Although the current (2016-2017) free agent class is inarguably one of the weakest in recent memory, I wonder how bad it really is for the Chicago Cubs.
After all, the north siders didn’t lose all that much in free agency this season, and in the positions they take the biggest hit (the bullpen), there exist three high-impact options (Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon). Even if the Cubs don’t get one of those three, there is still a trickle-down impact throughout that specific market, both in lower tiers of free agency, and in trade.
Had this barren free-agent offseason come before the 2015 or 2016 season, it would have really been bad timing for the Cubs; but, partly in anticipation of this offseason, over the last two years the Cubs stocked up on multiple big-time free agents (Jon Lester, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, to name a few). All in all, the timing worked out wonderfully.
- We woke up today with a flurry of Chris Sale rumors, and that news hasn’t seemed to slow down. According to Jon Heyman, the Atlanta Braves have jumped into the Chris Sale conversation “in a big way” and are among the teams trying hardest to land the left-handed White Sox ace. Heyman lists Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Rio Ruiz, Austin Riley, Kevin Maitan, Travis Demeritte, Sean Newcomb, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller, and Lucas Sims as the type of players who could be included in such a deal (so, you know, basically everyone in the Braves’ robust MiLB organization). After finishing with one of the worst records in all of baseball last season, I find the Braves’ chase of Sale to be odd, but far be it from me to stop a team from acquiring one of the games best pitchers (who happens to be under team control for three more seasons). Like we said when the Cubs were rebuilding, you have to get these guys when they’re available, not when it’s convenient. The Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees have also been mentioned among the interested teams.
- In addition to Sale, the White Sox are expected to also make Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera available, but it’s the first on that list that entices Cubs fans the most. While the White Sox will almost certainly never trade Sale to the Cubs, I wonder if Quintana’s relative lack of celebrity (at least as compared with Sale) might make that a trade that could be theoretically, maybe, if-everything-works-out-perfectly possible. The 27-year-old lefty is coming off of his third straight season worth at least 4.8 WAR, and is controlled relatively cheaply through 2020.
- That said on Sale, Jeff Sullivan makes a convincing argument that Chris Archer (the Tampa Bays Rays’ ace who is likely available) might actually cost more than Sale in a trade. Some of the highlights from his argument include the fact that, although Sale has gotten better results over the past three seasons, Archer has actually faced much more difficult competition – Sale’s opposing batters during that stretch had a 96 wRC+, while Archer’s had a 102 wRC+. More importantly, while Sale’s remaining contract is great (3 more years at just under $40 million total), Archer has five more years of team control for just about the same price. There’s more to it than that, but it’s a compelling read. Go check it out, and dream lustily.
- According to Bruce Levine on Twitter, Dexter Fowler is looking for a contract in the four-year range this offseason, which I find to be perfectly reasonable. Levine does not specify the average annual value Fowler is looking for, but I would suspect it to be somewhere in the $15-18 million range, given his second consecutive strong season, and his ability to play average center field defense to go with the bat. I hope Fowler gets paid (or, you know, returns to Chicago and another one year contract for less than the qualifying offer price … but whatever). There is theoretical interest in a reunion with Fowler, who recently declined his qualifying offer, but it’s hard to see the Cubs going to four years given their other outfielders and looming pitching needs.
- Last week, we discussed the Cubs’ potential pursuit of returning reliever Greg Holland, but as expected, the Cubs are not the only interested team. Indeed, Rob Bradford has heard from a Major League source that the Red Sox are one of the most aggressive suitors for all of the free agent relievers, including Holland. However, Bradford also mentions the Mets, Yankees, Cubs, Padres, Nationals and Mariners as possible suitors. Holland is expected to receive some two-year/$10-$20 million offers with plenty of incentives that could increase it’s overall value. Even at that price, I am still pretty interested in Holland for the Cubs (especially given the expected price tags of the Jansen/Chapman tier).
- On Twitter, Jon Morosi is reporting discussions of a potential San Francisco Giants/Detroit Tigers trade that could send outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Bay Area this winter. Apparently, according to Morosi, these trade talks began at the GM meetings last week, but have not yet gone beyond their initial stage. How does this affect the Chicago Cubs? Well, the Cubs will not be involved in any trade talks over J.D. Martinez, but they will have to play (and likely contend with in one way or another) the San Francisco Giants throughout the 2017 season once again … and J.D. Martinez is a good player. (It could also impact the direction of other NL playoff contender types, like the Dodgers.) Although he played in just 120 games in 2016, Martinez slashed .307/.373/.535 for the Tigers, after a 4.0 win season in 2014 and a 5.0 win season in 2015. If the Giants were able to add him to their lineup, they’d look very strong again in 2017.
- On Twitter, Todd Zolecki reports that while Jeremy Hellickson was leaning towards declining the $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Phillies, his agent, Scott Boras, heard that teams were reluctant to give up a draft pick to sign him (not unlike what happened to Dexter Fowler in 2016). It’s a bummer, because I actually think the Cubs would have made sense as a pursuer (pitching needs beyond 2017, low draft pick), but now we will never know. If I were Hellickson’s agent, however, I can see how this might work out well for the client. He gets to bank $17.2 million for this season, and if he can repeat his success again in 2017, he should be set up for a nice, multi-year deal next offseason when he’ll be just 30 years old (especially if he’s traded midseason by the rebuilding Phillies, and cannot be tied to draft pick compensation (or if the noose of draft pick compensation goes away altogether by then)). Players like to bet on themselves, what can you do?
- At MLB Trade Rumors, Steve Adams notes that the Blue have made a three-year offer to left-handed free-agent reliever Brett Cecil. The price of the contract, however, is not yet known. With each of Aroldis Chapman and Travis Wood exiting for free agency and Mike Montgomery potentially ticketed for the rotation, it’s not unreasonable to suspect the Cubs to put some interest in a free-agent left-handed reliever like Cecil (who has been effective beyond a mere LOOGY role, too). Of course, Montgomery might actually wind up as a sixth starter, who spends most of his time in the pen, and guys like Rob Zastryzny could always pop up and lock down a spot, as well. It’s just interesting to keep an eye on the entire market, especially when a guy from an area of need starts to get offers.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.