The Chicago Cubs have already made several additions to the bullpen this offseason, adding two players via trade (closer Wade Davis from the Royals, Rule 5 Draft pick Caleb Smith from the Brewers/Yankees), and two players via free agency (Koji Uehera for $6 million, Brian Duensing for $2 million).
But earlier in the week, even after all four of those additions, the Cubs were rumoredly (I’m using it again) engaged in trade talks with the Detroit Tigers about left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. The extent of those discussions and the “closeness” to a deal were never revealed, but it was a pretty specific and believable rumor, so we gave it some attention.
However, as they do, things may have recently changed:
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 15, 2016
Now, according to Bob Nightengale on Twitter, talks have reportedly stalled.
What that means, given the context of the tweet, is that both sides were likely in agreement on the fact that Justin Wilson is 1) at least semi-available, and 2) of interest to the Cubs, but his acquisition cost was not squaring up. And frankly, that doesn’t surprise me.
With the cost of dominant relievers skyrocketing, the Tigers were probably looking for a bit more than the Cubs were willing to give up. At the same time, the Cubs were probably making an argument that Justin Wilson isn’t on that “dominant reliever” tier to begin with. He did have a 1.5 fWAR campaign in 2015 (with excellent peripherals), but his results took a major step back in 2016 (4.14 ERA), while both his FIP and xFIP increased, as well.
The two years prior to 2015 featured a similar roller coaster.
Without a consistent, reliable, track record of elite success, value is difficult to agree upon – especially when the motivations of both sides are so obvious. So for now, you can assume talks have ceased.
It is always possible, however, that the groundwork laid here in December will be the foundation for a trade during (or even after) the 2017 season. That’s just how these things go sometimes (see: the Cubs reportedly talking to the Royals about Wade Davis at the 2016 Trade Deadline).
It’s not entirely clear if the Cubs are still looking for another left-hander to add to the bullpen, after already adding lefties Smith and Duensing, as well as lefty-killer Uehara, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Smith is young and untested, Duensing has been up and down, and Uehara (while excellent) is older and coming off an injury. Even still, Wilson is split-neutral – even leaning reverse split – for his career, so he would be in competition with the full-inning relievers more than anyone else.
My takeaway is that the Cubs are still considering adding another full-inning reliever to the 2017 bullpen picture, but Wilson will not likely be that guy … at least right now.