As All-Star break ends, trade watch begins for Cubs

Who will be the first to go as the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches?

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Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer is gearing up for his second trade deadline at the helm.

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer is gearing up for his second trade deadline at the helm.

Jon Durr/Getty Images

A less experienced Chris Martin would have been pondering his fate as the calendar hurtled toward the trade deadline.

‘‘I’ve been in this situation before,’’ Martin, a Cubs reliever, told the Sun-Times. ‘‘I’ve been in clubhouses before when guys have been traded. I’ve been around it a bunch, so, no, at this point I’m not thinking about it.’’

The Cubs have been around it, too — just last year, in fact. And the dramatic trade-deadline sell-off began coming out of the All-Star break. Outfielder Joc Pederson was the first to go, and the Cubs eventually traded away a third of their Opening Day roster.

This time will be different because there aren’t as many players from the 2016 World Series championship team to deal. Still, Cubs fans might have to cope with beloved homegrown catcher Willson Contreras being traded.

The Cubs also have more pieces for the future in place. They signed outfielder Seiya Suzuki to a five-year, $85 million contract to be a centerpiece. They gave right-hander Marcus Stroman a 2024 player option, a contract structure not built for a future trade. And young players such as Christopher Morel have emerged this season as potential core members to build around.

But the trade deadline still is poised to deliver a blow to the 35-57 Cubs, who entered the All-Star break with only one more victory than the Reds, who sit in last place in the National League Central.

The Cubs’ bullpen is ready for a shakeup. The team has leaned heavily on its relievers because its rotation has gone through bouts of inconsistency and injury. The bullpen led the National League in innings pitched (395⅔) before the All-Star break.

Now think of the value veteran relievers David Robertson (1.93 ERA, 13 saves), Mychal Givens (2.92 ERA) and Martin (4.34 ERA, 8.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio) might add to a team vying for a playoff spot.

The offense is expected to undergo changes, too. In addition to Contreras, a player such as outfielder Rafael Ortega — who has hit .262 since late May in a crowded outfield — might be a trade candidate.

If the Cubs trade outfielder Ian Happ, who joined Contreras as an All-Star this season, he already has taken lessons from the 2021 trade deadline.

‘‘As tough as it was to lose friends, those guys are all playing baseball and doing really well,’’ Happ said during All-Star festivities this week. ‘‘Joc is an All-Star, [Anthony] Rizzo has [22] homers before the break, Kris [Bryant] is happy where he is, Javy [Baez] is happy where he is. Guys end up being OK and playing baseball and still having a great time.’’

Looking for a silver lining for the Cubs’ second half? The rotation, at least, is in a position to improve.

Injuries have hurt the trade value of left-hander Wade Miley (strained left shoulder) and right-hander Kyle Hendricks (strained right shoulder), neither of whom is expected to return from the injured list before the deadline. And left-hander Drew Smyly (strained right oblique), whom the Cubs reinstated in time for one start leading into the All-Star break, also missed significant time.

In the meantime, young starters Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele made strides in their development. So when the rotation returns to health, it’ll have depth and the potential to carry the team.

The next week and a half will determine what that team will look like.

Martin said he’s ‘‘not too worried about it.’’ When the Rangers traded him to the Braves in the middle of the 2019 season, he had fretted leading up to the deadline. As he put it, he ‘‘tried to do too much.’’ Now, he says, experience is ‘‘the biggest thing.’’

Heading into the deadline as sellers? The Cubs have recent experience with that.

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