Chicago Cubs closer David Robertson knows what to expect in the next four weeks.
Robertson, in his 14th season in the premier league, has already headed past the trade deadline once and has seen many teammates come and go over the years. With the August 2 trading deadline a month away, the Cubs will be sellers again. Robertson, who has no trade protection in his contract, is expected to be on his way.
“That’s how it goes,” Robertson told the Tribune this week. “You never know how many people you will meet in a season. The trading stuff is above my paycheck. It’s uncontrollable for me. So I do not know. I haven’t heard anything yet.”
Robertson probably won’t be the only Cub to be jettisoned on Aug. 2. The clubhouse will look different in four weeks, a well-known position after a third of its 2021 opening day was shared ahead of last year’s trading deadline.
Trade talks will heat up in the coming weeks. With that in mind, here’s a look at which Cubs would be on the move:
C Willson Contreras
If the Cubs are following their trading deadline playbook from last year, this will be Contreras’ last month with the organization. It would be an unfortunate end to a Cubs career that began in 2009 when Contreras signed with Venezuela as a teenager. But other than a last-minute contract extension, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Cubs keep the catcher, who becomes a free agent after the season.
Contreras is positioned to cash in on his pick as he produces the best offensive season of his career and could kick off his third All-Star Game. For a money-making franchise like the Cubs, who have the long-term flexibility to sign him a major contract, this will be another painful transaction for fans to endure.
RHP David Robertson
Robertson proves to be one of the most experienced and valuable shutters on the market. The Cubs would be wise to move him as soon as possible. The 37-year-old right-hander has proven he is healthy in his first full season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2019. In the process, Robertson returned to his form as one of the top late-inning relievers in the majors.
He should be a hot item for ailing teams. In addition to knocking out batters – 39 in 30 innings going into Saturday – Robertson suppressed hits and home runs, allowing only 14 hits and three home runs. Other than Contreras, he was able to give the Cubs their best return.
The Cubs had a clear strategy in the spring of signing veteran relievers to one-year deals and hoping a few would come out — and give them trading assets if the season didn’t pan out. While there have been misses (Daniel Norris and Jesse Chavez), the Cubs have two other veterans who are likely to be on the move with Robertson by the deadline.
Right-handers Chris Martin and Mychal Givens fit into the mix for what playoff candidates are looking for. Givens’ name had been a subject of trade rumors in Baltimore for years, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on the move over the next month. While the number of runners he allows can be problematic, Givens’ experience is compelling.
Martin forces batters to make their way to base, limiting free passes to just four in 24⅓ innings going into Saturday. He has thrown well lately, conceding zero earned runs in his last seven outings without a walk and striking out five. Martin also knows what it takes to win a title after being part of the Atlanta Braves’ World Series winning bullpen last year.
Injured starting pitchers
Left-handers Drew Smyly and Wade Miley, like their veteran bullpen counterparts, seemed destined to be on the move at the deadline. Injuries have wrinkled that plan, however. Miley (left shoulder strain) may not have enough time to get well and play in a Premier League game before the deadline. He played a light catch this week, but there is no timetable for his return yet.
However, Smyly is trending in the right direction. He pitched a bullpen Friday and a rehab job could be coming soon, putting Smyly in the game to return around the All-Star hiatus. That timing would allow him to get a few starts before the trading deadline. Smyly looked good before getting a right oblique strain in late May, with a 3.80 ERA in nine starts this year.
Sometimes surprising trades are executed when deadline deals are involved. And with the Cubs clearly rebuilding without a definitive, public timeline for when the front office expects a battling team for the playoffs on the field, nothing should be ruled out.
That includes outfielder Ian Happ and righthander Kyle Hendricks. Happ is producing the most consistent season of his career and will reach free agency after next season. Maybe the front office sees it as a piece to build around and wants to expand it off-season. But if the Cubs don’t envision him joining the organization after 2023, Happ’s trade value may not be higher than it is now with an acquiring team getting that extra year of team control.
The Cubs need more good All-Star caliber players, not less, if they turn things around sooner or later. They should want to keep Happ if they believe what he’s showing is the real deal.
Hendricks has done a lot for the organization and trading him in before his contract extension expires after next season (he also has a club option for 2024) would be an important step. That’s less about how he throws (4.76 ERA in 15 starts) and more about his status within the team.
If there was one move that would truly separate the Cubs’ past and future, it would be trading Hendricks. However, this feels like a low sales situation given its inconsistencies over the past two seasons. However, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made it clear during the trade deadline last year that he took the emotional aspect out of trade considerations. So if teams inquire about Hendricks, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cubs are at least listening.