LAS VEGAS — We're running down all the latest rumors and news from around Major League Baseball as it pertains to the Cubs during the Winter Meetings.
**The White Sox are reportedly frontrunners for Harper
That would be a major, major blow to the gut of Cubs fans. Incredible how much has changed over the last two months.
**Seriously...don't sleep on the Reds...
We said it earlier (or later?) in this post that the Reds are trying to make some moves to push their team toward contention in 2019 and the main area they need to address is the pitching staff. They did that in a decent way Wednesday, acquiring Illinois native Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals and all they didn't even have to give up a Top 20 prospect in return.
Roark, 32, is in his final year of team control and has made at least 30 starts each of the last three seasons. In that span, he's 38-36 with a 3.89 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.
**Fret not, the Cubs are not in on Bud Norris
The Cubs confirmed they are not interested in reliever Bud Norris this winter. Twitter was ablaze with the rumor that Norris was on the Cubs' list at the moment and many fans were upset at the news. Norris is not a very popular player with fans given the reports that came out last summer about his tactics inside the clubhouse.
The Cubs are still in the market of adding a veteran reliever that could slot in at the back end of the bullpen, but Norris is just not on that list.
**Boras declines an opportunity to rip Cubs' budget issues
In the past, Boras has never shied away from calling out ownership groups and teams that he thought were being cheap — especially a big-market team like the Cubs. But he alluded to it for owners around the game (not calling Cubs out by name) when he said:
"I'm not gonna address every team specifically, but in today's game, the franchise value of these clubs has gone up in the last three or four years and these clubs are successfully operated. Give the owners a lot of credit, because their valuations have gone from $4 and $500 million to over $2 billion. For a club that bought themselves at $20 million, $80 million, $300 million, theyre enjoying franchise valuse of a billion-and-a-half to — in some instances, $4 or $5 billion."
It's also hard to call the Cubs cheap when they're on pace for the highest payroll in franchise history even before any other moves they make this winter.
**Don't expect the Cubs to go after free agent Troy Tulowitzki
The Blue Jays released veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki Tuesday, but don't expect the Cubs to be in on him. Toronto still owed Tulowitzki $38 million and had him under contract through at least the 2020 season, but opted to let him go anyway. That usually spells doom for a player, particularly one like Tulo, who has been injured often over the last few years.
If he were actually healthy, the rebuilding/retooling Blue Jays probably would have tried to hang on to him for 2019 and trade him if he was playing well. In theory, Tulowitzki could've been a great fit for the Cubs if the price were right as a 6-time All-Star who finished in the Top 10 in NL MVP voting for three straight years from 2009-11 with the Colorado Rockies. He isn't that player anymore, but he's known as a good clubhouse guy and may still have some pop in his bat if he can stay out of the trainer's room.
**KB + Harper supposedly only talk hitting and not what it would be like to hit back-to-back in the Cubs lineup next year
Obviously more has to come up in conversation between the two superstars, but when Boras was asked if Bryant and Harper keep posting pictures together to troll the media or fans, Boras laughed it off as saying the two understand their friendship isn't enough to sway any ownership one way or the other.
**Rest easy, Cubs fans — the Kris Bryant trade rumors weren't true
Boras, Bryant's agent, brushed off all the talk last month of the Cubs superstar being shopped.
**Another middle infielder off the market:
Jordy Mercer hasn't been directly linked to the Cubs, but he checks the boxes as a middle infielder with a good glove and a veteran who has been around the block — two things the Cubs are looking for this winter. That being said, roughly $5.5 million for Mercer is far too much for what the Cubs would want to pay a backup middle infielder in 2019 with their current money issues.
**The Reds are really in the market for some pitching
The Reds have been connected to almost every starting pitcher available on the open market, though notably appear to be looking more for trade options than free agents. Cincinnati is a smaller market and has Joey Votto locked up to an expensive long-term deal eating up a bunch of the payroll (plus bad contracts like Homer Bailey), but the organization does have a Top 10 farm system and plenty of young talent coming through the ranks, making them an enticing trade partner.
The Reds' main weakness the last few years has been their woeful pitching staff, but if they can make some moves to address that area this winter, this will be one hell of a division in 2019.
**Could David Ross become the next Cubs bench coach?
It's a fair question and a lot of people both inside and outside the organization would love it, but it's unlikely to happen, as we detail here.
**Nationals keeping door open for Harper
Despite reports to the contrary, Nationals manager Davey Martinez insists the door is still open for his team to welcome back Bryce Harper this winter.
**Eloy as the next Harper/Machado?
OK, this is kind of clickbait-y, but former Cubs manager Rick Renteria believes former Cubs top prospect Eloy Jimenez could provide a huge impact on the 2019 White Sox...an impact comparable to Harper or Machado.
**Update: Tom Ricketts is NOT the Harper mystery owner
Well, there goes that idea!
**No, the Brewers don't feel like they have a target on their backs now.
Joe Maddon and the Cubs talked about a target on their backs after the 2015 playoffs, but Craig Counsell and the Brewers obviously don't feel the same way coming off their 2018 run.
**Well, this takes the Phillies out of the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes...or does it?
With Philadelphia's signing of Andrew McCutchen, reports are mixed on whether the Phillies are still in on Harper this winter. But if they truly have "stupid" money to be able to spend this winter, the $16+ million McCutchen will be owed each year of his deal shouldn't take the Phillies out of the Harper Sweepstakes.
Either way, the Phillies should be much improved in 2019, further intensifying the National League playoff race.
