The Cubs’ approach to the ‘complicated landscape’ that is the 2020 trade deadline
Theo Epstein doesn’t know how things will shake out at the upcoming trade deadline.
As the Cubs host the White Sox at Wrigley Field this weekend, the only thing Epstein could say with certainty about this year’s deadline is that it will be far different from past seasons.
With just over a week until the Aug. 31 deadline, there is so much more to consider in 2020. The pandemic has completely altered the state of Major League Baseball and the trade market is no different.
For starters, these are human beings that will be switching teams and potentially moving their families from a place where they are currently settled in and trying to stay safe. There’s also the chance a player could opt out after being dealt to another team.
And with only a month of regular season action remaining after the deadline, there’s simply less time for any trade piece to make a major impact for his new squad. There is also no minor-league season and scouts are not allowed at opposing team’s alternate sites, so the only way to get a look at how young players are developing is by teams sharing information.
With six extra playoff teams, there are also more squads with a realistic chance at October baseball and thus less willing to sell off useful players. On top of it all, each team is navigating their own “uncertain financial future,” as Epstein put it.
Epstein’s front office has added an important player to the mix ahead of the deadline each of the last few years – Aroldis Chapman (2016), José Quintana (2017), Cole Hamels (2018) and Nicholas Castellanos (2019).
But that might not be in the cards for 2020.
“It’s certainly a complicated landscape this year,” Epstein said. “There are a lot of years where we know we have an impactful move or two in us and it’s a question of finding it and executing on it. This year, the moves might be more complementary and there might be some internal solutions.
“In the game overall, you may still see those big moves if there’s a perfect match where one team’s needs long-term complement a team’s short-term needs and you see a big trade. But there are certainly obstacles to that industry-wide and in our situation.
“We’re not limiting ourselves to dreaming about big names. Certainly open to it if it were to happen. We’ve done pretty big trades at the deadline most years. But the smaller moves where you get incrementally better in a couple different areas – especially that address certain needs – can make a big difference as well.”
Two areas of need for the 2020 Cubs came up organically in the conversation with Epstein as he called attention to the lineup’s struggles against left-handed pitching and the need for another reliever in the bullpen to get lefties out.
“One thing we’d like to do with Brad Wieck being hurt almost the entire year and Kyle Ryan being the only lefty, if we can get some help – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a left-handed reliever, but someone who can get lefties out,” Epstein said. “That would help us and help stabilize the ‘pen more, but certainly encouraged by the way [the bullpen is] trending.”
The Cubs rank 25th in baseball with a .211 batting average against left-handed pitching and their OPS (.670) ranks 21st.
It was an issue last season, too, as the Cubs ranked last in MLB with a .239 average against southpaws and 19th with a .750 OPS.
Part of the reason the Cubs haven’t had success against lefties this season is their top three right-handed hitters – Kris Bryant, Javy Báez and Willson Contreras – haven’t turned in their typical production to date. Now Bryant is on the injured list along with Steven Souza Jr., who has performed slightly better against lefties than righties over his career.
As for the bullpen, the Cubs began the season with three left-handed relievers – Ryan, Wieck and Rex Brothers. Wieck went on the IL in the first weekend of the season with a hamstring injury and then injured his knee as he attempted a comeback, so he was moved to the 45-day IL this week.
Brothers gave up 2 homers and 3 runs in 2.1 innings before being optioned down to the alternate site in South Bend when rosters decreased from 30 to 28 two weeks into the season.
Ryan has not yet found his groove, either, as he carries a 7.04 ERA and 1.83 WHIP in 9 games. Last year, he led the Cubs in appearances (73) and posted a 3.54 ERA.
The Cubs have Brothers and Justin Steele on the 40-man roster as in-house left-handed bullpen options. Top prospect Brailyn Marquez and 2020 2nd-round pick Burl Carraway are also x-factors down in South Bend.
The Cubs could go a little outside the box and work Quintana back into the fold in the bullpen instead of the rotation. The veteran southpaw threw a 28-pitch sim game Friday and is nearing a return from his thumb injury.
“We’ve had conversations with Q on how we want to build him back in to the team and [the bullpen] is an option, yes,” Ross said Saturday.
Quintana has made just 1 relief appearance in the regular season since his rookie year, but he has limited lefties to a .667 OPS over his career. The Cubs’ rotation is also about to get Tyler Chatwood back soon and the starting staff has been solid (3.91 ERA) in Quintana’s absence.