Well as is generally the case, where there is smoke, there’s fire. And on Tuesday, there was a lot of smoke rising up above the city of Nashville where the MLB Winter Meetings are taking place. Lots of rumors began popping up involving the Cubs in multiple capacities, and sure enough they made the headlines by the end of the day.
The Cubs had been linked to Jason Heyward throughout most of Tuesday, and they still are (we’ll get to that later), but Tuesday evening the focus shifted to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, one of the game’s best, if not the best, utility men was reportedly nearing a final decision as to where he would ultimately sign. Recent reports all indicated that the Mets were the heavy front-runners, however the Cubs made a late push and signed Zobrist to a four year deal worth $56 million. It is worth noting that of all players Cubs manager Joe Maddon has ever managed at the big league level, no player has played more games for him than Ben Zobrist. Also add in the fact that Zobrist was born in Illinois and still has family in the area, and you begin to understand why he chose the Cubs (aside from the obvious reason of them being a contending team).
What Zobrist brings to the Cubs is versatility. He wants to play second base, and he will, but the fact that he can literally play any other position outside of catcher and pitcher gives Joe Maddon extreme flexibility with his lineup decisions. He is also great at getting on base, with a career .355 on base percentage, and bats from both sides of the plate. If the Cubs don’t end up signing an obvious leadoff hitter, you might want to pencil Zobrist into that spot in the lineup.
Aside from his physical abilities, Zobrist is a winner and a leader. He has played in two World Series now, having won one last year with the Royals, and is generally looked up to by younger teammates. The Cubs, a team with relatively little postseason experience in the field, will definitely benefit from having Zobrist in the lineup come crunch time next season.
So while signing Zobrist was a big move, it may not have even been the biggest news to come from the Cubs on Tuesday. Shortly after agreeing to a deal with Zobrist, the Cubs dealt Starlin Castro to the Yankees in exchange for 28 year old pitcher Adam Warren and veteran infielder Brendan Ryan. The Yankees will take on the remainder of Castro’s contract.
Warren, the main piece coming back to the Cubs in the trade, started 17 games for the Yankees last year and posted a 7-7 record with a solid 3.29 earned run average. He figures to be a number 5-6 starter and/or long reliever. This now gives the Cubs four pitchers who can pitch in relief and make spot starts when needed. Their bullpen depth, which was problematic at times last year, is quickly turning into a strength of the team.
Getting back to Castro, his departure was one that we were all somewhat anticipating for quite some time now. Despite getting off to a horrendous start in 2015, he became a completely new player once being moved to second base, which is where the Yankees plan to start him. While his bat and clubhouse presence will be missed, it was a move the Cubs had to make for two reasons. One, they needed to open up the second base position in order to sign Zobrist. Two, they needed to dump some salary to sign Zobrist. As Theo Epstein said Tuesday night, consider the Cubs’ transactions as a “Castro for Warren and Zobrist trade.”
Looking ahead now, the Cubs are still heavily linked to Jason Heyward as well as Denard Span and, if all else fails, Gerrardo Parra. All three are either center fielders or are capable of playing the position. If the Cubs could have it their way, the belief is they would sign Heyward today.
The Cubs had also shown interest in dealing for Shelby Miller, but the Braves reportedly had too high of an asking price. Tuesday night, the Braves and Diamondbacks agreed to a trade that sent Miller to Arizona, and Dansby Swanson (number one draft pick in 2015 MLB draft) and Ender Inciarte (among a couple other prospects) to Atlanta. Given what Atlanta got in return for Miller, it is clear now why no deal was made with the Cubs. The Braves got an almost unbelievable return in that trade. It’s likely their asking price was for something much more significant than Jorge Soler.
While the Cubs are definitely in the hunt for an outfielder, rumors of their pursuit of a good, young starter have died down a bit. It is unclear if the acquisition of Warren put a halt to that or not, so those rumors could potentially pick up again at some point.
A lot more could happen today and as we approach the weekend, and it should be fun.