Another way to think about Cubs making big deal for pitching at trade deadline

Another way to think about Cubs making big deal for pitching at trade deadline

The Cubs know agents and other teams will sense the desperation if they have to replace 40 percent of their rotation this offseason. Signing at least two frontline starters would be a massive undertaking and a huge financial commitment for a franchise that prefers to make long-term investments in hitters and use a pay-as-you-go plan for pitching.

Now the Cubs see the July 31 trade deadline as a chance to get a jump on that market, so they don’t feel forced to win two bidding wars on free agents or rushed into a lopsided deal for the top-of-the-rotation starter every contender wants.

That one big-picture idea gives more insight into Theo Epstein’s front office than the daily stock reports on a 36-34 Cubs team that’s up after Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. Kicking the can down the road might not make as much sense this time.

“Every transaction season — winter and summer — we’re always going to be looking for pitching,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That will be our priority here at the deadline. We’re obviously working hard to assess it, making all the contacts and scouting everyone.

“But pitching’s always in high demand. That’s the reality of needing pitching — both in the winter and the summer — it’s always what people are looking for.”

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The Cubs got creative last summer and flipped a redundant minor-league hitter (Dan Vogelbach) to the Seattle Mariners for the guy who would get the final out in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 (Mike Montgomery).

The Cubs don’t believe that moment alone will define the lefty swingman, who continues to look like a short-term fix and a long-range answer for a rotation that will see Jake Arrieta and John Lackey become free agents after this season. Following the game plan, Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) shut down the Padres for six innings, getting 12 groundball outs and four strikeouts while allowing only three singles and two walks.

Last season’s best-in-baseball rotation needs new blood, but the Cubs aren’t going anywhere if they can’t count on Arrieta (6-5, 4.64 ERA) and Lackey (5-7, 4.98 ERA) from one start to the next. Kyle Hendricks, last season’s major-league ERA leader, doesn’t know when his right hand tendinitis will subside and allow him to be activated from the disabled list.

Beyond the daunting task of trying to handle all their pitching business in one winter, the Cubs are only a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. No team in the National League Central right now can match this combination of on-paper talent, position-player depth, big-market resources and playoff-tested experience.

But even 70 games into the season, Cubs officials still don’t have a great feel for how ultra-aggressive to be (or not) at the end of July and what to make of the defending champs, beyond stressing how much they believe in this group.

“Still assessing,” Hoyer said. “We just haven’t been able to get away from .500 yet. I fully believe we will. I have confidence we will. But it’s just been one of those things where it feels like we’ve had win one, lose one, win two, lose two. Hopefully, we’ll get out of that trend and start getting away from .500 a little bit.

“The division thing is a false sense of security. I try to measure our team way more against .500, against how we look (on the field) than how we look in the standings, because I think how you look in the standings can be a little bit misleading.”

That eye test might take almost six more weeks, as buyers and sellers clearly emerge. Hoyer already noticed how much the trade chatter picked up once the draft ended last week. Nothing this summer will feel quite like the single-minded pursuit of Aroldis Chapman and the mythical 108-year quest. But instead of thinking about it like mortgaging the farm system, maybe this deadline will actually be planning for the future.

Cubs' Jason Heyward on racial injustice: 'It feels like a broken record'

Cubs' Jason Heyward on racial injustice: 'It feels like a broken record'

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward joined ESPN 1000’s “Waddle & Silvy” on Monday for a candid conversation on the unrest and tensions across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of officer Derek Chauvin.

“It feels like a broken record and where we’re watching a rerun,” Heyward told Marc Silverman and Tom Waddle. “I feel like these things continue to happen over and over and over again and you have people continuously and helplessly trying to find a solution.”

Heyward, who grew up in McDonough, Ga. described how his father discussed racial injustice with him and his brother at a young age.

RELATED: Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts: 'We all need to step up to end' racial injustice

“He didn’t do that just to do it, that wasn’t something he was proud of having to do and having to explain,” he said. “That was something from experience that he could take and know that he went to one of the first integrated schools in South Carolina, integrated movie theaters, having separate bathrooms — things like that.”

Those conversations continued as Heyward committed to pursuing a professional baseball career while in high school, he said. As he was preparing to play for a travel team in East Cobb, Ga., his father told him of what he may face, such as being called the N word and people talking bad about his family.

Heyward noted how as a minor leaguer in the Braves farm system, he faced racism playing games in Savannah, Ga. — then home to a Mets affiliate. Silverman mentioned the racist messages Heyward received on Twitter after leaving the Cardinals in free agency to join the Cubs. Last year, MLB investigated racist messages sent to former Cub Carl Edwards Jr. on social media.

