Everyone is guilty of being prisoners of the moment. That’s the beauty of sports, really. So when someone suggests the Chicago Cubs should stand pat at the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, it might sound crazy.
Despite losing two out of three to the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers last week and coming off the heels of a 5-0 loss to the rival St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, the Cubs are in a healthy situation heading into a three-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Winning 15 out of 21 games certainly helps boost a team’s ego and some key pieces have hit their stride in the last month.
Yes, we’re not even at the All-Star break. And there is a lot of baseball to be played between now and the July deadline. But as things stand, the Cubs can afford to ride or die with their current group.
Guys like Albert Almora and Ben Zobrist have been rock solid throughout the first two months of the season. Javy Baez, who despite having some cold stretches of late, still is tied for fifth in the NL in RBI with 46. Anthony Rizzo, arguably the biggest cog in the Cubs’ lineup, broke out of his horrific April slump and hasn’t looked back. Since May 1, Rizzo is slashing .293/.387/.553 with 10 home runs, 37 RBI and a .940 OPS.
Jason Heyward has been a major surprise offensively in the last month. Since returning May 18 from a concussion, he’s slashing .307/.347/.489 with 2 home runs, 16 RBI and an .836 OPS. His performance has shades of the Heyward we saw in Atlanta and 2015 with the Cardinals. If this production continues, it makes him a major asset with his elite defense in right field.
Pitching also has been very solid to this point. The bullpen, has been consistently good since the start of the year thanks to power arms like Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and closer Brandon Morrow.
The starting rotation, for the most part, has been solid. Jon Lester is having a bounceback season, going 8-2 with a 2.28 ERA in 14 starts. Both Kyle Hendricks (5-6) and Jose Quintana (6-5) have performed well through their 14 starts as well, despite what their records indicate. For the most part, that can be chalked up to lack of run support or quick hooks by manager Joe Maddon. Neither has had outings that make you question their ability to handle high-leverage situations in a pennant race.
Right now, the Cubs have first-world problems that most teams in MLB wish they only had to deal with. Is it really worth making major moves to break up the chemistry on a contending ballclub?
There are noteworthy concerns through 68 games. Kris Bryant might not have the power numbers you’d like to see. However, he still has been productive. During his 24-game homerless stretch, Bryant still managed to hit .282 with 8 RBI and 9 runs scored. And based on his career averages, we should see a surge in home runs as the season goes on.
While the top three starters are doing their jobs, offseason signings Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood have struggled out of the gate. Darvish has spent the majority of the year on the DL and isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break. Before the triceps injury, he only mustered a 1-3 record and 4.95 ERA in eight starts.
Chatwood’s 3-5 record and 4.12 ERA seem respectable for a fifth starter. But his 58 walks and erratic command have Cubs fans worried if he can get under control at any point this season. Fortunately, Mike Montgomery has filled in admirably in many four starts, going 2-1 with 1.14 ERA. When Darvish returns, Montgomery could see action filling in for Chatwood or as a frequent spot starter in a six-man rotation.
Still, there aren’t any glaring issues to warrant any major acquisitions.
The Cubs should be pursuing moves that won’t hurt the major league roster or gut an already depleted farm system. For instance, acquiring some bullpen pieces or super-subs in the infield would be warranted, and it most likely wouldn’t cost the organization an arm or a leg. In fact, some of those players might be available during the waiver-trade period in August.
Baltimore Orioles slugger Manny Machado is going to be rumored as a potential target. However, the asking price might be too rich for the Cubs’ blood. Mustering up a package that would include a combination of major leaguers like Montgomery, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Addison Russell should give the team some pause.
The Orioles, however, might be forced to lower their expectations the closer they get to the deadline. Machado isn’t interested in an extension and would only be a rental for the rest of the year. Of the teams reportedly interested in Machado, some of the ones in contention either don’t have enough assets to pull off a deal or currently have high payrolls that would push them into the luxury tax.
If the Orioles lower their asking to Russell and a couple of highly touted minor league arms, then the Cubs shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Even if Machado is just a rental, Baez could slide into the shortstop role in 2019 while Happ and Zobrist split time at second base.
But acquiring Machado or any other player for an arm and a leg isn’t worth it. While the asking price might come down, a team like the Philadelphia Phillies or St. Louis Cardinals might be willing to blow everyone out of the water to make a playoff run this year.
The Cubs are in a healthy situation at the moment. Sure, everything between now and July 31 could change. Major slumps or injuries might force the Cubs to make massive changes at or near the non-waiver deadline.
But for the time being, the best course of action is to stand pat.