I’ve got to admit, it’s been really hard to do my normal writing this morning. I keep starting a morning set of Bullets, and everything out there right now is about Ernie Banks … and it’s tough to get through. I know he lived a long, full life – and obviously everything you could possibly remember and tribute about Ernie is positive – but I feel so much melancholy when I try to write about his passing, and I think about how he didn’t get to see the one thing he believed in more than anyone else: the Cubs will win it all someday. It just isn’t right that it didn’t happen for him. Or Ronnie. Or millions of other Cubs players and fans. I just get sad.
So, instead of the normal Bullets today, I’m going to go in a completely different direction, and allow myself to just think about baseball. There were a ton of interesting transactions and rumors late in the week, and they merit some discussion as we head toward Spring Training …
- The White Sox added former Cubs catcher Geovany Soto on a minor league deal, and, if he’s healthy, he’s probably going to make the team. The signing is notable because it takes the White Sox out of the market for another catcher, and also adds further clarification to the Welington Castillo trade market. If the Diamondbacks and Orioles decide they really aren’t going to add another catcher, it’s probably going to take a Spring surprise to find the right landing spot. Which is not to say there aren’t teams out there that might want Castillo – I’m sure there are several – I’m just saying we might not get clarity for a few weeks, and it might be a team that picks him up out of nowhere. (And, as we discussed after the addition of Dexter Fowler, it is now conceivable that the Cubs would carry Castillo as the third catcher on into the season for a few weeks, at least.)
- Pitcher Ryan Vogelsong re-signed with the Giants on a one-year, $4 million deal, which is interesting on its own merits, because it probably takes the Giants definitively out on James Shields (not because of the cost or the relative talents of Shields and Vogelsong, but because of the sheer volume of starters they now have). It’s even more interesting, however, because Vogelsong was just about to sign with the Astros – right down to the physical. And then he bolted, and signed with the Giants. What happened? Evan Drelich has some of the cryptic story, with Vogelsong saying that he was going through the process, but eventually he “really wasn’t comfortable with what was going on.” Vogelsong’s agent apparently tried to soften that by saying Vogelsong was talking only about the negotiations and not anything the Astros did … but it sure is odd, and it didn’t really sound like that’s what Vogelsong was saying. You can read it for yourself and see what you think.
- Speaking of Shields, the waiting game continues. Ken Rosenthal runs down the latest – including with the Marlins front office possibly trying to convince owner Jeffrey Loria to pony up – and, like everyone else who’s looked at this in the last couple weeks, Rosenthal has trouble coming up with an obvious fit and leader. It sounds like Shields’ camp has been exceptionally quiet this offseason, making things even trickier to discern. It seems to me that the Tigers, Yankees, Cardinals, and Marlins probably make the most sense, regardless of what they might say publicly. Maybe there will be a February surprise. (Which, no, I still don’t think will be the Cubs – the kind of deal they’d be willing to do at this point, I suspect, would be an utter steal … meaning he’ll likely be able to do better elsewhere, even as his market contracts.)
- The “$210 million” contract that Max Scherzer signed with the Nationals for seven years is really more like $185 million, because of the massive deferrals in the deal, according to Jeff Passan. That makes his AAV only slightly higher than Jon Lester got from the Cubs, plus one additional year. That’s more like what you would have expected Scherzer to get, rather than $55 million more than Lester. Still, that number – $210 million – is going to be the bane of many teams next Winter when they’re trying to negotiate with other star free agent pitchers.
- (As Jon Heyman points out, however, there are significant tax advantages built into the deal for Scherzer, so it may actually be a situation where the value to him is, indeed, close to $210 million, even if the cost to the Nationals is considerably less than that.)
- Robert Murray reports via sources that the Cubs and Pedro Strop will be going to arbitration. Murray has proved himself to be pretty reliable this offseason, so I don’t doubt his sources on this one. Still, it’s hard to see the sides actually going to a hearing next month when you consider that (1) the spread between what Strop requested ($3 million) and the Cubs offered ($2 million) is so small, and (2) a Theo Epstein-led front office has never gone to arbitration with a player (that’s 13 years’ worth of arbitration cases). We’ll see. Best guess here is that, although I’m sure the hard lines have been drawn … they’ll still figure out a way to settle, even if on the even of the hearing (which will be scheduled for some time next month).
- Long-time Cubs rumoree Jonny Gomes has found a home, signing a one-year, $4 million deal with the Braves, which comes with a vesting option for a second year. If that’s what the Cubs were up against when they were deciding between Gomes and Chris Denorfia for the righty/veteran/platoon outfielder spot they wanted to fill, then I can see why they went with the more versatile Denorfia for $2.6 million.
- About that pending Brewers/Jonathan Papelbon trade, it turns out that the Brewers are on Papelbon’s no trade list, and Ken Rosenthal says that the Brewers will have to guarantee Papelbon’s $13 million 2016 option (he’s also owed $13 million in 2015) to make the trade happen. Since there’s no way the Brewers are going to add $26 million to the books just to pick up Papelbon, there is much to negotiate. Even if the Phillies eat $13 million, is Papelbon worth 2/$13 million when there are still some relievers left in free agency?
- Speaking of the Phillies and Rosenthal, he adds that the Phillies could decide to keep Cole Hamels, hope for Cliff Lee to rebound, and then sign a top free agent starter next offseason, so they can ramp back up into competitiveness in 2016. To that I say mmmmhmmmm. That feels like something you float when you missed your window to trade a guy, when most of the teams to which you could market him got the guy they wanted, and then you foresee a terrible market (after this season) in which to try and trade an expensive, quality 32-year-old lefty starter. The Phillies are almost certainly going to have to hope Hamels is healthy and effective for the first few months of the season, and a team gets desperate for an upgrade at the deadline. Rosenthal says they’re looking for one quick-impact prospect, and some other pieces. Given how budgets work, they’ll probably have to eat a bunch of salary if they want that kind of return at this point in the offseason.
- Ben Badler writes about another Cuban outfielder on whom to keep an eye – 23-year-old Guillermo Heredia, who has left the island. He is not subject to any IFA signing restrictions, though he’ll have to be cleared to sign, a process that could take a little while.
- The Marlins picked up Ichiro on a one-year, $2 million deal. He’s 156 hits away from 3,000, despite starting his MLB career at age 27.