The Chicago Cubs could make a “sudden plunge into the market” at any moment. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has already signed Shōta Imanaga for the starting rotation. While many rumors and reports have tied Chicago and free-agent slugger Cody Bellinger together, the Cubs are also looking to upgrade their bullpen.
Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported on January 16 that the bullpen is an “area of focus” for the club. He also mentioned Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase as a potential trade target. When ranking the 10 best landing spots for him, Bleacher Report’s Zachary D. Rymer put the Cubs at the top of the list.
His hypothetical trade proposal included Chicago getting Clase from the Guardians in exchange for infielder/outfielder Christopher Morel and outfield prospect Owen Cassie.
At the moment, Adbert Alzolay is the Cubs’ projected closer for 2024, per FanGraphs. He finished 38 games and registered 22 saves for Chicago in 2023, which included a 2.67 ERA in 64 innings pitched. Clase did see his ERA jump nearly two full runs to 3.22 while blowing 12 save opportunities in ’23. However, he’s been among baseball’s more effective closers since 2021. He’s led MLB in saves each of the past two years (42 in 2022 and 44 in 2023).
Would the Cubs Part Ways With Christopher Morel?
According to MLB.com, Cassie is the Cubs’ fourth-best prospect. And while his estimated time of arrival in the big leagues is 2024, the highest level of play he’s experienced so far is Double-A. He posted a .918 OPS with 22 home runs and 84 RBI in 120 games played for the Tennessee Smokies in 2023.
It’s unlikely that the Cubs are counting on Cassie to be a significant contributor at the big-league level in 2024. The same can’t be said for Morel. He’s played in 100-plus games for Chicago each of the past two seasons and slugged 26 homers with 70 RBI and a .821 OPS in ’23.
Some trade rumors have popped up regarding Morel throughout the winter. Hoyer squashed them during an appearance at CubsCon on January 13 by saying they have “zero basis in truth.” Would that tune change if it meant having a chance at upgrading the bullpen with Clase?
It probably depends on multiple factors. Some of which include what happens with Bellinger and the rest of the free-agent hitters who are currently available.
Assessing the Chances of Clase Getting Dealt
The likelihood of the Cubs trading away Morel seems low. But how likely are the Guardians to deal their All-Star closer?
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Cleveland’s openness to such a possibility on December 1. Clase is in the middle of a five-year, $20 million contract and is owed a total of $13 million between 2024 and 2026. Then, there are two club options in 2027 and 2028 for $10 million each. So, the Guardians can afford him and would likely need to be overly impressed with an offer to green-light any potential deal.
Shane Bieber is another Cleveland pitcher who has been rumored to be on the trade block this winter. Nothing has materialized and it seems like the Guardians will hold onto Bieber for the time being. At least, that’s what an American League executive told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand on January 17.
It could be a mix of not getting the kind of deal they were looking for and the American League Central division still being up for grabs. According to FanGraphs’ depth-chart projections, Cleveland’s 37.2 WAR is the second-highest among AL Central teams. The Minnesota Twins are first at 41.9.
If the Guardians are holding onto their ace, it only makes sense to hold onto their closer, too. All in all, a trade involving Clase seems unlikely, especially this hypothetical deal with the Cubs that Rymer cooked up. However, there are still lots of Hot Stove moves to be made before Opening Day. So, only time will tell if any scenario involving the hurler gets serious.
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