Trevor Bauer

Here's what to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

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USA Today

Here's what to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

It’s Valentine’s Day! Happy Valentine's Day to everyone who celebrates, which is really only you people out there that just started a relationship within the last 6 months.  There are a lot of things to love about Valentine’s Day, like, for instance, the chocolate, and the romance, and how it’s over after 24 hours. How are the Cubs spending Valentine’s Day? Outside of filming over-produced bits for their YouTube channel, I’m not sure. Hitting baseballs probably? Definitely catching baseballs? Maybe both. 

Timely, holiday-themed content waits for no man – and the Cubs’ clubhouse was particularly slow this morning – so on a day that celebrates love, here are a few things to Love, and hate, about the Cubs and their upcoming season: 

LOVE: PECOTA’s projections
Look, gang. This is like 95% of the same Cubs’ team that missed the playoffs by five games in 2019. They were not close. This year, PECOTA has them not only winning more games, but it has them in the playoffs. What even is the point of PECOTA when you just agree with them. Where does all the rage go now?! They were also *extremely* right about the Cubs last season, so maybe they won’t break your heart after all. 

HATE: The payroll issue
This is not news, but it’s the most fun low-hanging fruit that the Cubs have to offer. There are reports out there from the group of reporters that Tom Ricketts likes the best saying that there was no mandate to get under the luxury tax, and yet the Cubs’ company line is that it’s a “strategic disadvantage” to talk about money issues on the record. If you want to carry their water say that salary shedding was a necessary move at this point, so be it. There’s certainly some validity to the idea that this current CBA’s draconian penalties for being over the cap requires a reset of sorts. But this was a system that was collectively bargained, and Cubs’ brass certainly won’t get in the way of you placing all the blame in the lap of the Player’s Union. And yeah, a third year over the cap would mean fees up near $50 million. That’s a lot of money. You know what is also a lot of money? The $452 million in yearly revenue that the team’s bringing in, according to an April 2019 estimation from Forbes. Since we’re talking about big numbers, their gate take alone ($202 million) is almost $20 million higher than their current 2020 payroll ($183 million). There’s a commitment to team building and then there’s a commitment to bottom lines. You’re free to pick which path you think the Cubs are taking. 

LOVE: choRIZZO 

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He’s not a sausage, he’s choRIZZO!

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LOOK at that long boi. He’s wearing a hat! How fun. Dogs don’t normally wear hats. I love you, choRIZZO. 

HATE: The Reds I guess?
PECOTA has them winning the division, so we’ll start there. Otherwise, here’s a team that signed away Nicholas Castellanos and employs Trevor Bauer, so the heels are there. They were a thorn in the Cubs’ side last year, winning the season series 11-8 – then they got way better this off-season. Getting mad online about the Cardinals is so easy, so let’s get mad about the Reds this year. Who even needs 15 throwback jerseys. 

LOVE: The tee work of one Adrian Javier Baez Marquez

I mean just LOOK at this form: 

Hands driving to the ball, no excess motion, and knocking it the other way. Somewhere, Joe Maddon nods in approval. If the Cubs act soon they can probably get three full seasons of salary arbitration out of him! 

What might the Trevor Bauer trade mean for the White Sox future?

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USA TODAY

What might the Trevor Bauer trade mean for the White Sox future?

There was never going to be a deadline deal that dramatically affected the fortunes of the 2019 White Sox. After all, they've started the second half on a 4-14 slide, eliminating them from the midseason playoff projections of even the most overzealous fan.

So what does the Cleveland Indians making a trade to improve their chances of winning this season's AL Central crown have to do with the South Siders?

Well, a lot, actually. Because the Indians just got better in the long term. You know, the same long term that the White Sox have been building toward.

The Indians dealt starting pitcher Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds as part of an at-this-point unannounced but widely reported three-team deal that returned outfielder Yasiel Puig and pitching prospect Scott Moss from their in-state rivals and outfielder Franmil Reyes and pitching prospect Logan Allen from the San Diego Padres. Reds outfield prospect Taylor Trammell — that organization’s top-ranked prospect and a top-30 prospect in baseball — went to San Diego in the deal.

All that ends up with the Indians adding two new everyday hitters and a pitching prospect ranked in the top 100 who becomes the No. 3 prospect in that organization and losing a guy who has been at times in recent seasons one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

Now, when it comes to the White Sox fallout of this trade, the only immediate concern is whether they’ll have to brawl with Puig at some point during the seven games they have against the Indians in September.

But the franchise's future remains incredibly bright, even if the woeful stretch coming out of the All-Star break has somewhat dampened the excitement generated by a positive-filled first half. While the last few weeks have been a tad too reminiscent of the 2017 and 2018 teams that lost a combined 195 games, the 2019 performances of Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, James McCann, Jose Abreu, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal provide plenty of reason to believe that the White Sox could contend in 2020.

