The Thanksgiving holiday is in the rearview mirror, and the Winter Meetings loom on the horizon. This typically marks the start of the busiest stretch of the offseason – and, indeed, we just saw the first major free agent signing of the offseason – so I thought it would be a good opportunity to reset things.
First, the road map. If you haven’t checked out my detailed look at the offseason – dates, deadlines, general contours of timing – you’ll want to take a look here. We’re already through the first few deadlines, but many more are on the way.
… including a really big one on Wednesday, December 2: the tender deadline. This is the deadline tendering contracts to unsigned players on the 40-man roster, which most notably includes arbitration-eligible players (i.e., generally-speaking, players with three or more years of service time, but fewer than six years of service time). For the Cubs, the arbitration-eligible players will include Jake Arrieta, Rex Brothers, Chris Coghlan, Ryan Cook, Justin Grimm, Clayton Richard, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Travis Wood. Being that the Cubs just picked up Cook and Brothers, you’ve got to figure they’re in line for a tender, leaving only Richard and Wood as the questions.
Speaking of Cook and Brothers, they’ve been part of the Cubs’ early offseason relief-pitching binge. Since the end of the season, the Cubs have added the following arms, any or all of whom could theoretically factor into the Cubs’ bullpen situation before the 2016 season is over (each is linked to more info on the signing, if you missed it):
Not only have the Cubs been busy in that area, but consider this: that’s literally every transaction the Cubs have made since the season ended, with the exception of adding prospects to the 40-man roster. It’s quite clear that the Cubs came into the offseason with a strategy: grab upside bullpen arms early. And why not? Those types are heavily available in November, and the Cubs had the 40-man roster room to be a little more aggressive than most teams.
To that end, then, I suspect we’ve seen the vast majority of the Cubs’ movement in the bullpen this offseason. Theo Epstein has been almost entirely transparent about where spending in the bullpen falls along the priority spectrum for this Cubs team, and, while it’s possible we might see the Cubs make a free agent signing there later in the offseason if someone slips, I don’t see them going hard after any of the small handful of big names still out there in free agency or in trade.
Outside of the bullpen, however, the Cubs have lied – laid? lain? – entirely in wait. Sure, there have been plenty of rumors, but no significant movement yet.
… of course, that’s been the case all around baseball, not just with the Cubs. Until J.A. Happ signed on Friday and Jordan Zimmermann reportedly agreed to a deal earlier today, there had been virtually no free agent movement at all in baseball so far this offseason, which is pretty remarkable. Sure, the meat of free agent activity always seems to take place between Thanksgiving and late December, but there also always seems to be at least a few notable free agent moves around the league.
Last year, for example, Michael Cuddyer, A.J. Burnett, Victor Martinez, Russell Martin, Zach Duke, Billy Butler, Adam LaRoche, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramirez had all signed (h/t to MLBTR’s transaction tracker for the easy research).
Compare that to this year, where we’ve seen … Rich Hill sign a deal? Geovany Soto? Chris Iannetta? Bud Norris? Sure, all might become useful pieces in a complementary role, but it’s hardly the list from last year.
And yet this year’s free agent crop is much deeper than last year’s in mid-and-upper-tier talent. So shouldn’t there be more movement? Well, no. Not necessarily. Consider that many of those free agents might want to wait a little longer, given how many other precedents there are out there to be set. And consider that many teams will want to wait a little longer for the exact opposite reason – with so much inventory, it’s much less risky to slow play things and see what happens to prices.
Now that Zimmermann has signed, though, there seems to at least be a starting point in the pitching market, and we’re likely to see some movement this week. That’s going to be true soon on the positional side, too. Because so many pursuits out there are interrelated, it’s entirely plausible that we could see, at some point, an almost insane rash of activity over a one or two-day stretch (and that’s besides the four-day Winter Meetings next week, which are always crazy).
There’s also the trade market, which has been fairly typical, or maybe even a little more active than usual to this point. Outside of the Brothers deal, the Cubs haven’t been too involved (though, to be fair, the Mariners and Braves are pretty much making all the moves). I expect they will continue to be active behind the scenes in that regard, managing somehow to sort out their trade options in conjunction with the many free agent options – and the varying waterfall effects of doing Thing X in the rotation or Thing Y in the outfield, or doing Related Things A and B in the rotation and outfield.
That is all to say: get ready.