MLB Trade Rumors: Willson Contreras still No. 1 in Cubs Power Rankings

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Contreras, Stroman remain 1-2 in Cubs Trade Chip Power Rankings originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Cubs’ sweep of the Phillies over the weekend served as a bittersweet start to the second half that was one part hope, one part what-might-have-been and about three parts a showcase a trade pieces.

All-Star trade chip Willson Contreras got a blowout win started in the opener with a 14th home run of the season and reached base six times in the two games he played; while free agent rookie Seiya Suzuki extended his hitting streak to eight games with a four-hit performance in the opener.

Young homegrown left-hander Justin Steele and veteran starters Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly each had promising starts — Stroman and Smyly their best since recent injured-list stints ahead of trade talks that might yet involve both.

Rookies Nelson Velazquez and Chris Morel continued to shine in their different roles, while Nico Hoerner was a power/speed game-changer in Saturday’s extra-inning victory. And veteran David Robertson closed out two of the victories with the kind of performances that emphasized his position as one of the best back-end bullpen arms on the trade market — with veteran trade piece Mychal Givens adding an impressive outing Saturday.

Along the way, the Cubs even got a reminder of glory days, with former Cubs core player Kyle Schwarber leading off the first inning of Game 1 for the Phillies with his 30th home, and one-time edgy Cubs outfielder Nick Castellanos getting chippy with NBC’s Phillies insider Jim Salisbury Saturday night — then chatting amicably with NBC’s Peacock broadcast booth while mic’d up early in Sunday’s game.

And then there were six.

Six games left until the Aug. 2 deadline on a Tuesday afternoon before the Cubs open a three-game series against the Cardinals in St. Louis.

And at least six players who figure to be heavily involved in trade scenarios the Cubs discuss and consider between now and then.

This week’s Trade Chip Power Rankings:

1. Willson Contreras (last week: 1) — The three-time All-Star starter remains one of the top hitters on the market — perhaps the top hitter if Juan Soto turns out to be the cost-prohibitive fantasy target he already seems to be based on the Nationals’ reported asking price for the 23-year-old superstar. Consequently, he's also the first Cubs to earn back-to-back No. 1 rankings in 10 weeks of polling.

Why the Cubs’ don’t seem willing to try to extend their top-performing hitter this season — a strong performer at a marquee position whose numbers and value rose with the addition this year of the universal DH — remains one of life’s great my$terie$.

Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto suggested to the Tribune’s Meghan Montemurro over the weekend that when Contreras becomes a free agent after the season he “can improve on [the] bar” that Realmuto set when Realmuto signed a five-year, $115.5 million deal with the Phillies ahead of last season (the $23.1 million average value a record for catchers).

“I’m interested to see how he finishes the year and where he goes next year,” Realmuto told Montemurro.

Not to mention where he goes in the next week.

2. Marcus Stroman (last week: 2) — Stroman remains the Cubs’ top pitching trade chip after just three starts back from a shoulder issue that sidelined him for more than a month — which has more to do with relative scarcity of top-notch starting pitching on the market than any urgent desire by the Cubs to move him.

Once the Reds’ Luis Castillo and maybe the A’s Frankie Montas (one start back from a shoulder injury) are out of play for most of the expanded field of buyers, Stroman could become the top focus in the market.

That makes his newfound health and return to All-Star form especially enticing to starter-needy buyers, even at a $23-million-per-year price on a contract that runs through 2024 (with an opt-out clause after next season).

Stroman pitched an efficient, six scoreless innings before a couple hits in the seventh produced the lone run against him Saturday — just the second he’s allowed in 14 1/3 innings since the IL stint (1.26 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 0.907 WHIP in those three starts).

3. Drew Smyly (last week: NR) — What’s that we were saying about a weak starting pitcher market? Smyly is back from an oblique injury and performing well again just in time to return to the Power Rankings for the first time since May 31.

Smyly, a classic sign-and-flip free agent who was the Cubs’ most consistent starter the first two months of the season, has put together two increasingly good starts since a rough one against the Dodgers in his first start back from the six-week injury.

He competed into the fifth inning despite not having his best stuff against the Mets to give up only one earned run, then Sunday retired the first 14 batters of the game against the Phillies, eventually allowing one earned run in six innings — lowering his season ERA back under 4.00 (3.93) in 12 starts.

4. Ian Happ (last week: 3) — Happ, who has a year left of club control after his first All-Star season this year, remains one of the Cubs’ most intriguing trade chips as a 27-year-old veteran with a career-high level of trade value — but also a high-performing switch-hitter with potential long-term value if the club were to be willing to commit to a fair-market extension.

5. David Robertson (last week: 4) — Robertson has his ERA down to 1.83 after another pair of scoreless appearances out of the break that produced his third win and 14th save over the weekend.

His 35 games are almost double what he had the last three years combined as he fought back from elbow issues and eventually Tommy John surgery — his performance level better than it has been since at least 2017.

Dropped out: Mychal Givens.

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