By Alec Walt
The Chicago Cubs entered the Jed Hoyer era earlier this offseason with a roster loaded with question marks. They made the postseason last year, but Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez hit free agency next offseason. With Baez and Rizzo expected to sign hefty new contracts, whether in Chicago or not, Hoyer needed to make tough decisions for the 2021 roster. It began with non-tendering Kyle Schwarber and continued with trading Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres.
The Padres are not joking around.
— MLB (@MLB) December 29, 2020
The Padres acquired Darvish and his personal catcher Victor Caratini nearly 24 hours after acquiring Blake Snell. In return, the Cubs received Zach Davies, and prospects Owen Caissie, Ismael Mena, Reggie Preciado and Yeison Santana. Hoyer added quantity over quality in his first major transaction as all four ranked 10th or later in the Padres insanely deep farm system. The rebuild has officially begun.
Hoyer surprisingly traded his ace without adding any of the Padres top prospects. Obviously MacKenzie Gore is off the table, but top prospects CJ Abrams and Robert Hassell both play positions the Cubs need to add depth to in the farm. The Cubs system is thin to begin with, only having three top 100 prospects last season. With no minor league season last year, there’s no guarantee they’ll be ready for Opening Day.
It will take even longer to see the prospects from the Darvish trade. All four new Cubs prospects are 20 or younger and have never played professional baseball above rookie ball. None of them are expected to reach the majors until at least 2023. Not great news for a core that’s won a World Series.
Davies pitched excellent last season, finishing 7-4 with a 2.73 ERA. He had a solid season, but he never pitched below a 3.50 ERA in any of his previous seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Rotation depth is certainly a need, but Davies’ contract expires at the end of the season. The Cubs could look to shop him at the trade deadline if his success translates into 2021.
This sends a clear message on the direction of the Cubs. They traded a quality starting pitcher for prospects we won’t see for at least two more seasons. After already cutting costs, there’s little reason to believe the Cubs will spend big dollars on free agents when the team isn’t expected to win. The time is now for the Cubs to completely reset the roster.
The next instant trade candidate is Bryant. The Cubs decided to tender his $18.6 million contract in his final year of arbitration. Due to how the Cubs managed options early in his career, the chances are slim that his future is in Chicago. After batting .206 with four home runs and 11 RBI’s, his salary and current production won’t bring back a large return. At this point, something is better than nothing.
Other trade candidates from the current roster are Rizzo, Baez, Willson Contreras and Kyle Hendricks. Contreras is under team control for two more seasons and Hendricks is owed $14 million through 2023 with a $16 million vesting option in 2024. Both have solid trade value in a league where a lot of teams need catching and starting pitching depth.
The Cubs enter the New Year looking to rebuild the farm system from the ground up. After working under Theo Epstein in 2011, this isn’t his first time Hoyer’s rebuilding this franchise. It’s tough to not see him land a top prospect in return for Darvish, but they’re giving the next wave a few years to play together in the minors.
Expect more moves in Chicago. The rebuild is only getting started.