Cubs' potential trade candidates focus on game, win

June 27th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- When Chicago opens its next homestand Tuesday, the countdown to this year's Trade Deadline will reach five weeks. Behind the scenes, manager David Ross is stressing the importance of focusing on the day at hand, not the one more than a month away.

"Until it happens," Ross said, "I'm just worried about supporting the guys, having conversations about how we win that day. There's so much more that I'm working through on a daily basis that that doesn't really have time to enter."

On Sunday afternoon, the Cubs scored six unanswered runs, erasing an early deficit to pull off a 6-5 win in 10 innings at Busch Stadium. Willson Contreras, who will continue to be the focal point of trade rumors as he closes in on a third All-Star nod, delivered the go-ahead hit in the final frame.

Contreras was one of a few trade chips who helped deliver Sunday's victory and a series win in St. Louis. As teams monitor Chicago's roster in the coming weeks, here is a look at what they could dangle on the open market:

1. An All-Star caliber catcher
Contreras headed into this season with an unsettled arbitration case, stalled extension talks and the reality that he could be dealt by the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline. The catcher has not let those potential distractions disrupt his attitude or production on the field.

"Willson's been in a really good place, I think, just mentally," Ross said. "He's been the same guy every single day. I almost think he's probably even more relaxed this year than I've seen him."

Contreras watched last summer as Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo navigated through a similar situation prior to being traded. The catcher has taken what he learned from that experience and applied it this season, doing all he can to avoid letting "outside noise" break his focus.

Contreras delivered a two-run single in the fourth to cap off a game-tying five-run rally Sunday.

He then connected for an opposite-field hit to right to put the Cubs ahead for good in the 10th. That two-hit showing provided a high note after he went 2-for-21 ("I'm human," he said) earlier on the road trip, and boosted his season slash line to .268/.383/.494 in 64 games.

"I know that those type of things are right there," Contreras said of the trade rumors. "But I'm not letting them bother me. I'm trying to be the same person every single day for my teammates and do the best job I can to help this team to win."

2. A group of veteran bullpen arms
A year ago, Chicago had a dominant bullpen trio in Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel. All three were dealt away at the Trade Deadline. The Cubs might follow a similar script this season, too.

Chicago used short-term contracts to reel in veterans David Robertson (one-year, $3.5 million plus bonuses), Mychal Givens (one-year, $5 million plus bonuses and a ’23 mutual option) and Chris Martin (one-year, $2.5 million plus bonuses). All three arms could be targets for contending clubs when the Trade Deadline arrives.

"I don't worry about that. I'm here to play baseball," Robertson said recently. "I'm here to pitch and try to get outs. If they ever make that decision, that's their decision. I'm just with these guys in the clubhouse and we're going to try to continue to play hard and win games."

In Sunday's win, Robertson lowered his season ERA to 1.86 through 26 outings with 1 1/3 innings to finish the game. Givens (3.81 ERA with a 29.6 percent strikeout rate) and Martin (4.03 ERA with a 21.5 strikeout-minus-walk percentage) combined for 2 2/3 innings in the win.

3. A sneaky-good platoon outfielder
The Trade Deadline moves a year ago paved the way for outfielder Rafael Ortega to get an extended look in the Majors. The lefty-swinging Ortega responded by posting a .900 OPS against right-handed pitching.

Ortega, 31, has repeatedly thanked the Cubs for "taking a chance" on him. Now, he knows other teams around baseball might be considering him as a complementary piece to an outfield and offensive puzzle.

“I've said it before as well, I don't just play for my team," Ortega said via team translator Will Nadal. "I also play for the other [29] teams that are here that are looking. They might have scouts, people observing."

On Saturday, Ortega launched a game-tying homer in the eighth against the Cardinals. In Sunday's win, he came through with a two-run double in Chicago's five-run fourth.

Going into Sunday, he was hitting .329/.414/.471 since May 20 and had an .861 OPS and 142 wRC+ (42 percent above MLB average) against righties since May 20.

"If another team might be interested in me, it would be an honor for me," Ortega said. "It would be something that I would be excited about, but I'm just taking care of my business, controlling things that I can day in and day out."