CHICAGO CUBS RUMORS
The Chicago Cubs ended a disappointing second half of the 2018 MLB season by blowing a division lead in September to the Milwaukee Brewers and then losing in extra innings at Wrigley Field to the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card Game. Since then, fans have been waiting for big changes, especially after Theo Epstein's proclamation that the offense was broken at the end-of-the-season press conference with the media.
However, the only big change after the 2018 season was the Cubs getting a new hitting coach, with Anthony Iapoce replacing Chili Davis after only being with the team for one season. Iapoce became the team's third hitting coach in as many years.
As for big changes on the roster following the 2018 season, fans were left extremely disappointed, frustrated, and angry as rumors swirled about Cubs ownership limiting the team's on-field budget. So, even with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado leading the free-agent class and obviously being major game-changers, the Cubs were never once involved in pursuing a free agent.
Fans became even more agitated at the team's state when the Cubs weren't even rumored to be involved with second and third-tier free agents. For a roster that desperately needed re-tooling to maintain a competitive advantage and stay on the level with the top National League teams, the Cubs were forced because of self-imposed financial restrictions to hope their players would get better.
The 2018-19 offseason period became even more infuriating for Cubs fans when the team inexplicably traded away Tommy La Stella to turn around and sign veteran infielder Daniel Descalso. It turns out that Descalso's two-year contract that was worth $5 million, which included a $3.5 million club option and $1 million buyouts for 2021, would be the lone multi-year deal the Cubs have agreed to with a position player in free agency the last two years.
The 2019 season ended up having an even worse conclusion than the previous year. Yet, the Cubs did make a few big moves during the season, making a much-needed trade with the Detroit Tigers for right-handed-hitting outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. He really was a savior for the Cubs' offense in the final two months of the regular season, but despite Castellanos' incredible stretch, the Cubs crumbled once again in September.
During the 2019 season, the Cubs faced issues outside of its inconsistent offense. All winter long, fans waited for the team to sign a proven, high-leverage reliever, but the best the Cubs could do was sign Brad Brach. Despite solid numbers throughout his career, Brach was a disaster with the Cubs and was eventually released in the summer. While the Cubs' bullpen put up good numbers overall, the closer situation was a mess all year long.
Pedro Strop was coming off five consecutive seasons of posting a sub-3 ERA, but he dealt with leg injuries in 2019 and couldn't be counted on to close games. Yet, as months passed, the rumors starting to pick up steam surrounding one elite closer who was still a free agent.
Before acquiring Castellanos, the Cubs made another big move signing free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel in June. Kimbrel made his Cubs' debut on June 27, 2019, against the Atlanta Braves, but his addiction to the bullpen did not improve the team's results and actually hurt them overall.
Kimbrel made 23 appearances in 2019 and had an atrocious 6.53 ERA in 20.2 innings. His velocity never got back to what the front office and fans expected, and because of it, Kimbrel was hit hard, allowing nine home runs in his limited time in 2019. He also had two stints on the injured list, including missing nearly three weeks in September.
Unlike 2018, when they still managed to win 95 games and sneak into postseason play as a Wild Card team, the 2019 Cubs finished in third place in the Central Division with an 84-78 record. Rumors had been circulating since the end of 2018 that Cubs manager Joe Maddon was on the hot seat. On the final weekend of the 2019 season, Maddon and Epstein confirmed to the media that Maddon would not receive a new contract following the expiration of his five-year deal with the Cubs.
The 2019-20 offseason was more of the same from the previous year, as once again, the Cubs were a complete non-factor in free agency. At this point, we started to hear the first real rumors about the team, possibly trading one of their biggest stars.
While the Cubs didn't take long to find Maddon's replacement as the manager, hiring first-time skipper David Ross less than a month after fans found out Maddon would not return, Kris Bryant found himself in lots of headlines linked to other teams.
The trade rumors were non-stop involving Bryant until spring training. At one point, it looked like there could be a bidding war for Bryant from three National League East teams, as the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies were all rumored to be interested in a trade for the Cubs' third baseman. There was also a Nolan Arenado trade rumor to the Cubs that picked up some traction that offseason, as catcher Willson Contreras was also tossed into rumored deals.
For the second straight year, fans were left hopeless, as the team spent a total of $3.5 million in free agency on four players. Meanwhile, things weren't going well with their own players either, as Anthony Rizzo's agent went to the media to complain about the lack of extension talks with his client. Although it was reported that the team was attempting to ink Javier Baez to a long-term contract, those rumors quickly disappeared at the start of 2020.
And now, after another frustrating playoff performance and woeful numbers from several players, the Cubs find themselves with an uncomfortable situation heading into the 2021 season.
Recent Cubs Rumors
With the financial uncertainty spurred from the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB teams might use the current circumstances to be less aggressive in free agency. The Cubs certainly fall into that category, as they have not been engaged in talks with any major free agents since signing Yu Darvish before the 2018 season. Right now, the Cubs appear to be in the stage of saving as much money as they can.
Theo Epstein leaving before the final year of his contract was the first sign of big changes coming, as decisions this offseason will have a bigger focus toward the future rather than solely focussing on the 2021 MLB roster. The Cubs non-tendered four players in early December, parting ways with reliever Ryan Tepera, right-handed hitter Jose Martinez and outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr.
The Cubs also have to answer what to do with their other star players. Rumors have been swirling from the national media that other teams expect a few big trades involving the Cubs. We've already seen one major move, with the non-tender to Schwarber, but other MLB executives believe Bryant and Baez may also be on the trade block.
