Steven Souza's healthy and ready to prove himself to Cubs fans and baseball in general

Steven Souza's healthy and ready to prove himself to Cubs fans and baseball in general

MESA, Ariz. –  Two years ago, things were looking bright for Steven Souza. At 28, he was coming off the best season of his career, one where he slashed .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, good for a 121 wRC+. The Rays are certainly never prohibitive favorites in the AL East, but the team was talented and the idea of catching up with the division’s juggernauts was no longer unrealistic. 

Then came the shoulder injury, which delayed the start of his 2018 season until mid-May. After that there was a pec injury, and before he knew it, the year was over and the right fielder had only played in 72 games. Think that’s bad? The following season, now playing for Arizona, Souza slipped while crossing home plate during one of the last games of Spring Training. He tore his ACL, and his season ended before it began. 

“It’s been a grind,” said Souza, who signed a one-year deal with the Cubs in late January. “Coming off the year I had in ‘17, I was excited for the future held for me, and I just kind of ran into a couple injuries that really derailed my last couple seasons. It’s been frustrating, but all that’s behind me, and even though it’s been a grind, I’m excited to get back out here and look forward to the future.” 

Freak injuries derailed what looked to be a promising prime of Souza’s career, and you wouldn’t blame him for harboring his fair share of resentment. It’s impressive, then, to hear him talk about what lasting effect the run of injuries has had on his psyche. 

“Personally, I don’t believe in accidents,” he said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what that reason was, but I know that I’m stronger for it. Mentally, I think if there’s a silver lining, it’s that I got to spend a full year with my son and my newborn daughter. As we all know, in this game, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with our families. So it was a huge blessing and I’m looking forward to moving on from that.” 

Unlike the years he spent playing alongside All-Star center fielders like Kevin Kiermaier and A.J. Pollock, Souza’s outfield positioning will be less set in stone with the Cubs. He’ll get ABs from the corners, but with Schwarber and Heyward not losing their starting positions anytime soon, the quickest road to more at-bats may come in center field. 

"Like I said, wherever I need to fit on the field,” he said. “Whether it’s first base, catcher, shortstop – I mean I’m not very good at those, and there are some really, really good players that are way better than me at those – but I’m just looking to help this team any way I can.” 

Not unlike new teammate Jason Kipnis, the draw of Wrigley was also too much to turn down. He has some moderate success there, too. Over 23 career plate appearances in the Friendly Confines, Souza’s hit .333/.391/.429 with an .820 OPS. It’s a small sample size, but it’s one that has him optimistic that he can prove himself the the North Side’s faithful. 

“I’ll tell you what, that was one of the things that brought me here, the fans and the environment. I’m super pumped,” he said. “And no offense, but I’ve played in Tampa and Arizona and those aren’t the greatest markets in the league. I’ve always enjoyed going to Wrigley, and I’ve had some good success at Wrigley, and I know the Cubs fans bring it every day and I’m looking forward to that.” 

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Diamondbacks emerge as another potential suitor in Kris Bryant trade talks

Diamondbacks emerge as another potential suitor in Kris Bryant trade talks

Add the Arizona Diamondbacks to the trade rumor carousel rotating around Kris Bryant this winter.

With teams like the Nationals, Braves, Dodgers and Rangers already reportedly interested in the Cubs superstar, the D-Backs have also apparently expressed interest, according to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM's John Gambadoro:

Now, framing it as the Diamondbacks simply "exploring the option of trading for Bryant" is not exactly groundbreaking, because why wouldn't a team hoping to contend at least kick the tires on a potential deal to add star talent? Gambadoro's report doesn't position Arizona as a strong suitor right now, but it would make sense for both sides.

As the regular season was winding down last fall, Bleacher Report ranked the Diamondbacks the sixth-best farm system in baseball, with as many as five or six prospects on the Top 100 list. 

Arizona's stable of prospects is led by a slew of position players that are likely at least a couple years away from the big leagues (like 19-year-old outfielder Kristian Robinson) and pitcher Corbin Martin, who was a major piece from the Astros in the Zack Greinke trade last July. Martin, 24, would be a premier headliner for a Bryant deal and was named the No. 78 prospect in the game by Baseball America last winter. However, he also just had Tommy John surgery in July, so he will miss a good portion of the 2020 campaign.

