There is a small point about the coming offseason – and the 2015 season – that I’ve been wanting to make for a while, but hadn’t found a great way to incorporate it into a broader piece. So, with the offseason coming quickly, I guess I’ll just make the point here, although it’s just a small point that I offer as an almost aside to everything else the Chicago Cubs will try to accomplish this offseason. In other words: I’m not saying this should direct what the Cubs do. It’s just something to think about.
With the Cubs attempting to actually win in 2015 and compete for the NL Central, players on one-year contracts might have a different kind of value than they have in recent years. For the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, when the Cubs signed a guy on a one-year deal, you pretty much knew the score: flip candidate. Now, however, guys the Cubs bring in on short-term deals will be done so with the thinking that they can be kept all year, and help the team win some games (without blocking any coming youngsters, too).
But there’s something else to think about.
If the Cubs are better in 2015, they aren’t going to qualify for a protected pick in 2016. And there are a whole lot of excellent free agents that the Cubs are going to want to pursue after next season, which means it’s highly likely that the Cubs are going to lose their first round pick in 2016 by virtue of signing a qualified free agent next offseason.
If that’s going to happen, you know what would be nice to pull off? Having a one-year guy in 2015, let him stay with the team the full year and play well, make him a qualifying offer after the season, and, if he leaves, then the Cubs get a (late) first rounder after all in 2016.
The Cubs are in the relatively unique position of (1) having a protected pick this year, (2) probably winning enough in 2015 to not have a protected pick next year, (3) knowing in advance that they’re highly likely to sign a qualified free agent after next season, thus losing a first round pick in 2016, and (4) not having an obvious in-house qualifying offer candidate for after 2015 already. That makes their situation with respect to high-level one-year players in 2015 a little different from many other teams.
Obviously there’s only so much you can do so far in advance to plan for that precise schedule of things to play out that way, but, as an ancillary consideration about the value of one-year guys on the 2015 Cubs, it’s worth putting out there. If the Cubs were to, for example, trade for a Justin Upton or a Jason Heyward or Dexter Fowler or Denard Span, or were to splurge on a one-year deal for a second tier starting pitcher with upside, they’ll do so knowing that it’s possible, if no extension comes after that, the player might provide two kinds of value: performance in 2015 when the Cubs are trying to win, and protection for the draft in 2016 if the Cubs sign a big name or two next offseason.
Again: one pick in the 2016 draft is not a reason, on its own, to proceed in a certain way this offseason. But, as a factor in how much you might give up in trade for a certain guy? In how much you might spend on a guy on a one-year deal? It should probably be considered in there somewhere, given the unique value to the Cubs of having that 2016 draft hedge in place.
And, to be sure, if the Cubs pick up a one-year guy whom they want to keep long-term and who is amenable to a reasonable extension, then it’s not like you refuse to extend merely because of that draft pick. But, again, it’s a factor in there somewhere.