**Don't sleep on the Reds
We all know the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals expect to contend in 2019 and it's reasonable to assume the Pirates will as well, even after the Ivan Nova trade. (They didn't deal for Chris Archer last summer for nothing.) But now the Reds are quietly emerging as a potential contender in the NL Central, which could make the division as the only one around baseball without a tanking team.
The Reds have long had a good "team on the field," as Joe Maddon often says to describe their lineup and position players. But now if Cincinnati can get some pitching to go with the likes of Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett, this could be a surprise team next year and beyond. That's not to say the Reds will be a serious contender for the division or even a playoff team, but a better Reds squad will make the NL Central that much tougher for the Cubs.
**No more super-Nova
The Pirates traded away starting pitcher Ivan Nova to the White Sox Tuesday morning, ensuring another recent Cub Killer will be out of the division for 2019. Nova's overall numbers against the Cubs aren't anything incredible (4-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 8 starts), but he always seemed to pitch his best games against the Cubs lineup. Still, they won't get to escape him forever, as Nova still may pitch as many as two games against the Cubs in the Crosstown series next season.
**Is Tom Ricketts the mystery owner??
The Bryce Harper Sweepstakes are down to only three teams if you believe this report, but it's also possible the Cubs are still in the mix as the ever-popular "mystery team." 670 The Score's Bruce Levine reported Monday about "rumblings" the Ricketts signed off on a potential big move this winter.
The Cubs are still playing things close to the vest this winter with how much budget they really have at their disposal.
"It doesn't do us any good to ever talk about specifics with money," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Monday. "It just doesn't help. Ultimately for us, we try to keep those numbers internal as the most important thing."
**Count the Cardinals out on Harper
Big, if true. REAL big for Cubs fans, who should be jumping for joy that the Cardinals may be out on Harper. They just acquired Paul Goldschmidt and had the budget available last winter to take on Giancarlo Stanton's contract, so they could've potentially added Harper this winter even after last week's big trade (Goldschmidt is also on a serious bargain, making only $14.5 million in 2019).
**The Phillies are apparently more interested in Manny Machado than Bryce Harper at the moment:
It's an interesting thought, as the Phillies just acquired shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with the Seattle Mariners last week and they have Maikel Franco at third base. Franco isn't a guy that would block Machado, of course, and Segura could move to second base if Machado insists on playing shortstop, but Philly seems to have more of a need for an outfielder.
As of right now, the Phillies are heading into 2019 with only Odubel Herrera truly locked into an outfield spot and Harper would seem like a perfect fit given the team's familiarity with playing against him in the NL East for all these years and Harper's left-handed bat seemingly would play better in Gabe Kapler's lineup with the Phillies' current core pieces all right-handed (Segura, Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery).
Still, it's good news for Cubs fans if the Phillies are focused on Machado over Harper given Philadelphia is the team most able to drive up the price for Harper this winter.
**Billy Hamilton won't be terrorizing the Cubs anymore:
There were times over the last few years where it seemed more like the Cubs were facing Billy Williams than Billy Hamilton when they squared off against the Cincinnati Reds. Case in point: Hamilton hit only 3 homers in 2016, but 2 of those came off Cubs pitching. So when the Reds non-tendered the speedy outfielder last month, it was good news for the Cubs assuming he didn't sign with another team in the division.
That's official now, as Hamilton will be patrolling the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the Cubs will not have to face him 18-19 times a season anymore. Hamilton posted a career .743 OPS and .350 on-base percentage against the Cubs over the years, numbers way above his career marks (.631 OPS, .298 OBP).
**Shifting is a hot topic this winter:
The league is reportedly looking to reduce extreme infield shifting where left-handed hitters come up to the plate with three guys on the right side of the infield, including a defender in shallow right field. The Athletic's Jayson Stark explained how the idea to kill shifting is picking up steam and how it would all work in an article last week.
While any rules or limitations on shifting will ultimately result in more basehits, teams will still find loopholes and ways around any idea of being forced to keep two defenders on either side of second base, as Kapler mentioned. A defender in motion as the ball is being pitched isn't ideal of course, as it would make things difficult for that guy to field line drives or any ball to his right, but it could still take away a lot of potential groundball basehits off the bat of lefties.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next month or so, but surely it seems as if some limitations on shifting will be coming down shortly — which is good for the Cubs in that they shift far less than other teams (28th in MLB while Brewers shifted the 8th-most) and hitters like Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward may add a few more singles to their resumes in 2019 and moving forward.
**Cubs have reportedly checked in with Adam Ottavino
This makes a ton of sense from a Cubs perspective to at least meet with Ottavino's camp. The Cubs have a clear need for impact relievers and Ottavino is one of the best on the market.
Ottavino, 33, is a free agent and coming off a season in which he put up a 2.43 ERA and 0.99 WHIP while striking out a whopping 112 batters in 77.2 innings with the Rockies. But he's getting up there in age and has a sketchy history of both injury and ineffectiveness (had a 5.06 ERA, 1.63 WHIP in 2017).
Still, the Cubs already coveted a high-leverage reliever this winter even before Brandon Morrow underwent surgery that will likely delay his 2019 status. The question is whether Ottavino will remain in the Cubs' price range this winter.
**Yankees sure appear to be out of Bryce Harper Sweepstakes:
There really hasn't been anything substantial to link the Yankees to Harper anyways other than the fact that they're the Yankees and they spend a lot of money all the time. If Cashman is to be believed, that rules out another big market team in the Harper Sweepstakes, but it's also entirely possible the Yankees are playing the same game every other team is and refusing to show their cards in the bidding for a generational player.