Cleveland Indians: Can Tribe afford any Cubs players at deadline?

Anthony Rizzo #44 congratulares Patrick Wisdom #16 of the Chicago Cubs (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Anthony Rizzo #44 congratulares Patrick Wisdom #16 of the Chicago Cubs (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /
Kris Bryant, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians potential trade target Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Are Cubs players affordable for the Cleveland Indians at the deadline?

As of June 20 the Chicago Cubs sit atop the NL Central division tied for first place with the Milwaukee Brewers. They have a very decent offense and a frighteningly dominant bullpen. So why are we talking about the Cubs as sellers, and the Cleveland Indians as potential bidders for Chicago’s prized assets?

Well, two legitimate concerns for the Cubs front office may force their hand as the trade deadline approaches. The most obvious reason is the sucking chest wound that is the Cubs’ starting rotation.

Adbert Alzolay has the team’s best ERA (4.06) of any pitcher to have made at least two starts this season. The starting unit also allows a lot of hits and way too many home runs. Kyle Hendricks has allowed a whopping 19 bombs in just 80 2/3 innings pitched this season, while Jake Arrieta is not far behind with 14 long balls given up in just 66 frames.

The pitching woes are clearly a ticking time bomb which could cause a collapse in playoff contention at any time, and don’t think the organization is not aware of it.

Now, the Cleveland Indians have their own rotation worries, but they have been, in large part, due to injuries. And there is good news on the horizon as 2020 Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber, and fellow young star Zach Plesac, are expected back on the mound sooner rather than later.

Once both are activated off the IL, they will stabilize what has been a chaotic starting pitching unit in recent weeks. All this points toward the Tribe being in a stronger position to remain contenders come the end of July, while the Cubs could begin to falter.

The second reason Chicago may be a team looking to sell rather than buy, is the contract status of several of their top position players. It is this reality which makes those hitters concerned an attractive prospect for the Indians front office.

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Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez are all quality, all-star caliber players whom the Indians would be delighted to add to their, frankly, weak offense. All three are also set to become free agents after the 2021 season, while another all-star, Willson Contreras, could become a free agent after 2022, and may also be made available.

It is highly unlikely the Cubs will be able to reach deals with these sluggers, who will command exceptionally high salaries. Furthermore, as we have already seen, the Cubs already have dire starting pitching issues to address.

It wouldn’t make sense for the Cubs to unload their star hitters to help them acquire rotation help in order to bolster their 2021 postseason prospects. That would have the feel of robbing Peter to pay Paul. After all, it has been their offense, and stellar relief corp, which has earned them top spot in their division, thus far.

And their rotation problems run too deep for them to try and move just one of their big name hitters, in the hopes of maintaining a respectable offense, to receive only one great pitcher in return. Starting pitching help, after all, is always at a premium come the deadline.

So with all of this in mind, the question for the Cleveland Indians comes down to affordability. Both in terms of the trade pieces they feel they can realistically part with to acquire players, and the payment of the remaining salary of any of the Cubs hitters who would likely be on the trade block.

The fact that Bryant, Rizzo and Báez only have half a year remaining on their contracts should certainly help with the second part of the equation. The Cleveland Indians would not be on the hook for a big contract over multiple years, as any trade match with the Cubs would likely be for a half-year rental.

Those circumstances should also help to lower the Cubs’ expectations for what they can receive in return any of those three names. Especially if the Indians’ modest return for the trading away of a full season of Francisco Lindor is anything to go by.

The only sticking point may come if the Cubs insist on a major league ready starting pitcher being included as part of any deal. Chicago has some rebuilding to do in their rotation, and the Indians are currently in a precarious position with their own starting five. Even when the trio of Bieber, Plesac and Aaron Civale have been healthy, the back-end of the rotation has been a headache with no reliable candidates yet to materialize.

But the Cubs poor bargaining position may force them to relent, and allow the Tribe to capture a big bat for the final playoff push. The next few weeks will make the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians’ intentions for the July deadline much clearer, and we will see if the two teams emerge as positive trade partners.

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