There will be no stopping trade rumors from flowing about the Cubs this offseason. The team is in the midst of an offseason of transition and a slew of circumstances surrounding Chicago will only lend to speculation about players potentially on the move.

The Cubs' payroll already projects to be in the $200 million range before any offseason additions. There is a group of core players inching towards free agency after the '21 and '22 campaigns. The Cubs have a new manager in place in David Ross, missed the postseason for the first time since '14 and the club is trying to balance winning now with planning for the franchise's next era.

That is an equation that will add up to trade rumors and reports in the months leading up to Opening Day. Knowing that, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made it clear to local reporters on hand at the General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., that he will not be tossing logs on the speculatory fire this offseason.

"The nature of any offseason is there are going to be rumors about your Major League players, and even your best players," Epstein was quoted as saying by multiple Chicago media outlets. "It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re true. No one knows how this winter is going to evolve -- even us -- we have no idea what will be available to us.

"Taking any name that comes up in a trade rumor with a mouthful of salt is appropriate -- not just a grain -- because I think they're usually untrue. Not that they come from a malicious place, but sometimes they can have real-world negative consequences for the player and his family, so we're going to do everything we can to operate respectfully.

"These guys whose names keep coming up in trade rumors have done a ton for our franchise. They're among the very best players in the world. And I don't want to do anything to make their lives more difficult. Most trade rumors out there are not true. We have no idea how this winter's going to go down."

With that in mind, here is a breakdown of the players most likely to keep coming up in trade rumors this offseason for the Cubs:

MOST REALISTIC

Willson Contreras
While a significant group within the Cubs' core is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season -- also the last year in Epstein's current contract with the franchise -- Contreras is entering arbitration this winter and is under club control through '22. He's an elite, offense-first All-Star, but his pitch framing continues to be an area of development.