Cubs add position player depth, create a potential hole at catcher

Cubs add position player depth, create a potential hole at catcher

The Cubs traded from a position of strength to shore up an area of weakness ahead of Wednesday's MLB Trade Deadline.

Just 16 days after acquiring Martin Maldonado in a trade, the Cubs dealt the veteran catcher to the Houston Astros in return for utilityman Tony Kemp.

Kemp — a left-handed hitter that throws right-handed — can play both second base and outfield and is generally considered a solid fielder at both positions.

The 27-year-old has been a solid hitter over the last couple years, posting a .249/.334/.402 slash line (.736 OPS) in 163 games while hitting mostly toward the bottom of the lineup with the Astros with a few starts at leadoff sprinkled in. 

It's worth noting Kemp is out of options (which is why the Astros designated him for assignment last week), so the Cubs would not be able to send him to and from Triple-A Iowa freely. However, he could be a valuable piece for the team filling in at either second base or the outfield and maybe even seeing a bit of time at leadoff. 

One of Kemp's best assets is his amazing contact ability, which would be a huge addition to the swing-and-miss prone Cubs:

He is also the shortest listed Cubs player since 1972, as NBC Sports Chicago's stat guru Chris Kamka points out:

This move helps bolster the Cubs' position player group, as they won't necessarily have to rely on David Bote and Robel Garcia at second base on a regular basis anymore.

Garcia got out to a fantastic start with the Cubs after being called up earlier this month but has since fallen on tough times (3-for-24 with 12 strikeouts over his last 6 games). He has been leading off the last three games, but appears out of place there with a low walk rate and high strikeout potential.

Bote has struggled as well lately, hitting just .200 with a .578 OPS over the last month of action and he's committed 12 errors this season between second and third base.

The Maldonado aspect of this deal is interesting, in that the Cubs now have a bit of a dearth on the catching depth chart. 

Willson Contreras is a two-time All-Star starter at catcher and Victor Caratini is a more-than-serviceable backup, but if either guy is injured, the next guy on the depth chart is Taylor Davis, who has very little experience at the big-league level. With no August trade deadline this year for the first time, the Cubs liked Maldonado's experience and defense behind the plate in addition to the depth he added over the final couple months of the season.

This is what Theo Epstein said after the Cubs traded for Maldonado two weeks ago:

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August. So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Kemp is a solid addition, but the Cubs as currently constructed are one injury away from a potentially scary catching situation in the middle of a tight divisional race.

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Cubs sign oft-injured Brandon Morrow to low-risk deal


Cubs sign oft-injured Brandon Morrow to low-risk deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a one-year minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of the season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last November, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season, at least. But after suffering several setbacks in his recovery, the Cubs shut Morrow down for the season in August.

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal, which obviously is what Morrow signed.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs bullpen.

However, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect Craig Kimbrel to benefit from a normal offseason this winter and bounce back in 2020. Kimbrel remained a free agent until June last season struggled after signing with the Cubs.

Morrow won’t step back into the closer role, but he could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.

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If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant after

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant after

After losing out on free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Texas Rangers have spoken to agent Scott Boras about Cubs free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Castellanos played third with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17, but considering he posted a -64 Defensive Runs Saved in four seasons, he won’t be moving back there. Interestingly, however, Castellanos is willing to consider playing first base, according to Grant.

The Cubs — who are reportedly still pursuing Castellanos — obviously would be affected if the 27-year-old signs with Texas, as they'll lose one of their most productive players from 2019. But besides that, Castellanos landing with the Rangers would impact the Kris Bryant trade market.

The Rangers are looking for a consolation plan at third base after missing out on Rendon. They have a three-year offer on the table for Donaldson, according to Grant, and signing him would only entail money. The same cannot be said about acquiring a third baseman via trade, like Kris Bryant, who would acquire several assets.

But if Donaldson doesn’t sign with the Rangers, they’ll be more inclined to pursue Bryant. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at the Winter Meetings they’ll address third base this offseason, and the Cubs third baseman would be the best option left, if the Rangers don’t land Donaldson. That is, unless Texas calls the Rockies about Nolan Arenado.

Daniels pointed to how the Rangers are unlikely to trade for a player with only a few years of team control left (like Bryant) without making other major additions.

“There are some trade options [that] would have quite frankly made more sense in our mind if we had landed the free agents at the top of our list,” Daniels said. “I don’t love the idea of half measures. I don’t love the idea of taking a chunk out of the system if it doesn’t really make sense. Trading for somebody with a year or two of control if the club is a little more filled out.”

If the Rangers land Castellanos, a pursuit of Bryant could follow. The same can be said if they sign Donaldson, even, thanks to Bryant’s positional versatility.

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