While fans still do not know the exact direction the Cubs will take under Jed Hoyer this offseason, there is the worry that the team will try to save as much money as they can and not attempt to improve the roster for 2021. The next few months will obviously give fans the answers to many of the questions asked right now, and it will be telling what type of players the Cubs are connected to.
If the Cubs truly mean diversifying their lineup, they should be active in free agency to add a player like former Minnesota Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario. However, if the team is once again only targeting players on minor-league deals, then fans will be angry.
Replacing Schwarber won't be easy, but there are a few good options available. What the Cubs decide to do to replace Schwarber's production will tell on their direction for the short-term future.
The Nationals have been the most rumored team interested in a trade for Bryant this offseason, but recent reports indicate the team may not want to pay the nearly $20 million that Bryant will earn in 2021. The Los Angeles Dodgers have also been loosely linked to Bryant, and you should expect every contending team to at least kick the tires and give the Cubs a call to inquire about Bryant.
Now that Jon Lester is a free agent, the Cubs will lose three starting pitchers from their 2020 roster, as Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana are also free agents and are not expected to return. So, look for the team to add at least one starter this offseason.
Recent Cubs Transactions
At the tender deadline on Dec. 2, 2020, the Cubs announced deals with three pitchers, agreeing to one-year contracts with Dan Winkler, Kyle Ryan, and Colin Rea. And while they non-tendered Schwarber, Almora, Martinez, and Tepera, the team tendered contracts to Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Victor Caratini, and Ian Happ.
Earlier in the offseason, the Cubs made decisions on two big options for 2021, picking up Rizzo's $16.5 million salaries while buying out Jon Lester's $25 million player option for $10 million.
Since the beginning of this offseason, the Cubs have acquired a few players off waivers starting with former St. Louis Cardinals' second baseman Max Schrock in October. Most recently, the Cubs picked up right-handed pitcher Robert Stock off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.
The 2020 MLB Draft was only five rounds, but the Cubs received high praise after picking local product Ed Howard in the first round and then left-handed reliever Burl Carraway in the second round. Outfielder Jordan Nwogu, left-handed pitcher Luke Little and high school pitcher Koen Moreno rounded out its draft class. All five players eventually signed with the Cubs, with Howard getting a $3.745 million signing bonus. Howard was ranked the best high school shortstop in the entire country.
The Cubs brought in relievers Jeremy Jeffress, Ryan Tepera, and Dan Winkler through free agency on cheap, one-year deals back to the last offseason. The team built most of their bullpen depth for 2020 through other similar moves, acquiring Casey Sadler, Trevor Megill, CD Pelham, and Jharel Cotton. The team also signed several position players to minor-league contracts, most notably Jason Kipnis, who appeared in 44 games in 2020. Other notable names include backup catcher Josh Phegley, relievers Jason Adam and Rex Brothers, and outfielder Ian Miller.
Heading into the last offseason, the Cubs lost several big names, including Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Cole Hamels, Kendall Graveman, Nicholas Castellanos, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and David Phelps in free agency.
Cubs Rumors FAQ
What player is most likely to get an extension?
Anthony Rizzo has been the face of the franchise, and although he's the oldest player from the current core, his contract extension shouldn't put a strain on the team's payroll. He also provides the safest move having the highest floor, as Rizzo brings the most consistent production on the field.
Will Kris Bryant finish 2021 with the Cubs?
At this point, the odds lean toward Kris Bryant being dealt at some point before July's trade deadline in 2021. With the lack of extension talks with Bryant, it would make sense for the Cubs to get the most in a trade before entering free agency.
Will the Cubs spend in free agency?
The Cubs non-tendered Kyle Schwarber, which will save them about $9 million in 2021. They need to fill an outfield spot, and early indications seem to signal the front office will use that money to sign capable players this offseason to offset the loss of Schwarber.
What free agent can best replace Kyle Schwarber?
Former Minnesota Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario perfectly fits what the Cubs have been preaching about changing to their offense. While Schwarber draws more walks, Rosario makes more contact and hits for a higher average without sacrificing in the power department. Rosario should be the team's top target.
Other than replacing Schwarber, what are the Cubs' biggest needs?
The Cubs will need to add at least one starting pitcher, as the current MLB rotation is made up of Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills, and Adbert Alzolay. Another position that could also use depth is second base, as Nico Hoerner still has not earned the MLB job there.
Should the Cubs re-sign Jon Lester?
Jon Lester will be 37-years-old during the 2021 season. Despite being a Cubs legend, the team should prioritize developing and allowing one of their pitching prospects to emerge as an effective starter in the rotation, not just for 2021 but beyond.
Who are the Cubs' top prospects?
The Cubs minor league system's top-five prospects are currently left-handed pitcher Brailyn Marquez, outfielder Brennen Davis, catcher Miguel Amaya, shortstop Ed Howard, and outfielder Cole Roederer. Marquez is considered the best pitching prospect the Cubs have had in several years.
Who will be the new general manager?
After Theo Epstein stepped down as president of baseball operations in November, Jed Hoyer was promoted to Epstein's position. The general manager's role is currently vacant, but rumors indicate several candidates close to Hoyer are being considered. Jared Porter was the favorite, but he was hired by the Mets.
Will the Cubs win the division in 2021?
The rest of the NL Central doesn't present a clear challenger to the Cubs. There is no powerhouse team inside the division, and the Cubs can still have the most talent to begin 2021 and will probably be favorites to win the division unless the roster is completely gutted.