Jed Hoyer

With Winter Meetings over, Cubs gearing up for 'trading season'

With Winter Meetings over, Cubs 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."

Cubs leave Winter Meetings with a new pitcher

Cubs leave Winter Meetings with a new pitcher

SAN DIEGO — The Cubs waited all the way until the final minutes of the MLB Winter Meetings to make a move, but at least they're not going home empty-handed.

For the first time since 2014, the Cubs made a selection in the Rule 5 Draft, adding pitcher Trevor Megill. The right-hander turned 26 last week and has spent his entire professional career in the San Diego Padres system.

Megill stands 6-foot-8 and posted a 3.86 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 39 minor-league games last year, mostly at Triple-A. He struck out 87 batters in 60.2 innings, including an eye-popping 12.7 K/9 rate with Triple-A El Paso. 

He figures to slot into the Cubs' bullpen for now. Per MLB rules, Megill, who has yet to make his MLB debut, must remain on the Cubs' big-league roster all season; otherwise, he would be returned to the Padres.

It's obviously not a splashy acquisition, but it allows the Cubs to get Megill into their Pitch Lab this winter and evaluate him throughout spring training to see if he can be the type of buy-low arm they've been stockpiling over the past year. That process has worked out for Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck so far, and the Cubs are hoping the trend will continue for their pitching acquisitions this winter (Jharel Cotton, Dan Winkler, CD Pelham and now Megill). 

"Megill is a guy we tried to trade for prior to the rosters being set in November," Jed Hoyer said. "He's a guy we've liked and got good reports on — big, physical right-handed reliever that had a good year last year in Triple-A. We've had some experience with him and we were excited he was there."

The Rule 5 Draft is not often an avenue to acquire impactful players, but it's not unheard of. 

The Cubs traded for Caleb Smith in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft, but ended up returning him to the Yankees that spring due to a roster crunch. Smith has turned into a solid starter with the Miami Marlins.

Back in 2012, the Cubs added Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. He wound up saving 29 games for them two years later and emerged as a central piece of the bullpen for five seasons.

"When you have room on the roster, it's always a nice thing to do," Hoyer said. "There's times you can't do it — you don't have room on the roster sometimes and you can't fit it in. But in the years you do have that space on the roster, it's a nice thing to be able to do. Obviously there's challenges that come with it, but Megill is a guy we're excited about and excited to see him in spring training."

If the season started tomorrow, the Cubs' bullpen would probably look like this:

Craig Kimbrel
Rowan Wick
Kyle Ryan
Brad Wieck
Dan Winkler
Trevor Megill
Alec Mills/Tyler Chatwood/Adbert Alzolay/Duane Underwood Jr./Jharel Cotton

That's quite a different look from the veteran-laden relief corps of the last few seasons, but the Cubs are searching everywhere for reclamation projects, hoping to hit on a couple as they reshape their roster.

In the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs added another pitcher: Brock Stewart, a 28-year-old who grew up in central Illinois and attended Illinois State University. He has 46 big-league games under his belt (including 11 starts) with the Dodgers and Blue Jays.

Stewart struggled mightily in 2019 (9.82 ERA in the big leagues and a 7.36 ERA in Triple-A), but he's only a few years removed from being a highly rated prospect in the Dodgers' system and presents as another low-risk reclamation project.

The Cubs also lost a couple notable players in the Rule 5 Draft Thursday: utility infielder Vimael Machin and right-handed pitcher Michael Rucker.

Machin, 26, was a 2015 10th-round pick who worked his way up to Triple-A in 2019. Overall, he posted an impressive .295 batting average and .390 on-base percentage in the minors last season (mostly in Double-A), but the Cubs ultimately chose not to protect him on the 40-man roster.

Rucker, 25, was a 2016 11th-round pick who appeared in 34 games for Double-A Tennessee and 2 games for Triple-A Iowa last year, pitching to a 4.18 ERA overall.

Cubs provide further details on Anthony Rizzo's extension talks

Cubs provide further details on Anthony Rizzo's extension talks

SAN DIEGO — Anthony Rizzo's agent sent a shockwave through the Cubs world Wednesday morning at the Winter Meetings when he said the organization isn't working on an extension for the star first baseman.

In speaking with ESPN's Jesse Rogers, agent Marc Pollack said: "The Cubs have informed us that they will not be offering Anthony an extension at this time. Anthony has let his desire to be a Cub for life known to the organization. Although we do not know what the future holds, a deal to make that happen will not be addressed now."

Rizzo, 30, is under team control for the next two seasons — he's due $16.5 million in 2020 and has an identical club option for 2021.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer responded to Pollack's statement in a segment with David Kaplan for Wednesday's Sports Talk Live:

"We've always kept those conversations in-house," Hoyer said. "We've had conversations with lots of our guys over a five-year period and it’s always best to keep it quiet. I think in this case, Rizzo's agent decided to talk about it. We did have some conceptual talks about what an extension would look like and I think that, candidly, we were pretty far apart in terms of length and so he decided to come out and say that. 

"But we love Rizz. I hope he's a Cub forever. There's nothing that's been done that's going to stop future conversations, but we did have some conceptual conversations that obviously wasn't a match at this time. But this is a moment in time. It doesn't mean there's not going to be a match at some point in the future."

Hoyer reiterated Tuesday night what both he and Theo Epstein have been saying all winter — the Cubs have approached several players about extensions and have not yet reached an agreement with Rizzo, Javy Baez, Kris Bryant or anyone else.

Rizzo has won the Gold Glove three of the last four seasons and just wrapped up one of the best years of his career with a .293 batting average, .405 on-base percentage and .924 OPS to go along with 27 homers and 94 RBI. 

He is one of the faces of the franchise, but he's also dealt with back injuries the last couple years and is still two years away from free agency. There's plenty of time for the Cubs to work out a possible extension with Rizzo, but it doesn't appear that will happen this winter.

Wednesday evening, Epstein called the distance between the Cubs and Rizzo's camp on length is just part of the standard process for extension talks.

"The way I look at him is that he's a special player and he's done so much for the organization and the city that we value him very, very highly and we think highly of him as a person," Epstein said. "He's closely associated with our organization, our brand and everything that we're trying to do. He's not a free agent. He's not at risk of going anywhere right now.

"I know the story raised some alarms, but he's under control here for two more years, which we're thrilled about and there will be lots of opportunities for continuing the relationship. Again, more generally, when there's common ground on length, there can be deeper conversations. That's usually more typical when you get closer to free agency."

When Kaplan asked Hoyer if the Cubs are going to be able to lock down an extension for one of the core players before spring training, the GM responded:

“You know that’d be great," Hoyer said. "Like I said, we’ve had a lot of these conversations over the years. We know these agents so well based on these conversations; we can pick them up really easily. And we have a lot of good players and we’ve approached all these guys at some different point about extensions. And I understand — it takes both sides being happy to get something done. You don’t expect every time you go into a negotiation to get it done. You know sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t.

"But I can tell you it’s not for lack of trying. We have had tons of conversations and we’ll continue to. It would be great to keep some of these players in a Cubs uniform for a lot longer.”

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