Although he said he experiences less of that today in the big leagues, Heyward added it still happens and that’s the message that needs to be shared. He described how the start to reaching a solution is people continuing to discuss racial injustice and being willing to listen and be aware of others’ concerns.

"While everyone has different views and different concerns and every ethnicity, race, gender, all these things — people have their own struggles, man," he said. "But I think at the end of the day, right now we’re seeing a lot of conversation about this that we’ve seen before but I think it’s being spread a little bit faster through social media, through LeBron James, through the rest of the NBA, through other athletes, through people that are starting to look around and say ‘I’m not African American, I’m not black but this affects me too.

"'This affects my kids, this affects them going to school, this affects my friends and their families and their generation.' So, I feel like everyone is a little bit more woke right now, regardless of how ugly things have been, how hard things have been on the people that are being affected most."

Floyd's death sparked week-long protests across the country that became violent. Heyward talked about looking into the future and what happens next as he sees some of the nation's more angry responses.

"I see confusion. I see anger, I see hatred, and these are all things people deal with as human beings on a daily basis. You have some people going out there with a certain message that they’re gonna put out. You have other people going out there and following and thinking they’re doing it for the right thing, but they don’t exactly understand it."

Heyward sees both sides of the issue, expressing sympathy for the difficult job and "judgements" police face.

"To me, that’s the trickle-down effect and what sucks is there are a lot of good cops, there are a lot of great cops," he said. "I’m friends with some — close family friends — to where they’re gonna take a lot of heat for this as well."

The bottomline is this issue isn't new for the life many Americans live on a daily basis.

"When you have hatred, when you have anger, when you have people that dealt with this 40 years ago, when you have people that dealt with this 20 years ago, people that dealt with it 10 years ago, people for the first time dealing with it now, you got people at all different walks of life who have different emotions about it and different thoughts on how to handle it.

"Everyone's not gonna have the same opinion, everyone's not gonna agree. But having the conversations, putting it out there and being aware of how we're all thinking as different individuals is a huge step in the right direction."

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How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

The Ricketts family, more than any other owners in the NL Central, should be intrigued by the MLB Players Association’s economic counterproposal.

Overall, the proposal is the second step in a fiery tango, in which the players association and owners begin on opposite sides of the room and hopefully end up somewhere in the middle. The players’ response, which the union reportedly delivered to the league on Sunday, will almost definitely not be adopted in whole. But, in the midst of both sides’ hard-lining, the players extended the option to defer some player salaries if the postseason is cancelled.

As one of the top five spenders in MLB, the Cubs would be one of the teams most affected by that aspect of the proposal.

The prospect of losing the playoffs to a second wave of COVID-19 is the stuff of baseball owners’ nightmares. The postseason supplies especially lucrative TV deals, which become especially important as the league braces for a massive loss of revenue this year.

The MLBPA counterproposal addressed that fear by including deferrals, according to multiple reports. Contracts calling for salaries of $10 million or more (before proration) could be deferred, with interest. High-payroll teams could enjoy up to $7 million each in relief, The Athletic reported.

The Cubs have 10 players poised to make at least $10 million before their salaries are prorated this year, per

– Jason Heyward, $23.5 million

– Yu Darvish, $22 million

– Jon Lester, $20 million

– Kris Bryant, $18.6 million

– Anthony Rizzo, $16.5 million

– Craig Kimbrel, $16 million

– Tyler Chatwood, $13 million

– Kyle Hendricks, $12 million

– Jose Quintana, $10.5 million

– Javier Baez, $10 million

That’s the most in the league. Twice as many as the White Sox. In the NL Central, the Cardinals (8) are the closest to catching the Cubs, followed by the Reds (5). On the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates don’t have any players with $10 million salaries.

There is, however, a Catch-22. According to chairman Tom Ricketts, 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenue comes from gameday operations. With such a high payroll, and fans banned from attending games for the foreseeable future, the Cubs organization is poised to take an especially large financial hit.

Still, Ricketts said on CNBC last week, “We’d definitely like to see baseball back." 

A presentation from the commissioner’s office to the players association, obtained by the Associated Press, projected $199 million in local losses for the Cubs alone, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That estimate was based on an 82-game season without fans and with players taking prorated salaries.

If that number is accurate – the players continue to call on owners to open their books – $7 million wouldn’t be much relief in the face of a cancelled postseason. And, as mentioned before, it would come with interest. But by mentioning deferrals in a counterproposal, the MLBPA introduced an area for potential compromise.

The players quickly dismissed the league’s sliding scale proposal, which could reportedly pay the highest-paid players merely 20-30 percent of their salaries. But deferrals could help ease owners’ financial challenges this season without axing players earnings so drastically.