, the Cardinals' full package hasn't yet been announced, but it is reported to be a haul:

Right-handed pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara is one of the names heading back to Miami:

The 22-year-old Alcantara was ranked the Cardinals' No. 4 prospect by Baseball America last month.

Ozuna is the latest addition in a busy offseason for the Cardinals, who have added pitcher Miles Mikolas and Luke Gregerson on free-agent deals. Gregerson figures to slot in as a late-inning option (possibly even serving as closer) while Mikolas will join the rotation.

The Cardinals are still reportedly in on the game's top available closers, including Wade Davis. They lost pitchers Lance Lynn, Zach Duke, Seung Hwan Oh and Juan Nicasio to free agency this winter.

The Cardinals and Marlins already engaged in repeated talks earlier this offseason regarding a possible Giancarlo Stanton trade, but the slugger ultimately turned down a deal, citing a lack of desire to play in St. Louis. He was later dealt to the New York Yankees.

It's been three years since the Cardinals made the playoffs and despite 169 wins the last two seasons, have finished a combined 26.5 games behind the Cubs in the division. 

The last time the Cardinals made the postseason, they were ousted by the Cubs in the 2015 NLDS when Joe Maddon's team was still forming their winning ways.

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

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USA TODAY

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.