Cubs free agent focus: Josh Donaldson

Cubs free agent focus: Josh Donaldson

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

Former Cubs farmhand and current free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson is a hot commodity this offseason.

Following an injury-riddled 2018, Donaldson had a resurgent 2019 season with the Atlanta Braves. The 33-year-old posted a .259/.379/.521 slash line with 37 home runs and 94 RBIs. He finished seventh in MLB with 100 walks and played an excellent third base — his 15 Defensive Runs Saved were No. 2 among MLB third basemen.

Donaldson is one of the game’s best third basemen and won the 2015 AL MVP Award while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. He’d be a valuable addition to many teams, but like fellow free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, there’s no spot for him on the Cubs roster, as currently constructed.

Kris Bryant’s positional versatility allows the Cubs to play him in the outfield — and occasionally first base when Anthony Rizzo is hurt or needs a day off. But Bryant is a third baseman first and foremost, so as long as he’s a Cub, the team isn’t going to acquire another star to man the hot corner. Doing so would mean moving Bryant to left or right field full-time, as he’s only played 25 innings in center field during his big-league career.

Kyle Schwarber (left) and Jason Heyward (right) have the Cubs corner outfield spots locked down. Now is not the time to trade Schwarber, so you can rule out dealing him to fit Bryant in left. Heyward can play center, but he’s a much better defender in right.

Therefore, adding Donaldson would only make sense if the Cubs decide to trade Bryant this winter.

The Cubs are open to shaking up their roster after a disappointing 2019 season. Bryant is a free agent after 2021, so the Cubs could look to move him if they don't foresee the 27-year-old signing an extension. The Cubs won't trade Bryant for the sake of change, especially if they aren't offered the type of return they seek.

There’s also the issue of Bryant’s service time grievance case, which would push his free agency up to next offseason, should he win. Scott Boras — Bryant’s agent — laid out at the GM Meetings why it’s unlikely we’ll see the 2016 NL MVP dealt this offseason.

Considering his age, Donaldson probably won’t be getting more than a three or four-year deal this offseason, though the annual salary will be high. Hypothetically, if the Cubs trade Bryant, they’ll have a vacancy at third base, which Donaldson could fill for a few seasons.

If these scenarios played out, the Cubs would still have an All-Star third baseman in Donaldson, all while acquiring future assets in return for Bryant. However, the Cubs wouldn’t trade Bryant without a contingency plan to replace him. They'd also lose leverage in trade talks if they acquire another third basemen while Bryant is still on the roster, thus weakening the return package for him.

Most importantly, the Cubs would be replacing Bryant — a star in his prime — with Donaldson —a veteran who had a great 2019 but will be close to 40 by the end of his next contract.

Unless the Cubs are blown out of the water by a Bryant trade proposal, it makes much more sense to keep him rather than spend big on a free agent who hopefully will be productive into his late 30s. 

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Cubs' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

Cubs' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

The Cubs have a few unforeseen days off from playing after several new Cardinals tested positive for COVID-19 this week. 

With this weekend’s series in St. Louis postponed, the Cubs returned to Chicago, where they’ll remain until heading to Cleveland on Tuesday morning. They have a light workout scheduled for pitchers on Saturday and a simulated game scheduled on Sunday.

What will Cubs manager David Ross be doing otherwise with no games scheduled, though?

“Me personally, it’s just sitting on my couch with my dog and watching baseball and highlights and catching a game,” Ross said Saturday.

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Cleveland is coincidentally in town this weekend, facing the White Sox on the South Side. Ross has the opportunity to get an early look at the Indians ahead of their two-game series on Tuesday and Wednesday. They're playing on Sunday Night Baseball this week in place of the Cubs and Cardinals.

“We’ll definitely have baseball on, try to get a nice meal delivered and just hang out with myself. I’m pretty awesome by myself,” Ross said with a smile.


Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

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But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”