Wittenmyer: The trading-places deal Cubs and White Sox can't refuse

Wittenmyer: A trading-places deal Cubs, Sox can't refuse originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAS VEGAS — After getting peppered with questions the other day at the GM meetings about several Cubs and ex-Cubs who might make nice offseason targets for his club, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn seemed almost perplexed when the questions subsided.

“Wanna talk about the Cease and Eloy trade?”

Very funny.

Touché.

No, we’ve got a better trade than that — more a trading of places really — that would be the highlight of Chicago baseball’s winter for its pair of flawed and frustrating teams if the teams had dough and stones to do it.

Think of it as Anthony Rizzo for José Abreu.

Rizzo, the ex-face-of-the-Cubs, just opted out of his Yankees contract to become a free agent — perhaps the top left-handed slugger on the market.

“I’m pro left-handed slug,” said Hahn, whose lineup would tip over on its right side if it were a car full of clowns.

Pro Rizzo? Not that Hahn will say, but hold that thought.

The other side of the ex-Cub/ex-Sox swap of first basemen is not only an obviously plausible fit, but sources say the Cubs plan to explore a potential short-term deal for Abreu, the Sox free agent who turns 36 in January — though not with the breathless sense of urgency and priority that some reports have suggested.

“Certainly on all sorts of deals, we’ll be looking to find power to supplement our lineup,” Hoyer said.

Preference for lefty or righty?

“We’d like to get more left-handed but the strength of this market is probably more right-handed,” Hoyer said.

Like Abreu?

“Not going to comment on any players individually,” Hoyer said with a smile.

He doesn’t have to. The need and the fit say enough to make it intriguing even without knowing  the well respected veteran and clubhouse presence is actually in their sights.

Cubs manager David Ross spoke more than once in the waning weeks of the season about the “big hole” the Cubs have at first base.

And even with all the tantalizing success lefty-slugging prospect Matt Mervis has had during a breakout 2022 that included an Arizona Fall League All-Star MVP award over the weekend, the Cubs don’t plan to hand him a full-time big-league job based on a season that started at high-A ball.

“Certainly, he’s a big part of our future. We know he’s going to get a lot of plate appearances with us, a lot of playing time,” Hoyer said of Mervis’ possible role next season — which might include sharing the job if he earns a promotion.

“We’re also still going to be in the market for bats.”

What they won’t be in the market for is a long-term commitment to a free agent at that position.

That could make a two-year deal for the 2020 MVP (two plus an option?) the kind of win-win signing that makes the clubhouse stronger and adds a guy with five 30-homer seasons to a lineup that could use at least an aging version of such qualities.

Whether the Sox could answer such a signing with their own trading-places move might be a tougher needle to thread.

For one thing, Hahn said he expects to do most of his significant additions this year via trades instead of free agency.

He also has an heir apparent to the departing Abreu at first in young Andrew Vaughn, who spent most of his time as a miscast outfielder his first two seasons in the majors with Abreu taking up the bulk of playing time at first.

“Vaughn’s a first baseman. That’s how he was drafted,” Hahn said. “It doesn’t mean he’s going to be our first baseman next year, not necessarily.”

Perhaps especially because of how much Hahn likes left-handed slug?

“I’m in favor of it,” he said.

Just not enough to sign Kyle Schwarber a year ago after refusing to talk about that ex-Cub at those GM meetings.

Could a Rizzo signing fit this time around?

“Still not talking about any Cubs,” Hahn said.

OK, cool.

Unless Hahn’s serious and willing to act aggressively it might not matter anyway.

Because when it comes to Rizzo, “He’s someone we’d like to retain,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said.

Which might wind up being the final word on Hahn’s chances to bring Rizzo back to Chicago.

“Any other Cubs questions I can answer for you?” Hahn said.

Now that you mention it, how’s your catching look?

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