Everyone gets into the free agent contract prediction game this time of year, but there are always two that stand out the most for having some actual success on the lengths and dollars: the FanGraphs community projections (not out yet), and Jon Heyman’s predictions. Because Heyman uses an insider expert and also has been doing this for so many years, the numbers he spits out tend to be very close to reality (accounting for the fact that no one can COMPLETELY predict this stuff).
Heyman continued that annual tradition today, predicting the top 80 free agent contracts of the offseason. I’m very much here for this.
I’m not going to share every single free agent and prediction, and you are encouraged to click through and check out, but I will hit on some of the more Cub-relevant names, include some of Heyman’s thoughts where appropriate, and some commentary of my own.
Expert: 6 years/$155M
Heyman: 6 years/$144M
According to Heyman and his expert, Darvish is set to get the third highest contract of the offseason (Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez rank just ahead of him), but the highest dollars *and* years among all pitchers. If six years and $155 million rings a bell, it’s because that’s the deal Jon Lester signed with the Cubs three years ago at a similar age. The Cubs will likely be involved in Darvish’s free agency, at least at the periphery, until the end.
Expert: 5 years/$140M
Heyman: 5 years/$125M
Jake Arrieta is in line to score the next highest free agent deal according to this duo (and prevailing wisdom), though they are a fair bit apart on total cost. $15 million may not sound like a big gap to bridge, but that’s not a non-zero factor, nor is the additional $3M in AAV against the luxury-tax threshold. As for the years, Arrieta’s camp has held firm on their target of a 6-7 year deal, while the Cubs, for just one example, were reportedly more interested in a four-year contract. Landing at five years, then, could make some sense – if there’s a team out there willing to pull the trigger.
After a down start to the season, featuring a troubling drop in velocity, Arrieta righted the ship from May on, and was actually one of the best pitchers in the National League (winning NL Pitcher of the Month honors in August). He hurt his hamstring in September, arguably came back a little too soon, but then looked really good again in his final start of the year, against the Dodgers in the NLCS.
Expert: 4 years/$64M
Heyman: 4 years/$72M
On this one, Heyman is outbidding his expert and predicting a massive $72M, four-year deal for Wade Davis. Frankly, if it gets that high, you can probably expect the Cubs to bow out. I’m inclined to believe the expert is closer on this one, though, as four years and $64 million would just narrowly edge out Mark Melancon’s 4/$62M deal from a year ago.
Expert: 4 years/$58M
Heyman: 5 years/$75M
The Cubs rumor I’ve, so far, found the most believable this winter is undoubtedly the connection to Alex Cobb. Even with the Jim Hickey pitching coach connection aside, he’s the type of pitcher I can see the Cubs going after (read way more about that here). And, by golly, if he goes for just four years and $58 million, I think the Cubs will be very aggressive.
Expert: 5 years/$75M
Heyman: 4 years/$56M
Basically, Heyman and his expert believe that Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb share similar but opposite value. I can’t say I’d love to see the Cubs go after Lynn this winter (especially not for five years and $75 million), but I do expect they’ll be doing their homework on him. Maybe even more than we think. Like Cobb, Lynn is a recent Tommy John recoveree who got great results by managing contact, and is just 30 years old.
Expert: 4 years/$35M
Heyman: 3 years/$27M
We previously checked in on why Reed could make sense for this Cubs team right here, so I won’t repeat everything I’ve already said. What I will say, however, is that if you can get Addison Reed for less than $10 million a year on a three-year deal in this current relief climate, I’d very much be interested. There are some red flags (homers/fly balls), but he’s a good one.
Expert: 3 years/$24M
Heyman: 2 years/$25M
Just yesterday, we shared an analysis that suggested Tyler Chatwood could be the biggest free agent steal of the winter, and at just two-to-three years and $24-25 million (with MLB Trade Rumors predicting just $20 million for Chatwood over three years), he’s certainly got the bargain part down. Now we’ll just have to see if the Cubs actually signal any interest. Given what we learned yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprised.
The warts are certainly there, or the projections would be larger. Chatwood is a two-time Tommy John recipient (first in high school, next in 2014), and he posted a 4.69 ERA last season with a gaudy 1.22 HR/9, a 12.2% BB rate, and a modest 19.0% K rate. Even the 3.49 ERA away from Coors Field gets dinged a bit when you notice that most of the peripherals are identical … except for his BABIP, which goes from .350 at Coors (insane) to .217 on the road (equally insane in the other direction).
All that said, you’re talking about a 27-year-old starter who has demonstrated success away from Coors Field, and who has a very lively fastball. At the prices being discussed, and given the Cubs’ need, he feels like the right guy for the Cubs to take a shot on (especially since it wouldn’t hurt them too much in the post-2018 free agent class if he turns into an immediate bust).
Expert: 3 years/$23M
Heyman: 3 years/$24M
Outside of Cobb, Morrow was one of the early names we saw attached to the Cubs this offseason (actually, his name first popped up in rumors while he was still pitching in the World Series). While an AAV of roughly $8 million is reasonable for the level of production Morrow put up this season, it’s fair to wonder if and for how long he can replicate that success given his vast injury history.
Expert: 1 years/$9M
Heyman: 2 years/20$M
The Cubs are very likely going to sign a veteran, back-up outfielder to replace Jon Jay’s spot on the 2017 roster, but Jay could, you know, still be that guy. And at just $10M/year, he wouldn’t cost too much to do it. Given his comfort in Chicago and the value he added, this doesn’t seem too crazy at such a low price, assuming he’s interested in a reserve role.
Expert: 2 years/$15M
Heyman: 2 years/$12M
We first saw lefty reliever Jake McGee’s name pop up in the MLB Trade Rumors prediction piece mocking him to the Cubs. He’s not the sexiest of names these days, but he throws strikes and doesn’t walk many batters, which is precisely the thing the Cubs are looking for in the bullpen. He’s also a reverse split lefty, so he’s really more of a full-inning reliever than anything else.
There’s also that past Rays connection – McGee’s best years came when he was pitching for Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey in Tampa Bay. He’s a good name to follow.
Expert: 2 years/$11M
Heyman: 2 years/$12M
Like a replacement for Jay, the Cubs will need to find a veteran backstop to back up Willson Contreras this summer, presuming they don’t think it’s best for Victor Caratini to immediately become that guy. If Avila is willing to take on another part-time role, then you basically couldn’t do better than him (especially at that cost!). He’s a lefty, can rake, offers veteran experience, has a good arm, and familiarity with this Cubs pitching staff. He’s not the strongest overall receiver/defender, but his strengths FAR outweigh his weaknesses … which is why I’d be surprised to see him take a back-up job behind an entrenched star like Willson Contreras. If the Cubs get Avila, I’ll be very pleased.
Expert: 2 years/$9M
Heyman: 1 years/$10M
Expert: 1 years/$3M
Heyman: 2 years/$10M
Neither Smith nor Gregerson are going to “solve” the Cubs bullpen problems, but the former was really strong this season and the latter posted four great relief years in a row before 2017. As far as bargain bullpen shopping goes, you can do a lot worse than these two.
Expert: 1 years/$8M
Heyman: 1 years/$9M
You can complain all you want, but even if a reunion with Lackey seems both unattractive and unlikely, that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. And if he could provide that second-half performance over the course of a full year at just $8-9M, there’s actual value to be had. Again, I don’t see it happening, but it’s not as far-fetched as it seems.
In the end, I’d be surprised if the Cubs come away from this offseason without at least two names from the list above, but there are so many more free agents to consider. Head over to FanRag and read more about their potential contract demands, and/or shout about them in the comments. Or just talk like people. That’s fine, too.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.