Well, the AL Central in which they’ll be attempting to contend in just got a sizable shake-up with this trade.

The headliner coming back to the Indians is Puig, and he's slated to hit free agency after the season is over, making it possible that he's a mere rental. But Reyes is far from a rental, not heading to free agency until 2025. The Indians just added a bat that could be in the middle of their lineup for the next half decade, and Reyes swings a mean stick. He's got 27 homers in 98 games this season, putting him on pace to finish the season with more than 40 long balls. That's, you know, a lot. And it's also something the White Sox are now going to have to figure out how to avoid in 19 games a season as they move into the contention phase of their rebuilding project.

Allen is ranked as a top-100 prospect, which could mean that Bauer, who has one season remaining on his contract, was just replaced in the Indians' long-term rotation. Obviously expecting an unproven prospect to be as good as Bauer's been is jumping the gun a little bit. But the clock was ticking on how long Bauer could be an impact arm for the Indians. There's a lot more time on Allen's clock, as well as Reyes', for that matter.

The bottom line is the Indians' long-term fortunes dramatically improved Tuesday night. And while the White Sox aren't building a roster for years to come based on what their division opponents will look like, it adds to the calculus of how difficult it will be for the White Sox to compete for division titles into the future.

The good news for 2020, of course, is that Bauer is out of the AL Central. But the Indians have shown as they've chased down the Twins that they're not exactly experiencing the closing of their contention window many believed was coming in the offseason and earlier this season. It's quite possible the Indians aren't going anywhere.

The White Sox will have to go up against a Cleveland team that features star sluggers Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana for at least the two seasons that follow this one. Now add Reyes to that mix, as well. That's a lot of pop, and we've seen what a lot of pop can do when White Sox pitching has been bludgeoned by the Twins this season. And though Bauer's gone, the Indians still have plenty of team control left on the contracts of starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber.

Nothing that's going on around the division will impact when the White Sox are ready to enter their contention phase. That will be based on the development of the White Sox core players, many of whom were listed above and have had positive 2019 campaigns to this point.

But say the White Sox are ready to contend in 2020. It seems like their path to a division title might have just gotten tougher. And the details of this trade, the years of control of some of the players involved, could mean that the road will stay tough into 2021. And 2022. And 2023. And so on.

Anyone counting on the White Sox ascending as the Indians were fading out of the spotlight in the division they've dominated in recent years might need to rethink some things. The Indians might not be going anywhere.

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The Reds are shaking up the MLB Trade Deadline and the NL Central

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USA TODAY

The Reds are shaking up the MLB Trade Deadline and the NL Central

You know it's a wild night for a ballclub when one of your pitchers taking on an entire team in a brawl is the second-most interesting headline.

Shortly before Amir Garrett tried to fight the entire Pittsburgh Pirates roster in a moment that will live on in baseball infamy, the Reds actually put the NL Central on notice with a different move, acquiring Trevor Bauer from the Indians and trading away Yasiel Puig in a three-team deal.

The move is undoubtedly the most high-profile of the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline to date, as both Bauer and Puig are big names and talented players switching clubs. The San Diego Padres also got into the mix, dealing outfielder Franmil Reyes and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen to the Indians and acquiring Reds top prospect Taylor Trammell in return.

Bauer, 28, joins a much-improved Reds pitching staff after making his own headlines this week by chucking a ball over the centerfield fence when he was being taken out of a game in his final outing in Cleveland. The right-hander was in the running for the AL Cy Young last year before an injury and at the time of the trade this season, led the league in innings pitched (156.2) while boasting a 9-8 record, 3.79 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. 

He is under team control through the 2020 season, so it gives the Reds plenty of options. They can try to make a run for a playoff spot this year, but they currently sit 7.5 games out of first place in the NL Central and 6.5 out of the wild-card race with a 49-56 record. So they're most likely retooling for next season, though they could flip the MLB Trade Deadline on its head and turn around and deal Bauer to another club before 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Puig is a free agent after this season and has disappointed in his first year with the Reds. The 28-year-old enigmatic outfielder was hitting .255 with a .785 OPS and 22 homers at the time of the trade and shortly after the move was reported, he was out right out there alongside Garrett trying to fight the Pirates.

It's a savvy move by the Reds, trading away a short-term asset for a longer-term guy. But it had to be tough to part with Trammell, who ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus coming into the season.

Even if they don't make a push for the postseason this year, the Reds could still be a formidable spoiler down the stretch, with a rotation pairing Bauer alongside Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray and an offense that still features Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett. 

That's bad news for the Cubs, who are already only 5-7 against the Reds this year and have to play them seven more times, including a trip to Cincinnati next weekend.