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Photo Credit: © Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Yu Darvish? Kris Bryant? Exploring options from the Cubs’ impending blow-up

The winds of change are blowing in the Windy City.

On Tuesday morning, the Chicago Cubs announced that Theo Epstein was stepping down from his role as the organization’s President of Baseball Operations.

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Epstein, who led the Cubs to their first World Series in roughly one billion years back in 2016, was expected to finish off the remaining year of his contract, which was set to expire after the 2021 season, but he ultimately decided to move on early.

It seems as though Epstein’s departure has something to do with the Cubs staring down the barrel of either a retool or a full-on blow-up and rebuild process. According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the Cubs have told other teams that “significant turnover” is coming, and have signalled a “willingness to move almost any veteran” on their roster.

While our focus this off-season has been on trading for Francisco Lindor, the Cubs feature plenty of options for the Blue Jays to flex their financial muscle and make a big, creative splash.

Last winter, the biggest trade that went down was the one that sent Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox were looking to shed a lot of cash so the Dodgers took on half of David Price’s contract, resulting in them having to give up less prospect capital in return.

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When pondering a Lindor deal, the Blue Jays don’t have that same opportunity. Cleveland’s biggest salary commitment right now other than Lindor is Carlos Carrasco who makes $12 million in 2021 and 2022. Coming off a season in which he posted a 2.91 ERA, I doubt Carrasco is the same salary dump albatross that Price was for Boston. But you never know. Cleveland is one of the cheapest organizations out there.

Anyways, back to the Cubs. They have a handful of expensive veterans and three key players set to hit free agency next off-season…

  • Jason Heyward: Three years, $65 million
  • Yu Darvish: Three years, $59 million
  • Kyle Hendricks: Three years, $43.5 million
  • Anthony Rizzo: One year, $16.5 million
  • Craig Kimbrel: One year, $16 million
  • Kris Bryant: Final year of arbitration
  • Javier Baez: Final year of arbitration
  • Kyle Schwarber: Final year of arbitration

The big Price-Esque albatross contract here is Heyward. Though he had a good season in 2020 (slashing a .265/.392/.456 line over 181 plate appearances), he’s never really lived up to the mammoth eight-year deal he signed back in 2015.

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You have to figure that if a team were willing to eat the majority of Heyward’s deal, which has $65 million left on it from 2021 to 2023, they could also get a good player or two in return from the Cubs without having to give up much back.

Would it be worthwhile for the Blue Jays to take on a bunch of Heyward’s contract in order to get, say, Kris Byrant? He could be the third baseman the team covets but he’s also just one year from free agency and, like with Lindor, there’s a significant gamble to acquiring him. You certainly wouldn’t want to be on the hook for Heyward’s contract until 2023 just for one year of Bryant.

The two names on here that make the most sense for the Blue Jays are Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, two top-of-the-rotation starters who are cost-controlled for three seasons.

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Darvish had a great bounce-back season in 2020 and finished second in National League Cy Young voting while Hendricks has consistently been an excellent under-the-radar starter for the Cubs for seven years now. Trevor Bauer is the only pitcher on the open market this winter who’s as good as either Darvish or Hendricks.

If the Cubs were going to move one of these pitchers, Darvish would be the obvious play. He battled injuries in 2018, had a so-so- 2019, and bounced back nicely in the COVID-shortened 2020, so moving him now would be selling high.

The risk with Darvish, though, is the fact he’s 34 years old and has struggled with injuries. It might not be ideal for the Blue Jays to have roughly $40 million annually died up in Darvish and Hyun Jin Ryu, two starters in their mid-30s with some durability concerns.

But if the Cubs are looking to get out from under Darvish’s deal and save themselves some cash, the cost of acquisition might not be that high. If you take on Craic Kimbrel’s contract, which is $16 million for one more year, you might be able to get an ace-calibre starter in Darvish without giving up a top prospect. There’s a risk, but there’s also a major upside there.

To be honest, it’s just nice to talk about something other than Francisco Lindor at this point.