Make that two reputable MLB insiders connecting the Cubs to Rockies superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Last Thursday, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported the Cubs “loom as a possible suitor” for Arenado, should the North Siders deal Kris Bryant this winter. ESPN’s Jeff Passan took that idea a step further on Tuesday.
According to Passan, two teams have particularly intrigued the Rockies as they search for Arenado trade partners: The Cardinals and Cubs. From Passan’s report:
The Cubs would make sense if they move Bryant. They are not primed for some sort of a rebuild as much as a refresh or reboot -- an always-difficult needle to thread, particularly if they hope to dip under the luxury-tax threshold. One source characterized the Cubs as doing due diligence, as they've done throughout the winter with myriad trade conversations, but the notion of trading catcher Willson Contreras and a higher-priced, underperforming player in an Arenado deal, then flipping Bryant to revitalize a mediocre farm system, squares in the short and long term. The Nationals' best trade piece, middle infielder Carter Kieboom, would be a perfect anchor for a Bryant deal if the Cubs didn't already have Javier Baez at shortstop and rookie Nico Hoerner at second base.
Passan isn’t reporting the Cubs have had any conversations regarding Arenado. Furthermore, his mentioning of Willson Contreras and “a higher-priced, underperforming player” is completely hypothetical and merely an idea of what a Cubs-Rockies Arenado deal could look like.
But let’s say the hypothetical became reality.
Based on Passan’s speculation, the Cubs could try and include Jason Heyward with Contreras in an Arenado package. Heyward hasn’t performed at a consistently high level offensively after signing a lucrative eight-year deal with the Cubs in December 2015. However, he posted Cubs career-highs last season (.343 OBP, 21 home runs, 62 RBIs, 101 wRC+, .328 wOBA) all while playing stellar defense in right field (7 Defensive Runs Saved).
Arenado is under contract through 2026 for $234 million. Heyward is under contract through 2023 for $86 million. Contreras is under contract through 2022, but he’s in arbitration and is only projected to make $4.5 million in 2020.
The money wouldn’t match up in an Arenado for Heyward and Contreras deal. However, acquiring Arenado would give the Cubs a cost-controlled third baseman, all while netting the Cubs prospects in exchange for Bryant to replenish their farm system.
A couple quick caveats:
-The Rockies are 50-50 on dealing Arenado, per Morosi’s report, meaning a deal is far from guaranteed. Plus, Colorado may seek more for Arenado — a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner — than just Contreras and Heyward.
-Arenado has an opt-out after 2021. If the Cubs acquired him, they could find themseleves in a similar position as they are now with Bryant, whose situation is also complicated due to his ongoing service time grievance. Bryant is under contract through 2021, but he'll become a free agent after 2020 if he wins his grievance, taking away some of his trade value.
-The Cubs are in a position where they need to gain prospects rather than trade any. If the Rockies seek minor-league pieces in a deal, that would likely take the Cubs out of the running for Arenado.
-Although the Cubs would land Arenado, they’d lose their starting right fielder and catcher, in this hypothetical scenario. Victor Caratini would assume the starting catcher position if Contreras is dealt, but right field would still be a question mark.
Arenado will make $35 million in 2020 compared to the combined $44 million Heyward, Contreras and Bryant will make — using the latter two's arbitration estimates. The Cubs could use that $9 million in savings on a right fielder, though the best available options — such as Nick Castellanos — will come at higher price tags. Plus, the Cubs have other needs to address, like the bullpen.
There is a scenario where the Cubs could acquire Arenado, but a lot of moving parts would be involved to make a deal come to fruition.
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