Cubs

With Josh Donaldson in tow, the Braves are putting the National League on notice

With Josh Donaldson in tow, the Braves are putting the National League on notice

While most Cubs fans are focused on Bryce Harper or the Cardinals or Brewers, the Atlanta Braves just put the baseball world on notice.

The Braves inked former AL MVP Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Brian McCann to a pair of one-year deals Monday afternoon, totaling $25 million (Donaldson will make $23 million). 

McCann may be 35 by next year and Donaldson will be 33 and coming off a season in which he played only 52 games due to injury, but they will provide valuable veteran leadership and approach to a Braves team with one of the youngest rosters in the game, headlined by two exciting young stars in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies (who will be 21 and 22 on Opening Day, respectively).

The Braves already won 90 games last season before losing to the Dodgers in the NLDS and the only main pieces they're losing to free agency are Nick Markakis and catcher Kurt Suzuki (who has already signed with the Nationals). They can now slot Donaldson in behind Acuna, Albies and superstar Freddie Freeman (.946 OPS the last three seasons) atop the batting order.

Donaldson could've been a great fit on the Cubs, though they were not linked as a major player for him prior to the one-year deal with the Braves. For a team with financial constraints that may take them out of the market for the top hitters like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Donaldson could've been a real nice "Plan B" of sorts (though obviously not for $23 million/year), something our David Kaplan was all about

The former Cubs farmhand (he was traded to Oakland for Rich Harden in 2008) has only played 165 games the last two seasons, but hit 41 homers with 101 RBI, 95 runs and a .900 OPS in that time while also rating as a positive defender at third base. During his heyday with the A's and Blue Jays (2013-16), Donaldson posted an .893 OPS while averaging 33 homers and 103 RBI and finished no lower than 8th in the AL MVP voting — taking home the accolade in 2015.

With his injury woes, Donaldson undoubtedly would not have received $23 million per season for multiple years, but this was a nice boom-or-bust gamble for him as he bet on himself in a big way. For the Braves, it's a low-risk, high-reward move that could pay off in a huge way. And if it doesn't or Donaldson gets hurt again, they don't lose anything beyond 2019.

As for McCann, the Cubs are in the market for a veteran backup catcher to give Willson Contreras some rest and the 34-year-old would've made a lot of sense. His production fell off with Houston in 2018 as he failed to hit at least 18 homers in a season for the first time since his rookie year of 2005. Known as a valuable defender with some pop, McCann still has plenty to offer a contender and for $2 million, the risk is essentially nonexistent.

But he clearly wanted to return to Atlanta — where he spent the first 9 years of his career — and will now pair with former White Sox backstop Tyler Flowers to help lead a young pitching staff.

Also, there's this:

The Cubs play the Braves real early in 2019 - the second series of the year from April 1-4 in Atlanta - and then will host Donaldson and Co. from June 24-27 at Wrigley Field.

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

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MiLB

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

MLB Pipeline unveiled its annual top 100 prospects list on Saturday, and four Cubs minor leaguers made the cut.

Nico Hoerner (SS; No. 51), Brailyn Marquez (LHP; 68), Brennen Davis (OF; 78) and Miguel Amaya (C; 95) cracked the list for the North Siders. It’s the first time the Cubs have had four players on the list since 2016: Ian Happ (No. 21), Eloy Jimenez (23), Albert Almora Jr. (82) and Dylan Cease (98).

So yeah, it’s been a minute.

Cubs fans are most familiar with Hoerner; the 22-year-old made his big-league debut last September in an emergency spot after Javy Báez and Addison Russell got hurt. Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games and held his own defensively.

Hoerner is ranked as the No. 9 overall shortstop prospect, and he’ll get an opportunity to make the 2020 Opening Day roster. With Báez entrenched at shortstop, Hoerner will shift to second base and potentially play some center field, though he's still learning the latter.

Marquez, 20, is Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect. The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching under Theo Epstein. In fact, Marquez is the first Cubs pitcher (LHP or RHP) to crack MLB Pipeline’s top 10 pitchers list during Epstein’s tenure on the North Side.

Marquez sported a 3.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A South Bend and advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2019. The 20-year-old struck out 128 batters in 103 2/3 innings, walking 50.

Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said the club has “really high expectations” for Marquez this season.

“Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development,” Dorey said Sunday at Cubs Convention. “I think it’s a little early to decide where he’s going to start [the season], but I would guess Double-A.

“But I wanna see how he comes into camp — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective. We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out [for] a long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”

Marquez allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his final 10 starts (he allowed three earned runs on Aug. 26 — the lone exception). The Cubs promoted him to Myrtle Beach on Aug. 6, where he posted a 1.71 ERA with 26 strikeouts and seven walks in five starts (26 1/3 innings).

The Cubs drafted Davis out of high school in 2018 (second round, No. 62 overall). The 20-year-old was more of a basketball player and had some Division I offers, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs and received a $1.1 million bonus.

Davis is considered to be a raw, athletic talent. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight homers and a 160 wRC+ in 50 games with South Bend last season. He missed time after getting hit on the hand on two separate occasions.

Although Davis is listed as a center fielder (199 innings in 2019) he played left almost as frequently (193 2/3) in 2019. Pipeline projects him to make his big-league debut in 2022.

Amaya spent all of 2019 with Myrtle Beach, slashing .235/.351/.402 with a 122 wRC+ in 99 games. His defense has always been ahead of his bat, and he’s known to be an advanced catcher for his age.

The Cubs added Amaya to the 40-man roster in November in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. However, he won’t make his big-league debut until 2021, at the earliest.

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Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

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USA TODAY

Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Cubs and outfielder Steven Souza have agreed to a one-year, big-league deal. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported Friday the two sides were nearing an agreement.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions. The Diamondbacks non-tendered him last month.

Souza is a career .233/.323/.417 hitter with 70 home runs in five seasons. His best campaign came with the Rays in 2017: .239/.351/.459, 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+ — all career-bests, excluding his average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than average (23).

Signing Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

He's coming off a serious knee injury, but Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. If he's healthy, he’ll add power to the middle of the order and add another bat to an outfield group with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another option in case those two slump again, with room for a larger role.