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Levine: Cubs, Rays Talking Trade

By Bruce Levine--

NASHVILLE (CBS) -- The Hot Stove is lit here at baseball's Winter Meetings, and the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Rays are on the clock. A more-than-likely match between the two teams centers around pitching that the Cubs would like to acquire and controllable position players that the Rays seek.

The Cubs are intrigued with the arm of Rays left-handed setup man Jake McGee. Tampa Bay's interested in Chicago infielder Javier Baez and has done its homework on all of the players on the Cubs who are under contract control for some time. That includes outfielder Jorge Soler as well.

With the lowest revenue base in baseball, the Rays must micro-manage their payroll carefully each season. Projections of contracts like McGee's are done years in advance. McGee will make something close to $5 million in arbitration this season. That amount for a setup man may be no big deal in a big market like Chicago, but in Tampa, that's beyond reality for a no-closer. The Rays' payroll was around $75 million in 2015.

McGee, 29, is a strikeout machine, whiffing 48 batters in 37 1/3 innings in 2015 and boasting a strong 5.8-to-1 strikeout-to-talk ratio over the past two seasons. He had a 2.41 ERA in 2015 and a 2.77 mark for his career.

Tampa also has a starting pitcher or two to dangle in the trade market. Left-hander Matt Moore -- who returned midseason in 2015 after missing nearly all of 2014 after Tommy John surgery -- has a contract through 2019 with favorable club options and buyout clauses intertwined in the final three years. Moore would only average a little more than $8 million a season from 2017 to 2019 if the controlling club picked up each of his option years, certainly a fair value considering the rising cost of pitchers in free agency.

The Cubs would be better suited to trade for young pitching before looking for outfield help though free agency. Still, obtaining one -- and possibly two -- outfielders who are quality defenders are keys to the Cubs' pursuit of better all-around defense. Soler, 23, is a power hitter who appears expendable with the big-name hitting trio of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo set as building blocks for years to come.

Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward are both on the Cubs' short list for filling the right-field role if Soler is dealt. Both free agents are Gold Glove-caliber outfielders. Gordon would easily make the transition to right field, with Schwarber plugged in as the left fielder.

The Cubs were led to believe they were close to a deal to acquire Braves right-hander Shelby Miller last week, Peter Gammons reported in an interview on 670 The Score on Saturday. Atlanta took the deal off the table without explanation.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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