Quantifying Hope: Bubble Cubs Still Undecided at 10% Playoff Odds While Cards Enter Sell Mode

The Cubs have about two weeks to figure out what to do at the deadline, but one of their Central opponents has already waved a white flag. And I’m not talking about the kind with a blue W on it. The Cardinals are at 38-52, putting them 11.5 games behind the Reds as the second half opens and what first looked like a fluke has been revealed as a team that just isn’t very good.

“Right now, I can tell you that we’re going to trade people,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said earlier this week. “I just don’t know if it’s going to be household names or more of guys that just aren’t likely going to be here next year. It’s easy to talk about what we may or may not do at the moment, but we’re not going to just give away players.

“We want to get some value in return. We want to get some return that’s going to help us for 2024, and that’s going to be really our focus as we enter the trading period.”

The Cubs, on the other hand, are listed among Ken Rosenthal’s “Uncertain Six” clubs when it comes to their trade decisions. They will actually play the Cards eight times yet in July, with three against the Nationals and two against the White Sox. Their opening set at Wrigley against the Red Sox and one game on the last day of the month against the Reds will be the Cubs’ only contests prior to the deadline against teams that are above .500 right now.

That’s why those 10% postseason odds don’t factor as heavily as they otherwise would. Well, that and the notion that selling might not be as worthwhile an endeavor as many seem to think. This has become yet another in a long line of dead horses I’ve abused over the years, but the idea that the Cubs have to move Marcus Stroman, Cody Bellinger, and others lest they lose them for “nothing” at the end of the year is a fallacy.

So too is the idea that the Cubs can’t compete in the postseason if they actually manage to pull off an improbable division win. They boast two of the best starters in the National League between Stroman and Justin Steele, then they’ve got a revamped Kyle Hendricks. That trio by no means guarantees a series win, but it’s as good as anything any other NL team can roll out there.

That’s why it makes sense to see what they can do with an upgrade or two at the corners, perhaps by trading for former prospect Jeimer Candelario to play third and/or first. Though not a very sexy acquisition, it would shore up both the lineup and the defense without costing much in terms of prospect capital. It also makes sense to give Matt Mervis another crack at the bigs so they’ve got some more left-handed power on the roster.

And let’s say Jed Hoyer holds onto Stroman, Bellinger, Hendricks, and Drew Smyly beyond the deadline. Two of them can still yield comp picks via qualifying offers, assuming they both opt out, and the other two aren’t necessarily difficult to replace in free agency. Unless the Cubs are blown away by a trade offer that nets them controllable, MLB-ready talent at positions of need, trading players just to trade them isn’t a very sound strategy.

This could all look quite a bit different if everything falls apart right out of the gate in the second half, but the Cubs are still hoping to buy as things sit right now.

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