Cubs

After Winter Meetings, Cubs and Jed Hoyer gearing up for 'trading season'

After Winter Meetings, Cubs and Jed Hoyer gearing up for 'trading season'

SAN DIEGO — What a difference five years makes. 

At the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings — the last time the offseason spectacle was in San Diego — the Cubs had just tabbed Joe Maddon their new manager and spent the week trading for Miguel Montero, working out a free-agent deal with Jon Lester and then celebrating those big successes.

This time around, the "big" move the Cubs made during the Winter Meetings was selecting pitcher Trevor Megill in the Rule 5 Draft Thursday morning. 

But the bigger news was the moves the Cubs didn't make — they have not yet shaken up the core of the roster with a significant trade.

All week long in Ron Burgundy's hometown, the Cubs front office reiterated the team is not shopping at the top — or even the middle — of the free agent market and pointed to how free agency had to see more movement before they could jump into the fray on the trade market. At least they aren't having to wait as long as normal for free agency, with the biggest names off the board this week in an offseason moving much quicker than the last couple that extended into February.

That's setting the stage for a potentially busy January for the Cubs.

"In general, there's been a focus on free agency, which is totally logical," Jed Hoyer said Thursday morning. "I think there's still some really good players in the free agent market. We're not there yet. There's still some guys that teams are focused on, but I do think that the way things are moving — traditionally, Christmas was always a boundary for free agents, so to speak. Everybody wanted to be signed by Christmas. 

"Maybe we're going back to that. That would certainly leave the rest of December after that and January would be more of a trading season. So maybe we're back to that traditional calendar, I'm not sure. If the primary free agents are off the market, that definitely clarifies the dynamic for different teams."

So mark your calendars for January as potential "trading season."

What Hoyer is saying makes sense. Anthony Rendon is off the free agent market (reaching a deal with Joe Maddon's Angels), but there's still a very good third baseman available in Josh Donaldson. Why wouldn't teams continue to try to sign him and only commit money and a compensation draft pick instead of giving up a haul to the Cubs in exchange for Kris Bryant?

Right now, it appears the Rangers, Nationals, Dodgers and Braves are still in need of a third baseman and the Phillies might be, as well. Donaldson is only one person, so depending on how the rest of the trade market plays out, there could conceivably be three or four teams bidding on Bryant.

"As the free agents go off the market, it clarifies things for us and for other teams," Hoyer said. "I wouldn't say that moves us closer [to a move], but I think it definitely provides clarity. ... It feels to me like continued action in free agency in the days to come and early next week. 

"It seems like there's probably some free agent deals that are closer to fruition and they're not ready to be announced yet, but it seems like there's a lot of activity. I think as those things get finalized, it will clarify the trade market. There's gonna be teams that still want to improve after free agents are generally off the board."

Whether any team ends up meeting the Cubs' asking price is another matter entirely. Bryant is one of the game's best players, a fantastic role model and is well-liked within the clubhouse and fanbase. Plus, he's under team control for the next two years for somewhere between $40-$45 million (assuming he does not win his service time grievance). 

If the Cubs don't get a franchise-altering haul, they aren't trading Bryant. They won't make a move just for change's sake, as Theo Epstein insisted this week.

Nothing appears imminent on the trade front in any capacity — with Bryant, Willson Contreras or any other player — but signs still point to some sort of major shakeup to the roster this winter. 

Epstein said he would be fine heading into spring training with the "status quo" on the roster because he likes the talent of the players and the fresh dynamic created by David Ross, a new coaching staff and a revamped group behind-the-scenes.

But make no mistake — the Cubs' ideal winter would not be migrating down to Mesa, Ariz., with a status quo roster. The ideal winter would include shaking up the roster to fortify current weaknesses and improve the long-term health of the franchise beyond the 2021 season.

"We've been talking in a lot of hypotheticals — if we get this guy, if we get that guy. And we also always circle back to with the roster we have right now — status quo — because it's hard to acquire players," Epstein said. "So I'd feel good. I'd feel like we'd have one of the most talented teams in the league, but that we'd have some areas of exposure where we'd need things to go right. But we'd have a lot of guys in place that have a lot of potential and things could really break our way and we'd be fairly dynamic. 

"But leave no doubt, there are areas where we want to acquire players to address our weaknesses and put us in the best possible position to succeed. Status quo is not a bad option, but we're obviously out there looking to make changes and change the dynamic and improve and grow."

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Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

Willson Contreras and viral moments at Cubs Convention go hand-in-hand.

At the team’s annual fan festival in 2018, Contreras stole the show with a story from the 2017 season. During a mound visit against the Cardinals, the Cubs catcher gave profanity-laced advice to Jon Lester, the Cubs starter who rarely throws pickoffs due to a serious case of the yips.

"I went out there and I said, 'Hey motherf--ker, throw the f--king ball to first,'” Contreras recalled in January 2018.

Contreras stole the show again Saturday, telling a story about a moment against the Cardinals — this time from the 2019 season.

“So last year, we were facing the Cardinals and I started talking to [Marcell] Ozuna,” Contreras said. “He told me ‘Just call a fastball right down the middle.’ [And I said] ‘Yeah okay, I will.’ Then I called the fastball and he took it.

“I told him ‘What the f— are you talking about? Just hit the ball, just hit it.’

“He asked me ‘Just call it again.’ And I did it. He took it. Swing the [bat]. I called a third pitch and it was a strikeout. And then next time it was like just ‘Shut up,” or something."

Warning: graphic language

How Contreras will top this at 2021 Cubs Convention is uncertain, but considering he now has two viral moments on his resume, we can be sure the next one will be just as amazing.

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Cubs announce plans for extended protective netting at Wrigley Field for 2020

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USA TODAY

Cubs announce plans for extended protective netting at Wrigley Field for 2020

Baseball fans will be more protected than ever at Wrigley Field this season.

Saturday, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney announced the club is extending protective netting at Wrigley Field to the elbows of the ballpark. Essentially, it will stretch a bit past where the old on-field bullpens were and stop before the walls in the left and right field corners.

Kenney added the extensions will be ready by Opening Day.

Last month, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced all 30 ballparks will extend their netting for the 2020 season. Manfred didn’t specify which teams would do what, but he said netting at each stadium would extend “substantially beyond the end of the dugout.”

With pitchers throwing harder than ever and batter exit velocities are through the roof, fans have little time to react in the stands when a ball is launched their way. It’s nearly impossible to avoid getting hit, even for those paying attention.

The Cubs have experienced this firsthand. In a game against the Astros last season, an Albert Almora Jr. foul ball struck a 2-year-old at Minute Maid Park. That young girl has a permanent brain injury, her family’s attorney announced earlier this month, an injury that affects her body similar to how a stroke would.

Almora was visibly shaken after the incident and said Friday at Cubs Convention it weighed heavily on him for the first couple of days.

“After that I had no other choice but to move forward,” Almora said. “But I always have that in the back of my mind. Every update that does come up, I am on there and I am seeing all of this."

Almora said he’s tried reaching out to the family but is respecting their privacy. As a father of two himself, he said there’s no reason to even think of his sons getting hurt while attending a game.

“Obviously prayers go out to the family. It’s unfortunate, and like I said before, that should never happen on a baseball field."

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