Cubs

Should the Cubs trade Addison Russell for Manny Machado? Umm...no

Should the Cubs trade Addison Russell for Manny Machado? Umm...no

Twitter is abuzz with the sound of Manny Machado trade propositions.

There's no harm in that. It's everybody's right as a sports fan to come up with their own ideas for trades — no matter how crazy — and debate proposals with other fans.

But not all trade ideas are equal, of course.

In his recent column for The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal came up with a package for the top teams in baseball to acquire superstar infielder Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles.

From a Cubs perspective, Rosenthal suggests a package of Addison Russell, Mike Montgomery and a prospect for Machado.

Um...no.

Russell-for-Machado straight up is enough to give me pause, but I can at least wrap my head around why that might make sense for the Cubs.

Adding Montgomery and a prospect, however, pushes the trade over the edge into "no way" territory if all the Cubs are getting back is Machado.

For starters, Machado is set to be a free agent after the 2018 season and right now, seems intent on exploring the open market. Why wouldn't he want to? He won't get a $400 million contract like Bryce Harper may be reeling in, but Machado is still one of the very best players in baseball and should be able to fetch $200 million if he so desired.

Any Cubs trade for Machado would signal some sort of all-in notion for 2018 and prompt "World Series or Bust" expectations.

Why would the Cubs need to go that route and feel such urgency? They're positioned to contend for at least the next three years, but the championship window is probably open longer than that. 

The Cubs have been viewing a 7-year stretch of contention for years and discussed that same notion just last week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 2018 only represents Year 4 of that 7-year stretch.

Yes, the Cubs gave up Gleyber Torres (a Top 5 prospect in the game), Adam Warren (a useful swingman arm) and a pair of minor-leaguers for only a half-season of Aroldis Chapman 18 months ago, but that helped end the 108-year championship drought and the 2016 team was just one piece (a dominant closer) away from going over the hump.

The 2018 Cubs are not only one piece away from climbing over the hump if that's the package it takes to acquire Machado.

It would create a short-term pitching need, as Montgomery is currently slated for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Even if the Cubs add another starter, Montgomery is the first guy up if there is an injury to any of the five rotation arms and in the mean time, he's a very valuable bullpen arm as both a long man and in shorter outings. 

Oh yeah, and Montgomery is not a free agent until after the 2021 season.

A Russell-for-Machado straight-up swap would make more sense, but still not an ideal situation for the Cubs' long-term plans.

If you sat here and told Cubs fans in December 2016 that their favorite team would deal Russell in a package for just one year of Machado, they'd probably laugh. And that was when Machado was coming off back-to-back years of Top 5 finishes in AL MVP voting.

Now both players are coming off down years, though they're still so young (Machado turns 26 in July; Russell turns 24 in January).

Russell has not yet lived up to his potential, but he's also only been in the league three years and last season was marred by a foot injury and off-field issues.

It's worth noting Machado needed three big-league seasons before he became the player he is today.

Here are Machado's stats after his third MLB season (2014):

.278/.324/.431
.755 OPS
12 HR
32 RBI
38 R
354 plate appearances
2.3 WAR (Fangraphs)

And here are Russell's stats after his third MLB season (2017):

.239/.304/.418
.722 OPS
12 HR
43 RBI
52 R
385 plate appearances
1.4 WAR (Fangraphs)

Machado is still clearly the better player and he was only 21 in his third season, but it helps illustrate the fact it took him several seasons before he realized his potential, too.

Getting rid of Russell right now would be selling low on a player who was considered one of the top young stars in the game just one year ago.

Dealing Russell — who is under team control for the next four seasons — for only one guaranteed year of a Top 10 player is a great short-term move, but doesn't hold the same appeal long-term.

There is something to be said for auditioning Chicago and the Cubs' young core to Machado as the team tries to work out an early extension, but I guarantee he knows all about both factors even though he's playing his home games in Baltimore.

The Cubs sell themselves right now and the organization surely would have a lot to offer Machado next winter once he hits the open market. And if they wanted to deal Russell before then, they could do so to fill other long-term needs on the roster. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Connor McKnight (670 The Score) and Phil Thompson (Chicago Tribune) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs offense comes alive with Albert Almora, Jr. leading off. Is it time to make him the everyday centerfielder? 

Plus Mitch Trubisky says this week’s minicamp is the most he’s been coached in his career. So how long will it take him to master Matt Nagy’s new offense?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

As Cubs search for rhythm, hold the declarations on this season for a while

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USA TODAY

As Cubs search for rhythm, hold the declarations on this season for a while

Jed Hoyer is right: You can't make any claims about these Cubs one way or the other.

