A look at the high-end names the Cubs could consider at the trade deadline

The Chicago Cubs are in good standing, record-wise, as the August 31 trade deadline approaches. They sit atop the NL Central, at the moment, three games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. All signs point to a playoff return, making this trade deadline an instrumental point of the season as they try to do more than just get to the playoffs.

Cubs VP of baseball operations Theo Epstein

“I think we have an idea of what we’d like to do,” Theo said on Friday. “The different areas we’d like to address, the different ways we could go about that.

“I think a number of teams know that resources and financial flexibility could be a factor and that has to be weighed into the picture. And you kind of figure it out as you get down to what an individual transaction might look like.”

The Cubs aren’t a need-heavy team beyond their bullpen, though it seems that much is said for multiple playoff-bound teams every year. Last year, their biggest trade-deadline pick up came in Nick Castellanos, who gave them almost a big enough spark to sneak into the playoffs. The rest of the cupboard, Tony Kemp, Derek Holland and Brandon Phelps, was a little empty.

This year’s deadline will be unique, though, with smaller sample size making for fewer teams knowing in what direction they want to head. Combined with an expanded playoff, the uncertainty of future finances and the slashing of budgets that have already taken place around baseball, plus teams only able to trade members of their 60-man roster, less activity than usual can be expected to take place.

That said, there’s still opportunity for the Cubs to smooth out the finishing touches of their roster. Ian Happ’s emergence has made the need for the outfield be only in the shape of depth, as they probably want better outfield options at the plate than Albert Almora Jr. or Steven Souza Jr. Even more than outfield depth, the bullpen is the most obvious need; even despite how it’s come together as of late, you can never have too many options out of the bullpen. It’s worth nothing, though, that José Quintana’s return gives them a possible lefty swingman, and if he overtakes Tyler Chatwood in the rotation, Chatwood becomes a possible swingman. Epstein’s comments throughout the offseason and on Friday indicate that their options will be limited to cheap contracts or one-year rentals. Taking everything into consideration, here are three potential targets for the Cubs at the trade deadline:

Trevor Rosenthal, RP, Kansas City Royals

Rosenthal has long been an enticing name in MLB circles with an electric fastball and a proven effectiveness. When healthy. The 30-year-old right-hander was at times dominant at the start of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, but multiple UCL injuries put the brakes on his career as it was getting started.

After a disastrous 2019 with two teams, the Royals have successfully launched a reclamation project of his career, as he now has a 1.59 ERA in 12 innings pitched. His fastball velocity is still in the upper 90s and he’s regained his command. The Cubs still don’t have a permanent decision on a full-time closer, at least while Craig Kimbrel is slowly righting the ship, so adding Rosenthal gives them another option with Kimbrel, Jeremy Jeffress and Rowan Wick.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, they won’t be the only suitors for Rosenthal, who’s seen as one of the hottest names at the deadline. They don’t have the farm depth as, say, the Miami Marlins, who look to be buyers, and could easily get outbid unless they gave up serious prospect capital like Miguel Amaya. And with so much uncertainty, still, around baseball, it’s hard to imagine them trading their best prospect for a one-year bullpen rental.

Ken Giles, RP, Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays could be sellers at this year’s deadline. Giles is an interesting candidate as someone who could be incredibly useful for a low cost, depending on the market. He’s been a shutdown closer before, picking up 23 saves and a 1.87 ERA last year, but a forearm strain threw off his season only two games into 2020 and he hasn’t played since. His injury makes him the riskiest name on this list, but for that reason the Cubs could potentially get him at a discount. With a $9.6 million price tag in his last year before free agency, it’s a risk the Cubs may have interest in taking on.

Though he has closer pedigree, Giles probably wouldn’t be used in high-leverage situations until he looks more like himself, and even then, the Cubs would like to have a bullpen pecking order. Adding another right-hander to a bullpen full of righties might sound redundant, but his wOBA against left-handed betters was actually lower in 2019 than it was against righties.

Clint Frazier, OF, New York Yankees

Hear me out. This one is unlikely but still fun to ponder.

The Yankees looked into trading Frazier at last year’s trade deadline and with the plethora of talent in their outfield, there’s a good chance that search continues into this year. The Cubs shouldn’t be satisfied with their current outfield options and may have a place for Frazier, if available. Though he’s a perfectly capable leftfielder, Frazier would allow Schwarber to DH more often and would be a much more reliable alternative outfielder than what the Cubs currently have; he has a 189 OPS+ in and two home runs in 27 at-bats

Still a pre-arbitration player, word of Frazier’s ability would quickly draw more ears than just the Cubs. This would be a splashy trade for the Cubs, as they’d be acquiring a former top prospect who’s under club control under 2025. It wouldn’t make sense for the Yankees to trade someone like that unless they’d get someone who could help them win now, and it wouldn’t make sense for the Cubs to give up someone that could do that. Still, if the market is unexpectedly cool on Frazier, he’d be fun to have in blue pinstripes