Cubs Trade Rumors: Talks with Tigers Continue, Brewers ‘Desperate’

I’m going to tackle the titular topics in reverse order, since the latter will set up a little context for the former. We learned this weekend that the Brewers might be interested in acquiring Ian Kinsler, though their appetite for such a move hinges on the health of current second baseman Eric Sogard.

Milwaukee had been looking like the Cubs circa 2015, what with their premature — at least according to expectations — competitiveness coming out of a rebuild. But their quick start and subsequent struggles have put them in a bit of a pickle when it comes to the deadline. Do they stay the course and hold onto their young talent or part with some prospects to land vets who could propel a stretch run?

After two wins to open the second half, the Brewers have dropped seven of eight (and almost gave away a huge lead in that lone recent win) and have seen their 5 1/2 game lead disappear. As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports, that skid may prompt them to make a move.

“The Brewers, who are trying desperately to turn things around, are actively exploring both starter and relief options,” Crasnick wrote. “As ESPN’s Buster Olney reported, they’ve also talked to Detroit about second baseman Ian Kinsler. But this appears to be more a case of Detroit trying to link Kinsler with reliever Justin Wilson and move a veteran salary [emphasis mine]. The Brewers would love to have Kinsler, but pitching is their main priority at the moment. Kinsler has a $10 million club option for 2018 with a $5 million buyout. If the Brewers were to assume that financial obligation, it could lessen the player package Detroit receives for Wilson.”

While Crasnick later issued a mea culpa on the whole “desperate” part, he did reaffirm that the Brewers are trying hard to make a deal while balancing both the present and future. Makes sense. The Cubs are doing the same, though they’ve undoubtedly got more reason to focus on the present given the roster they’ve got in place. That means shoring up weak spots like their backup catcher and perhaps the rotation or bullpen.

As has been the case for the last few weeks, the Tigers continue to be mentioned as a possible trade partner.

So here’s where things get a little interesting, particularly in light of Crasnick’s comments about the Tigers’ strategy with Kinsler. We’ve talked here about how the Cubs could really use Alex Avila, a rental who would only cost them a mid-level prospect, to spell the white-hot Willson Contreras and provide a solid presence in the clubhouse.

We’ve also discussed how the Cubs could absorb Justin Verlander’s contract, which would cost them less than they’re paying Jake Arrieta and John Lackey right now (I know, it’s not a perfect comp by any stretch) and would expire before they need to extend their young bats. But we haven’t really looked at the idea that Detroit could be using Avila to bait the hook for a Verlander salary dump.

Could Tigers GM Al Avila (yes, Alex’s father) be trying to package the two in an attempt to get the Cubs to take on most or all of Verlander’s salary? There have not been any indications of that in any of the reports I’ve seen, but it makes sense based on the other information we’re privy to. Then again, such a deal would likely net Detroit very little in terms of additional prospect return.

The Cubs have checked on Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish as well, but the cost and/or uncertainty of those two probably put them out of serious consideration. Though his numbers are down, Verlander’s status as a known commodity with two years of control and a relatively low trade cost might make the most sense.

And if you take out his seven-run implosion on July 2, Verlander has a 3.25 ERA over his last nine starts. Going another step further, removing the veteran’s two best and two worst starts gives him a 4.05 ERA for the season. Not great, but nearly half a run better than his actual mark. It also cuts out five of the 14 home runs he’s allowed, putting him at pretty respectable 0.85 HR/9.

I don’t necessarily want to turn this into a full-on argument in favor of acquiring Verlander (who Morosi reports is also drawing interest from the Dodgers), but something tells me there’s a good reason his name keeps coming up. Like, if this was just a matter of swapping a mid-level prospect for Avila, you’d think they’d have buttoned that up already. It’s a simple move that requires no significant roster shuffling. But trying to work out a deal that sends Verlander and his salary to Chicago could be holding things up.

Then again, that might just be the trade-season fever getting the better of me.

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