The Chicago Cubs reportedly asked Bryce Harper to delay his free agency decision so that they could have time to clear cap space. Who can the Cubs unload?
Much to fans’ chagrin, the Chicago Cubs have yet to make any big moves this offseason. Many Cubs supporters are disappointed by the lack of any recent reports linking the Cubs and Bryce Harper — until yesterday.
New information surfaced on Monday about the Cubs’ meeting with Harper at this year’s Winter Meetings, per Gordon Wittmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times:
"“Sources say Epstein urged [Harper and agent Scott Boras] to wait before accepting an offer from another team until the Cubs had a chance to try to move some payroll off the books and check again with ownership.”"
This report means that the Cubs cannot yet be counted out of the Harper sweepstakes, provided they can craft a trade that would clear some significant cap space. A Harper contract could feasibly replace two contracts on the Cubs’ payroll — Yu Darvish and Jason Heyward.
Of the two, Heyward is much more marketable. With many questions surrounding the health of Darvish, I would be shocked if any teams are willing to trade for him, especially with his price tag. In addition, Heyward and Harper both prefer to play right field, so moving Heyward in favor of Harper would allow Harper to have his favored position all to himself.
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As good as Heyward is in the field and in the locker room, he has failed to have a significant impact at the plate with the Cubs. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that Heyward is the highest paid position player on the Cubs — he is slated to make $10 million more than any other Cubs position player in 2019.
Recent trade rumor reports have indicated that the San Francisco Giants are interested in Heyward. These same rumors popped up last offseason, but quickly died due to difficulty caused by the full no-trade clause in Heyward’s contract.
However, this time may be different. Heyward’s full no-trade clause ended in November, leaving him with a no-trade clause against only 13 teams in the league. Unfortunately, only the Cubs and Heyward know that list of teams, but if the Giants are not on that list, the Cubs may have a potential trade partner for him.
There is no denying that the NL Central will be tougher next season. The Milwaukee Brewers will likely be as good, if not better. The St. Louis Cardinals just improved by adding Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller. Even the Cincinnati Reds could put together a respectable season after trading for Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood. If the Cubs can find a way to unload Heyward’s contract in favor of Harper, their chances of winning a tough division next season become much better.