Bears

What the Carlos Lee trade means for the Cubs

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What the Carlos Lee trade means for the Cubs

Just because it's a holiday doesn't mean MLB front office executives aren't still wheeling and dealing.

The Astros traded veteran first baseman Carlos Lee to the Miami Marlins Wednesday for two prospects -- third baseman Matt Dominguez and left-handed pitcher Rob Rasmussen.

Both players were considered among the Marlins' Top 10 prospects before the season. Dominguez was taken 12th overall in the 2007 draft, while Rasmussen was selected in the second round of the 2010 draft. Dominguez was rated No. 81 on Baseball America's top prospect list before the 2011 season.

So what does this mean for the Cubs?

The deal proves that it really is a seller's market out there. There are way too many teams within sniffing distance of at least the second Wild Card spot, so those teams that choose to sell will have plenty of suitors.

The Astros had to eat most of Lee's contract, but that's still a really good haul for a 36-year-old first baseman who is a free agent at season's end and hasn't posted an OPS over .800 since 2009.

Lee is hitting .286.336.412 on the season, but his power is way down -- only five home runs after hitting at least 16 every season of his career to this point.

If the Astros could pick up a potential franchise third baseman (Dominguez has struggled with the bat, but is a very good defender and still just 22 years old) and a 23-year-old pitcher for a player of Lee's caliber, imagine what the Cubs could get for guys like Ryan Dempster or Alfonso Soriano.

Of course, Tom Ricketts and his front office staff would have to eat almost the entire contract on those types of guys, but it would be worth it to receive better prospects in return.

If the Marlins made a move, too, it could mean more good news for the Cubs. Heading into its game Wednesday, Miami sat 9.5 games out of first with a 38-42 record, but only five games behind the second Wild Card spot. The fact that they are looking to pick up pieces shows just how much of an impact that second Wild Card has on the market.

Right now, there are only eight teams with a worse winning percentage than the Marlins. If they made a move, it could mean that more than 20 teams would be interested in adding pieces before the end of the month, leaving the Cubs in the driver's seat as they try to acquire the best package available.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?