John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
So Theo Epstein is open for business, seemingly determined to shake up a roster that has fallen short of expectations since the Cubs' curse-busting championship in 2016.
He told reporters at the GM Meetings in Arizona this week that "change is not always easy but it's necessary," and declared "there are no untouchables" when it comes to the possibility of a trade this offseason.
Yes, with his once-youthful core of position players now speeding toward free agency, and a payroll that went over the luxury-tax threshold this season, Epstein apparently is ready to consider any and all deals that could save the Cubs some money while still giving them a shot in 2020 at another championship.
There are several big names on the potential trade list, but of the ones that scouts and executives I spoke to believe could realistically be moved, Kris Bryant almost certainly will draw the most attention, followed by catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Kyle Schwarber.
The most notable that probably won't be moved are shortstop Javier Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
All of which raises an obvious question: Could the Mets or Yankees be in play to make a deal with Epstein?
The short answer is that it seems unlikely, even though Bryant would be a middle-of-the-order hitter at a position of need who could have a big impact on the Mets' offense, while Schwarber would give the Yankees a left-handed power bat they could really use to balance their lineup, especially if Didi Gregorious isn't re-signed.
In need of pitching, the Cubs almost certainly would want Noah Syndergaard, and probably a prospect as well, for Bryant.
Indeed, as someone involved in past Mets-Cubs discussions told me on Thursday, "They always liked Syndergaard."
In turn, the Mets always loved Baez. Sandy Alderson once told me they were crushed to see him taken with the ninth pick in the 2011 draft, four picks before they took Brandon Nimmo, and a source says they dangled Syndergaard as a minor leaguer to the Cubs but couldn't get Epstein to give up Baez.
The Cubs still aren't giving up Baez, but they're willing to deal Bryant largely because he's two years away from free agency, with Scott Boras as his agent, and they have to make choices as to which of their position players they'll sign long-term.
Syndergaard likewise will be a free agent after 2021, but with little front-line pitching in their farm system, the Cubs probably would be more willing to commit long-term to someone like him.
However, for the Mets at this point that would only make sense if they re-signed Zack Wheeler, and that doesn't seem likely -- especially with several teams intrigued by Wheeler's potential and likely to make big offers.
Without Wheeler, the Mets can't even think about trading Syndergaard, considering their pitching depth is practically non-existent. And for what it's worth, Brodie Van Wagenen has said publicly he has no intention of dealing the 6-foot-6 righthander.
Still, there has to be some intrigue for the GM, knowing Bryant's potential impact hitting between, say, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, would give the Mets the ability to play McNeil in the outfield and trade for more pitching from their surplus of outfielders.
But any such deal would add significantly to the payroll -- which doesn't seem likely -- as Bryant likely will make over $15 million via arbitration this coming season, compared to perhaps $10 million for Syndergaard.
In other words, don't count on it.
There is likely to be plenty of interest in Bryant from other teams, though, depending where two big-ticket free agents -- Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson -- wind up signing to play third base in 2020.
If the Rangers don't get either one, for example, they have the type of strong farm system that would interest the Cubs in making a deal to bring back multiple young players.
Same could go for the Braves. If they lose Donaldson and aren't convinced Austin Riley is ready to step in, they have the young pitching the Cubs desperately want as they look to upgrade their starting rotation.
As for Schwarber, he hit 38 home runs for the Cubs last season. And with his natural ability to pull the ball, he'd be an awfully nice fit with the Yankees, likely to deposit who knows how many long balls in the right-field porch at the Stadium.
Meanwhile, in Miguel Andujar, the Yankees might have an ideal trade piece -- a low-cost replacement at third base should the Cubs deal off Bryant.
But their outfield/DH situation is already crowded, especially with their need to bring back Brett Gardner to play some center fielder, along with Mike Tauchman, while Aaron Hicks is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
They could live with Schwarber's shaky defense in left field at least part-time, but even then the DH spot is going to be crowded in coming years, as the Yankees are going to want to use it to keep both Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez as healthy as possible.
So while Yankee fans may be ready to move on from Gardner after his horrendous postseason (5-for-42, one extra-base hit), one person close to the situation said Cashman still values him highly for his defense, his clubhouse presence, and his 27 home runs last season.
"If Gardner's not back on another one year deal I'll be really surprised," the person said.
All of which means that while it may be tempting for both local teams to go shopping on Theo Epstein Boulevard, all signs point to the Yankees and Mets choosing to buy elsewhere this winter.