This MLB trade deadline goes through Chicago — Here’s what that means for the Cubs and White Sox

CHICAGO — Hours before he took the mound against the crosstown Cubs on Wednesday night, Lance Lynn sat in one corner of the Guaranteed Rate Field clubhouse pouring over scouting reports about the hitters he was about to face — just as he had before his 69 previous starts with the White Sox. Nothing seemed different for the 36-year-old right-hander, even as he prepared for what would undoubtedly be the last time he pitched for the South Side club.

But the team’s inevitable breakup was the talk of the room around Lynn, a free-agent-to-be on a club clearly set on offloading veterans ahead of Tuesday’s MLB trade deadline. Players were huddling in small groups, openly wondering who was going, where and when. Lines like “Hey, have you heard where I’m going?” and “Did you see what they got for him?” replaced the usual pregame chatter.

Meanwhile, across the corridor in the visitors clubhouse, the Cubs were doing their best to tune out the same type of trade rumors flying about their own teammates, focused instead on another opportunity to prove to their front office that this team is worth keeping together — even though Fangraphs gives the Cubs an 18.2% chance of making the postseason and just 10.2% of winning the NL Central.

“We want to convince them to be buyers,” Chicago Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer said. “It’s definitely a winnable division. We have the team to do it. Lately, we’ve been playing a lot better. We have to keep it going. It’s something we could have been doing all year. It’s just happening right now. That’s a good thing. We’re excited about this little streak and hope to keep it going.”

By the end of the night, the White Sox were putting their deadline strategy in motion while a few hundred feet away the Cubs celebrated adding another victory to the case for going for it. It was the culmination of a wild 48 hours in Chicago that saw one baseball team meet its predictable fate while another breathed further life into a season of hope.

Here’s where things stand for the White Sox and the Cubs with five days left in a trade season in which two teams in the same city hold more trade chips than just about anyone else in the sport.

The White Sox officially ended their failed rebuild and perhaps started a new one, when the team announced late Wednesday that it was sending veteran starter Lucas Giolito and reliever Reynaldo Lopez to the Los Angeles Angels for prospects Edgar Quero and Ky Bush. There was some symmetry in the moves — both pitchers were acquired together in 2016, a trade that kicked off a rebuild filled with high expectations, followed by a tumultuous past two seasons. Now both move on with just two playoff wins to show for their time in Chicago.

“It’s certainly not where anyone in this organization thought we’d be come the trade deadline but clearly moves like these … are essential,” general manager Rick Hahn said after announcing the move.

It’s bound to be the first of many for the fourth-place White Sox, who have collapsed two years after winning the AL Central by 13 games.

“It’s a challenging week,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “You have to take your mind off that and play baseball.”

The difficulty of tuning out the noise — particularly for a team 21 games under .500 — was evident when Lynn gave up seven earned runs in 4⅔ innings during his deadline audition, an outing that might have scared off some potential suitors.

While Lynn and Giolito are the most well-known pitchers scouts were in town to see, they weren’t the only ones. The Yankees, Rays and Marlins were among the teams in attendance to watch relievers Joe Kelly and Kendall Graveman. Kelly is a free agent at season’s end while Graveman has another year left on his deal paying $8 million in 2024.

The Marlins are also keeping an eye on Tim Anderson, whom the White Sox might move. The shortstop has posted a .378 batting average since the All-Star break, making potential trade partners more likely to look past his paltry .245/.285/.285 season-long slash line.

“Just feeling more like myself,” Anderson said of his resurgence. “Just trying to get back to what I normally do.”

Anderson’s ability to shoot the ball to right field and the right center gap has returned, making him an interesting trade candidate for a team that needs a shortstop or second baseman. He played the latter position during the WBC and at least one contending team, the Seattle Mariners, has a huge offensive hole at that position. Asked if he knows what went wrong for the underachieving White Sox, Anderson shook his head.

“I don’t. I wish I did. That’s a crazy question,” Anderson said. “It’s life. Things happen. I try not to think about it. … I control what I can control. Whatever happens is going to happen anyway.”

Just two weeks ago, the Cubs were 42-48 and seemed destined to be joining the White Sox with an everything-must-go approach to the deadline, setting up Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger to be two of the most coveted players available this summer. But winning seven of their past eight games means the Cubs’ decision on what direction to take will now come at the “eleventh hour,” according to one team source.

“It’s fun for you guys to write about and it’s fun for us to make their job challenging,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said after Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the White Sox. “We’ve been playing well recently. It’s fun to be part of a collective group that believes in one another and is willing to lay it out there each and every night.”

With no major moves likely to come before the end of the weekend, the Cubs have a chance to inch closer to first place with a four-game series against the struggling St. Louis Cardinals that they started with a 10-3 win. The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds are on the road against the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.

With Bellinger’s trade status potentially hanging in the balance, it’s safe to say front office executives will have their eyes glued to the NL Central standings.

Now that the Angels have announced they are keeping Shohei Ohtani, Bellinger is clearly the best position player with a chance to move in the next week. Several teams are watching him closely, including the Yankees, and his value has never been higher. He has a 1.176 OPS since the All-Star break and is looking more like the 2019 NL MVP than the player the Dodgers non-tendered this offseason. The Cubs front office now has to juggle his potential impact for the rest of this season with the reality that they will get nothing more than draft pick compensation if he leaves via free agency.

The other Cubs star who has drawn the most trade buzz is Stroman, the starting pitcher who can opt out of his deal and walk away for nothing at season’s end. Unlike the surging Bellinger, Stroman’s stock is headed in the wrong direction going into the deadline. While his first 16 starts produced a 2.28 ERA, his past six since facing the Cardinals in London — including a poor one in front of scouts from several contenders on Wednesday — have an 8.00 ERA attached because of a tendency to leave pitches up in the zone.

“Ever since London, I’ve been off mechanically,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “More so with my slider. My rhythm and consistency with my slider is off.”

Stroman then waved off talk about the trade deadline, choosing to focus on his own game and his team’s recent surge.

“I keep a lot of it in the back of my mind,” he said. “I love the group of guys. I know what we’re capable of when we’re hot.”

The Cubs’ decision is compounded by the competitive balance tax. The team is about $5 million under the first threshold and it’s not likely they’ll be willing to exceed it by adding salary, particularly when the playoffs are still a long shot, according to a source familiar with their situation. A scenario where Stroman is moved to clear up some dollars — and Bellinger is retained — is a real possibility. Then the Cubs could go into the trade market for a reliever with less worry about the tax.

“If it means trading the entire team to win a World Series sooner, that’s the job that’s at hand,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I want to win a World Series. That’s what we’re all pushing for. The more we keep the good players, the closer to doing it [we’ll be].”

The Cubs believe they played two of their best games of the season against the White Sox. They hit six home runs and stole nine bases, their most in a two-game span in 30 years. Barring a collapse this weekend, the players hope it will be enough for the front office to add instead of subtract before Tuesday’s deadline.

“You see where the potential is. When we do everything right, we have a really good chance of winning every night,” Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. “We know we have everything we need in this clubhouse. We can’t wait to put it all together and go on a run no matter what.”

With five games left to play before the deadline arrives, the Cubs are treating each one like a must-win matchup. On the other side of town, the only intrigue in the coming days will be seeing how many veterans the White Sox ultimately trade away.

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