Chicago Cubs will learn a lot from rivals’ moves at Winter Meetings

Oct 14, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Jed Hoyer, General Manager for the Chicago Cubs, talks with media during workouts the day prior to the start of the NLCS baseball series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs will learn a lot about the teams they’ll square off against in the NL Central this week at baseball’s annual Winter Meetings.

Every fan base across Major League Baseball anxiously awaits the start of the Winter Meetings each year. Most would settle for a coveted free agent signing or trade acquisition as their Christmas gift – and Cubs’ fans are no exception.

Most notably, Chicago will look to bolster a pitching staff losing key pieces such as Jason Hammel, Aroldis Chapman, and Travis Wood. We recently broke down the well-documented to-do list for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer but fans must learn to look outside the organization when watching the hot stove this time of year.

Aiming for their first consecutive National League Central crowns since 2007-2008, the Chicago Cubs’ division mates could be amongst some of the busiest clubs in the game this month.

Here are some potential moves including these teams.

Sep 17, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun (8) is congratulated for hitting a two RBI home run during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Braun gets traded by the Milwaukee Brewers

The rumor mill and the former National League MVP are far from strangers. Yet, here he is, still a member of a rebuilding Brewers organization. The organization already took a flyer on former big leaguer Eric Thames, who raked against KBO pitching the last few years.

In a corresponding move, the Brewers designated the 41-home run bat of Chris Carter for assignment last week.

What does this tell us?

Milwaukee is looking to be more budget-conscious as it continues its rebuild. Carter was a lock for at least $8.1 million through arbitration (per MLBTR) for just one season and instead, Thames received a three-year, $16 million contract.

It’s no secret that Braun is one of the more attractive outfield bats available this winter. His .903 OPS in 135 games last year ranked as his best since 2012, when he finished second in MVP voting. Add in a 30-homer season and you quickly understand the intrigue in the slugger.

Unloading his $20 million salary opens al kinds of possibilities for the Brewers’ front office. Adding more young talent to a promising core is a top priority and with rumors involving the San Francisco Giants swirling, it may not be long before Braun leaves Wisconsin for greener pastures.

Sep 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison (5) crosses home plate to score a run and is greeted by center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

 Pittsburgh Pirates trade a pair of key roster pieces

The thought of Andrew McCutchen playing somewhere besides Pittsburgh once seemed unfathomable. If rumors are to be believed, that day may soon be upon us.

The Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals are both believed to be in on the former MVP. McCutchen is coming off the worst season of his career, which could diminish his value to some.

His OPS fell over 100 points from 2015 to 2016 and the Pirates failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2012. Both McCutchen and Josh Harrison could be on the move, with the former potentially leaving the organization that drafted him back in 2005.

He has hit at least 20 homers in six straight seasons, including a career-high 31 back in 2012. Under team control through 2018 via team option, McCutchen may be a key veteran piece to another big player in the National League.

The Nationals are the clear-cut frontrunners for the franchise cornerstone. For the better part of a week, the two sides discussed “all kinds of angles” to get a deal done. Trea Turner is “off-limits,” but outside of that it appears everything is open to discussion.

Losing Andrew McCutchen puts the Pirates in full-blown rebuild mode and shakes up the division in a big way. This would likely leave the NL Central to the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, a matchup that we’ve all grown to love.

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Cubs finally hook up with Tyson Ross on a deal

Dating back to 2014, the Chicago Cubs have eyed right-hander Tyson Ross with interest. The team even reportedly tried to deal Starlin Castro to San Diego for him at one point.

Last week, the Friars non-tendered Ross due to his recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. He pitched only 5 1/3 innings last season due to injury but, prior to 2016, was an up-and-coming arm in the National League.

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Across 2014 and 2015, he racked up nearly 400 innings’ worth of 3.03 ERA ball, making 64 starts. In that time, he averaged just under 10 strikeouts-per-nine.

At least for 2017, Chicago is set in the “ace” department. The trio of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks remains intact for what could be the last time with the former hitting the market next winter.

Lester, meanwhile, is coming off a 19-win campaign while Hendricks led the league in earned run average. Adding a piece like Ross gives a nice replacement for the departing Hammel and adds an always-needed rotation option.

This won’t be a winter of headline-making moves for Chicago, but one that seeks to add depth. Tyson Ross is the epitome of quality depth.

Nov 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) talks during the World Series victory rally in Grant Park. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Dexter Fowler signs a multi-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals

It’s hard to swallow. It really it is.

The idea of fan-favorite Dexter Fowler signing with a division rival is a bitter pill to swallow. But after inking Jon Jay to a one-year deal, a second reunion tour seems all but impossible. Fowler will likely move on to a new club and St. Louis is a likely landing spot.

He gambled with a one-year deal to return to Chicago for the 2016 campaign. It paid off, as he put together the best season of his career en route to a title. He showcased his improved defense and strong eye at the plate, setting himself up for a big payday.

His OBP flirted with the .400 mark most of the season and he came up big in Game Seven of the Fall Classic, hitting a leadoff home run off Corey Kluber to get the Chicago Cubs’ offense rolling.

And now, he’ll get a big payday.

Fowler’s camp’s demands begin with  a deal with an $18 million AAV – far outside the Cubs’ likely means given their future contract demands.

The top priority in St. Louis, meanwhile, is improving defensively. Metrics have not been particularly kind to Fowler but improved enough last season in Chicago to draw the attention of teams like the Cardinals and Giants. Prepare yourselves, Cubs fans.

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