Cubs

How the Strasburg-Nationals megadeal impacts Kris Bryant trade market

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USA TODAY

How the Strasburg-Nationals megadeal impacts Kris Bryant trade market

SAN DIEGO — Before the clock struck noon on the first day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings, we already had our first monster deal.

Stephen Strasburg is returning to the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $245 million deal, per ESPN's Jeff Passan:

That's a huge domino to fall in the landscape of the MLB offseason, though it doesn't have any direct implications on the Cubs. However, it could indirectly impact how Theo Epstein's front office proceeds this winter.

The Cubs are in a bind financially again this offseason, so they haven't even been linked to Strasburg or any of the top free agent pitchers despite an opening in the rotation. Within the NL Central, the other four teams weren't expected to be in the bidding for Strasburg's services, either.

But the ripple effects from this move will be far-reaching. For starters, the defending-champion Nationals are confirmed to return the strongest top of the rotation in the league and this move assures they are not planning on taking a step back in 2020 or content to revel in their World Series hangover. Even though the Cubs are at a crossroads, they still expect to contend in 2020 and the Nationals will remain as a roadblock.

It also might mean a reunion with Anthony Rendon is unlikely in the nation's capital. With how much the Nationals just committed to Strasburg, it's hard to envision Mike Rizzo and Co. breaking the bank to bring back Rendon, as well. Sure, stranger things have happened, but it seems like the most likely scenario now is Rendon makes his home elsewhere next season.

That would bode well for the Cubs and their trade market for Kris Bryant. 

If the Nationals cannot afford to meet Rendon's asking price in free agency, they would still have a clear hole on the roster at third base that would need filling in a less expensive way. Bryant is projected to earn $18.5 million in arbitration next season and while that's a lofty salary, it should wind up far cheaper than what Rendon will be making. That might make a Cubs-Nationals trade pairing more likely.  

There are several other teams currently in the market for a high-end third baseman — Dodgers, Braves, Phillies, Rangers — and not all of them will sign Rendon or Josh Donaldson to fill that desire. For the teams that miss out on the top free agents at the hot corner (or those who don't want to commit that much money), the Cubs loom as an interesting fallback option with Bryant.

Of course, all of that is not necessarily good news for the Cubs fans who don't want to see Bryant traded, but if the team is going to deal him, they'd be better served having multiple teams in the bidding. That might be the only way some team actually meets the asking price for the former NL MVP. 

Positioning at least three teams — led by the Nationals — potentially interested in adding an impact third baseman via trade this winter should enhance the Bryant market. 

670 The Score's Bruce Levine reported Monday afternoon the Cubs have had talks with the Phillies about Bryant:

The service time grievance is still looming over Bryant and nobody is sure exactly when the resolution will come. If the arbiter rules in Bryant's favor, he would actually only have one season left of club control before free agency (though that's still not the expected outcome). 

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Cubs grant Astros permission to interview Will Venable for managerial opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs grant Astros permission to interview Will Venable for managerial opening

In the wake of their infamous sign-stealing scandal, the Astros could look to the North Side to fill their suddenly vacant managerial seat.

According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs have granted the Astros permission to interview Will Venable for manager.

MLB conducted a thorough investigation into a report from The Athletic stating the Astros electronically stole signs during their 2017 championship season. The findings resulted in general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch receiving year-long suspensions Monday before the Astros subsequently fired both from their respective posts.

RELATED: David Ross and Anthony Rizzo react to Astros cheating scandal, subsequent fallout

Venable joined the Cubs in September 2017 as a special assistant in the front office. He joined the on-field staff as first base coach in 2018, a position he held through last season. The 37-year-old also spent time as third base coach when Brian Butterfield dealt with health issues in 2019.

The Cubs named Venable third base coach this offseason following Butterfield’s departure to Joe Maddon’s Angels. Prior to that, Venable interviewed for the Cubs’ managerial opening — which went to David Ross — as well as the Giants’ opening, which went to former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

The Astros have already reportedly interviewed Buck Showalter for manager and are set to meet with John Gibbons, too.

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David Ross and Anthony Rizzo react to Astros cheating scandal, subsequent fallout

David Ross and Anthony Rizzo react to Astros cheating scandal, subsequent fallout

The Astros sign-stealing scandal has rocked the baseball community near and far. Monday, MLB handed Houston severe penalties for illegally stealing signs during the 2017 season. Those penalties include one-year suspensions for Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch — both of whom were subsequently fired from their positions.

The connection extends out of Houston; the Red Sox (Alex Cora) and Mets (Carlos Beltran) also parted ways with their managers this week in wake of MLB’s thorough investigation. Cora was Houston’s bench coach in 2017 and the mastermind of the scheme, according to The Athletic. Beltran played a key role in devising the scheme.

Cora, who won the World Series with Boston as a rookie manager in 2018, has additional penalties coming. Beltran, hired by the Mets in November, lost his job before making his managerial debut.

Like the Mets, the Cubs hired a first-year manager this offseason in former catcher David Ross. At a Cubs charity event on Thursday, Ross discussed the scandal and its fallout.

On scandal and subsequent punishment

"It is disappointing,” Ross said. “You gotta applaud Major League Baseball for doing their due diligence and upholding the integrity of the game — super important for our fans, for our players, for our coaches. I'm glad they did their homework and made some of the decisions they made."

On if he’s surprised any players weren’t punished

"I think lines get blurred when you talk about who's at fault and it can go all the way down,” he said. “Those things are difficult decisions and I don't have enough information — I wasn't a part of the emails and all the interviews that the MLB had to do, so it'd be tough to comment on exactly who’s at fault and what area and pointing that blame.

“Because in a team sport, there's gotta be somebody at the top that takes the blame. I think Major League Baseball has done a good job of defining that."

— — — — —

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo also discussed the scandal Thursday. While he admitted he’s not entirely versed on the topic, he voiced his support for commissioner Rob Manfred.

“Obviously, Major League Baseball did a huge, monster investigation and they decided what they thought was best. I’m sure a lot of decisions and time went into that, so we support them with the consequences they’ve made,” Rizzo said. “It’s something that hopefully gets nixed fast. There’s in-game stuff that’s part of the game, but some of the other stuff seems to take it too far. The commissioner, I think, did a good job handling it."

On if teams cheat against the Cubs

“100 percent. I don’t know if to that extent. I think in-game stuff — I think everyone will say this as well — getting the edge in the game is totally different on the field,” he said. “Some of the video stuff I’ve heard — I don’t know if it’s true, obviously it is with the penalties — that I think takes it a little too far.

“MLB’s done a good job the last few years to have guys in the clubhouse and all-around monitoring it. To be doing it still is not easy, and it’s blatantly going out of the way.

Rizzo added opponents sometimes make sounds as decoys to make teams believe their signs are being stolen. 

Regarding whether the Cubs follow the rules

“I think it’s 100 percent safe to say that. Yeah, no doubt,” Rizzo said. “That’s for sure on the record.”

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