As the Cubs try to retool their team on the fly, the Diamondbacks don't have a ton to offer in the way of big-league-ready assets, which could be a major factor if talks between the two teams develop any further.

The Cubs' asking price for Bryant is said to be extremely high (as it should be), so it likely starts with Arizona's 24-year-old pitcher Zac Gallen who sported a 2.81 ERA and 10.8 K/9 in his first big-league season last year (15 starts). From there, the Cubs would probably also ask for one or two players from the top of the prospect group (Martin, Robinson, Seth Beer, Alek Thomas, etc.). 

Bryant and the Cubs avoided arbitration by reaching an agreement for an $18.6 million deal last week, but his service time grievance still isn't settled. Once that gets finalized (which is expected to result in two more years of team control before Bryant hits free agency), the Cubs can potentially pull the trigger on their most tradeable asset. It would also behoove the Cubs front office if free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson finally signs and knocks down another domino in the third base market.

It's looking more and more likely the Cubs deal Bryant sometime before the July deadline, as they hope to maximize his trade value and acquire long-term assets to extend their window of contention beyond the 2021 season.

Cubs trade rumors: Is Arizona's Jarrod Dyson on the team's radar?

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USA Today

Cubs trade rumors: Is Arizona's Jarrod Dyson on the team's radar?

As we get closer and closer to the July 31 trade deadline, it's becoming clear that the Cubs are firmly in the market for outfield help. 

The first name connected to the team was Detroit right fielder Nick Castellanos, whose prowess against left-handed pitching would significantly buoy a team that's struggled against lefties thus far. 

Now, it's Arizona's Jarrod Dyson who is reportedly on Chicago's radar. On Monday morning, a piece written by The Athletic's Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma details the Cubs' interest in Dyson: 

The Cubs have been interested in Dyson (who has 21 stolen bases and a wRC+ of 86 this season) at previous points in his career and have always liked his skillset. If Dyson is moved, it will likely come closer to the July 31 deadline, giving the Diamondbacks more time to evaluate where they stand this year.

On the surface, Dyson's fit with the Cubs is an interesting one. The conventional wisdom is that for all of Albert Almora's defensive abilities, his offensive production simply doesn't warrant every day starts. This season has been rough for Almora, and he's currently slashing .239/.275/.384 with a .659 OPS, adding up to a career-worst wRC+ (67). As Mooney and Sharma point out, that wRC+ is the 3rd-worst among all players with at least 400 at-bats this year. The contact peripherals aren't much better, with a Hard Hit % and Average Exit Velocity both in the bottom 8% of qualified hitters; his current fWAR (0.0) would suggest he is quite literally the definition of replacement-level. 

With all that said, Dyson's numbers this year have ... not been much better? He's hit .254/.335/.369 with a .704 OPS in 24 less at-bats than Almora has. Dyson's wRC+ (87) is certainly an improvement over Almora's, but nothing to write home about either. In fact, the Statcast profiles for both players look almost identical. First is Almora's, and then comes Dyson:

Like Mooney and Sharma mention, it'd be a platoon move. While their overall stats look the same, Almora's been better against lefties, and Dyson righties, through their careers:

Dyson career vs. RHP: .257/.324/.360 with a .685 OPS (87 wRC+)
Almora career vs RHP: .272 /.303/.398 with a .701 OPS (83 wRC+)

Dyson career vs. LHP: .226 /.309/.272 with a .580 OPS (63 wRC+)
Almora career vs LHP: .286/.335/.420 with a .755 OPS (101 wRC+)

While Dyson isn't going to solve the Cubs' outfield issues on his own, he is more consistently playable against right handed pitching in a way that Almora -- despite some weird reverse splits this season -- has typically not been. It's also worth noting that he'd help solve the Cubs' leadoff issues, as 217 of his 252 at-bats have come from the top. Dyson would give the Cubs a jolt of bench speed, and while stealing bases isn't in this team's DNA, having one of the game's fastest players available as a pinch-runner is obviously a huge advantage in a pennant or postseason run. Acquiring a pinch runner in the latter half of the season has been a staple of the Theo Epstein era, so this falls in-line with what we've seen in the past. 

The Cubs probably have bigger fish to fry, and it doesn't sound like the front-office is solely in the market for platoon outfielders that can pinch run. Production concerns aside, though, Dyson's making $3.5 million and will be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends - so in theory there's a low-risk fit for the Cubs.