Cubs

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.

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

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AP

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. 

Should Cubs consider bringing back a familiar face for more pitching depth?

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USA TODAY

Should Cubs consider bringing back a familiar face for more pitching depth?

Travis Wood is no longer employed, so could he be a part of the answer as the Cubs search for pitching?

To start, it's never a good sign when two teams that are not contending get rid of a guy and actually pay him to go somewhere else.

But the Cubs know Wood well, so surely it could be a great buy-low opportunity, right?

Wood helped the Cubs win the first World Series in 108 years and famously stopped wearing shirts after that. 

His final stat line in 2016 was solid — 4-0, 2.95 ERA, 1.13 WHIP — but he was not counted on as much of a factor in the postseason, appearing in 9 games but pitching only 6.1 innings.

The reason for that is Wood essentially became a LOOGY (a Lefty One-Out GuY) in that he struggled mightily against righties. The southpaw finished the 2016 season with a .265 batting average and .865 OPS against vs. right-handers as he and the Cubs searched for answers — to no avail — on how he could get opposite-handed hitters out.

The bad news is, those struggles not only permeated into 2017, but they actually got worse. He allowed a .317 batting average and .935 OPS against righties while posting a 6.80 ERA in 39 games (14 starts) for the Royals and Padres last season.

Wood is still young (he turns 31 in February) and could be signed to something like a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training as a LOOGY with upside. Plus, he'd represent more starting depth, too, which is always valuable and something the Cubs are still currently looking for the week before Christmas.  

Of course fans want him back as well so Joe Maddon could utilize him in ridiculous and awesome ways again like as a left fielder or pinch-hitter.