It's too early and the weather/schedule has been far too wacky for any strong statements about who, exactly, the 2018 Cubs are. 

"I don't think you can really evaluate much so far," Hoyer said. "There's no rhythm to the season yet. The game's been played in terrible condition for the most part.

"Positively or negatively, I don't think you can draw big conclusions based on what's happened. ... There's a lot of games to be played. We'll forget this time quickly and remember what it's like to be in [Wrigley] when it's not freezing. It's been a little choppy and hard to evaluate, for sure."

You can shout "SMALL SAMPLE SIZE" from the Wrigleyville rooftops all you'd like, but that's not even why it's impossible to draw conclusions about the identity of this team.

The 8-8 Cubs have already had five postponements due to weather to start the 2018 season, including four on the recent homestand (and a makeup game on Thursday, which was originally scheduled as a travel day). The last time this franchise had five games in April called on account of weather was back in 1967 and there are still another 10 days left in the month for the weather to possibly mess with. 

This will surely go down as one of the oddest starts to a season in Cubs history, with a 17-inning game played on the second day of the year, followed by a 10-inning game the next day. The Cubs were supposed to start the campaign with six straight games, but the last contest in Cincinnati was postponed, so they got an impromptu two-day break, which was good at the time for Anthony Rizzo to rest his ailing back and the bullpen to catch their breath.

After a four-game series in Milwaukee's domed stadium in which the Cubs finally looked to be showing some rhythm, the weather reared its ugly head again.

The 11-day homestand featured four postponed games, maybe the worst weather game in Wrigley Field history (Saturday) and yet another impromptu two-day break. This week alone, the Cubs played two games in a five-day span.

All of that has led to an inconsistent product.

One day, the Cubs look like an offensive juggernaut, going 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position, chasing an opposing starter before the fifth inning and scoring in bunches, as they showed Thursday in the 8-5 win over the Cardinals.

But in half the games this year, they can't seem to buy a hit against pitchers most Cubs fans haven't even heard of.

One day, the starting rotation flashes its elite potential, only to get battered around the next night.

"We haven't pitched very well," said Jon Lester, who allowed only an unearned run across six innings Thursday. "I'm not gonna speak for hitters; I don't like to cross that line by any means. But I feel like we've had some really good offensive games and our pitching staff as a whole hasn't stepped up.

"I think things will get better if we can get some games in. You got pitchers that are going on 6, 7, 8 days rest all the time. It's hard to get in that rhythm, especially when it's cold out. It's hard to find the ball; it's hard to find that release point."

Lester isn't one for making excuses and the Cubs aren't doing that. Every team in baseball has to go through these head-scratching weather issues, but it's impossible to point to the team's starting pitching inconsistency without including the schedule caveat. 

Baseball players — and starting pitchers, in specific — are creatures of habit and yet everybody is trying to navigate this new terrain.

Kyle Hendricks is still throwing a bunch on the side during all these rain/snow-outs, but most relievers are saving their bullets. Position players are still working out and getting their time in the cages, but that doesn't help everything.

The team that set records for their defensive prowess in 2016 has been inconsistent in the field this year, though their manager has an idea why.

"When you don't play consistently, the feel, the nuance, that escapes you," Joe Maddon said. 

The same issues that plagued the Cubs during their World Series "hangover" last year still seem to be around — not coming up with the timely hit, poor situational hitting overall, too many walks from the pitching staff.

But there are also reasons for optimism.

Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell are showing development offensively and the lineup has missed its anchor (Anthony Rizzo) for almost half the season (seven games). Carl Edwards Jr. is limiting his walks and the Cubs bullpen has been the team's saving grace for the first three weeks.

The starting rotation is still iffy, but with resumes like Lester's, Kyle Hendricks', Jose Quintana's and Yu Darvish's, that figures to even out over a larger sample size.

The Cubs haven't fallen too far back in the standings (3 games behind the NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates) and more importantly than anything, they've been able to stay healthy, apart from minor back issues for Rizzo and Ben Zobrist.

The weather still doesn't look great in Colorado, Cleveland or back in Chicago next week, but eventually things will warm up and the sun will come out on a regular basis.

And eventually enough games will be played — and not postponed — where statements about who the 2018 Cubs are can be identified conclusively.

It's just not that time...yet.