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With Hot Stove season in full tilt, when will Cubs join the fray?

LAS VEGAS — We’re running down all the latest rumors and news from around Major League Baseball as it pertains to the Cubs during Day 1 of the Winter Meetings.

**Is Tom Ricketts the mystery owner??

The Bryce Harper Sweepstakes are down to only three teams if you believe this report, but it’s also possible the Cubs are still in the mix as the ever-popular “mystery team.” 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine reported Monday about “rumblings” the Ricketts signed off on a potential big move this winter. 

The Cubs are still playing things close to the vest this winter with how much budget they really have at their disposal.

“It doesn’t do us any good to ever talk about specifics with money,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Monday. “It just doesn’t help. Ultimately for us, we try to keep those numbers internal as the most important thing.”

**Count the Cardinals out on Harper

Big, if true. REAL big for Cubs fans, who should be jumping for joy that the Cardinals may be out on Harper. They just acquired Paul Goldschmidt and had the budget available last winter to take on Giancarlo Stanton’s contract, so they could’ve potentially added Harper this winter even after last week’s big trade (Goldschmidt is also on a serious bargain, making only $14.5 million in 2019). 

**The Phillies are apparently more interested in Manny Machado than Bryce Harper at the moment:

It’s an interesting thought, as the Phillies just acquired shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with the Seattle Mariners last week and they have Maikel Franco at third base. Franco isn’t a guy that would block Machado, of course, and Segura could move to second base if Machado insists on playing shortstop, but Philly seems to have more of a need for an outfielder. 

As of right now, the Phillies are heading into 2019 with only Odubel Herrera truly locked into an outfield spot and Harper would seem like a perfect fit given the team’s familiarity with playing against him in the NL East for all these years and Harper’s left-handed bat seemingly would play better in Gabe Kapler’s lineup with the Phillies’ current core pieces all right-handed (Segura, Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery). 

Still, it’s good news for Cubs fans if the Phillies are focused on Machado over Harper given Philadelphia is the team most able to drive up the price for Harper this winter.

**Billy Hamilton won’t be terrorizing the Cubs anymore:

There were times over the last few years where it seemed more like the Cubs were facing Billy Williams than Billy Hamilton when they squared off against the Cincinnati Reds. Case in point: Hamilton hit only 3 homers in 2016, but 2 of those came off Cubs pitching. So when the  Reds non-tendered the speedy outfielder last month, it was good news for the Cubs assuming he didn’t sign with another team in the division.

That’s official now, as Hamilton will be patrolling the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the Cubs will not have to face him 18-19 times a season anymore. Hamilton posted a career .743 OPS and .350 on-base percentage against the Cubs over the years, numbers way above his career marks (.631 OPS, .298 OBP). 

**Shifting is a hot topic this winter:

The league is reportedly looking to reduce extreme infield shifting where left-handed hitters come up to the plate with three guys on the right side of the infield, including a defender in shallow right field. The Athletic’s Jayson Stark explained how the idea to kill shifting is picking up steam and how it would all work in an article last week.

While any rules or limitations on shifting will ultimately result in more basehits, teams will still find loopholes and ways around any idea of being forced to keep two defenders on either side of second base, as Kapler mentioned. A defender in motion as the ball is being pitched isn’t ideal of course, as it would make things difficult for that guy to field line drives or any ball to his right, but it could still take away a lot of potential groundball basehits off the bat of lefties. 

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next month or so, but surely it seems as if some limitations on shifting will be coming down shortly — which is good for the Cubs in that they shift far less than other teams (28th in MLB while Brewers shifted the 8th-most) and hitters like Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward may add a few more singles to their resumes in 2019 and moving forward.

**Cubs have reportedly checked in with Adam Ottavino

This makes a ton of sense from a Cubs perspective to at least meet with Ottavino’s camp. The Cubs have a clear need for impact relievers and Ottavino is one of the best on the market.

Ottavino, 33, is a free agent and coming off a season in which he put up a 2.43 ERA and 0.99 WHIP while striking out a whopping 112 batters in 77.2 innings with the Rockies. But he’s getting up there in age and has a sketchy history of both injury and ineffectiveness (had a 5.06 ERA, 1.63 WHIP in 2017).

Still, the Cubs already coveted a high-leverage reliever this winter even before Brandon Morrow underwent surgery that will likely delay his 2019 status. The question is whether Ottavino will remain in the Cubs’ price range this winter.

**Yankees sure appear to be out of Bryce Harper Sweepstakes:

There really hasn’t been anything substantial to link the Yankees to Harper anyways other than the fact that they’re the Yankees and they spend a lot of money all the time. If Cashman is to be believed, that rules out another big market team in the Harper Sweepstakes, but it’s also entirely possible the Yankees are playing the same game every other team is and refusing to show their cards in the bidding for a generational player.

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