The Rundown: Latest on Verlander, Second-Half Improvements Mimic Trades, Schwarber’s Monster Night

Much to my chagrin, it’s looking more and more like Justin Verlander will not be joining the Cubs. In fact, we’re now hearing that he probably won’t be moved at all. The Score’s Bruce Levine tweeted Thursday that the Cubs and Tigers were at odds in terms of the prospect return for the costly veteran and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said that the team has already made its big move and that subsequent trades would be “smaller in stature.”

Then we got the following information from a Ken Rosenthal Facebook post:

If a deal happens – and the odds remain heavily against it – the framework would need to be agreed upon well before the deadline.

Verlander, as a player with 10 years of service, five consecutive with the same club, would need to approve any deal, and the commissioner’s office would need to approve any cash exchange of more than $1 million, which would be likely occur in this case.

One person with knowledge of the Tigers’ thinking said there is a “low probability” that Verlander will be moved.

So there you go, could be the end of my incessant rumor-mongering. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. We may still get some more traction out of this yet, as Verlander’s scheduled to start Sunday, the last day before the deadline.

High five

We’re only 13 games into the second half of the season, but the Cubs have already made up seven games on the Brewers and now have a 1 1/2 game lead in the division. Theo Epstein said coming out of the break that the way the Cubs played would determine their trade strategy and how active they’d be in adding pieces.

“If we can get hot and start to play the way that we know that we’re capable of, that probably puts us in a little more aggressive posture trying to maximize all 25 spots on the roster,” Epstein said. “Maybe try to do some things just for this year.”

But the Cubs’ baseball boss had also laid out the team’s issues heading into the break, namely that they weren’t playing up to their potential.

“We might make a trade, we might make three huge trades, we might make no trades, we might make two small trades. We don’t know. You have no idea what the marketplace is going to be. But the answer to what ails the 2017 Cubs, why we haven’t played well, has nothing to do with what we’re going to go do in trades.”

Over the last couple weeks, the Cubs have indeed turned it around and have put themselves in a position to be quite aggressive to capitalize that strategy Epstein laid out. Or have they? Starting pitching has been key to the surge, thereby eliminating the strongest impetus to make a move there. The bullpen could use an upgrade, so we may see that soon.

But my focus for now is on five hitters whose performances have been integral to the improved play. Looking at the night-and-day performances of these players, it’s almost as though the Cubs have added a group of players to the roster without having to give up anything in the way of prospects or money. Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, Javy Baez (even with that platinum sombrero), Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward have all made huge leaps in production.
The streaks some of these guys are riding may not last through the next 62 games or whatever, but it’s reasonable to assume they’ll continue to play better than they had early on.

Kyle Schwarber shows out

When it comes to players whose improved performance could mean a great deal to the Cubs’ chances, none ranks higher than Kyle Joseph Schwarber. Last night’s mammoth game, in which he picked up 11 total bases on two long homers and a triple, was the highlight of his season so far, but Schwarber has been great since coming back from a short stint in AAA.

A look at the peripherals doesn’t reveal much in what Schwarber’s doing differently, though we’ve discussed changes in his stance that could be helping him. The slugger is also being a little more aggressive at the plate and really ambushing his pitches. As such, his hard-hit and line-drive percentages are up and his outlook is a little sunnier than it was in late June.

And far be it for me to argue with folks who are much smarter than me or who are still using a couple plays in the 2015 NLCS — or the play on which he was injured, which, c’mon — to define him, but Schwarber isn’t the defensive butcher people make him out to be. I really believe that with consistent playing time, he can become a solid defensive left fielder. If he keeps hitting like he has in July, he can play wherever the heck he wants.

More news and notes

  • The sagging Brewers may be looking at Curtis Granderson to help them out
  • The Nationals have scouted the Cards’ Tommy Pham and Trevor Rosenthal
  • The A’s are asking for either Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres from the Yankees for Sonny Gray
    • Mariners, Royals, Dodgers, and Astros are among the other teams to ask after Gray
    • The Yankees could pursue Yu Darvish or Lance Lynn
  • The Rangers have told teams that they will deal Darvish
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