Today was the last day of the GM Meetings and although we didn’t get much in the way of action, the rumors did start to pour out – that’s usually how the GM Meetings work. Of course, the rumors were not necessarily as exciting as they usually are for Cubs fans, who’ve grown accustomed to high-price free agent chases and expensive, exciting winters in the middle of a competitive window.
Almost immediately after the offseason began, word broke that the Cubs wouldn’t just not be involved with the Bryce Harpers or Manny Machados of the world, but also that Cubs fans should brace for a winter of very little spending at all. Those rumors have certainly not been squashed by the front office, with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer even suggested their focus may lie on the trade market more than anything else.
Regardless of how they go about it, though, the Cubs have some needs in the bullpen, around the infield (particularly at second base and as a backup to Javy Baez at shortstop should Addison Russell not return), and also need some more offensive consistency.
The Cubs always value versatility, and that may well be a focus for them as they look for additions. Two free agent options we examined included versatile infielders Jed Lowrie and Marwin Gonzalez, though both guys are expected to be relatively popular this offseason.
As for the trade market, well, it’s much harder to determine who is definitely available or not, but one obviously-available player did just pop up in connection to the Chicago Cubs. Bruce Levine writes that second baseman/outfielder Dee Gordon could be considered a target for the Cubs: “The Mariners are a team to keep an eye on moving forward as it pertains to the trade market. They’ve informed opposing teams that many players are available, such as second baseman/outfielder Dee Gordon.”
That bit came from Levine in the context of what the Cubs will be looking to do coming out of the GM Meetings, and it was an awfully specific name to just drop in there.
The suggestion does square with recent rumors indicating the Mariners’ willingness to wheel and deal (indeed, they’ve already made a trade this week), and the Cubs could theoretically use a versatile outfielder/infielder, which Gordon is.
But let’s not let outdated opinions on Gordon guide us here: at age 30, he was not very good last season.
If you recall, Gordon first broke out with the Dodgers back in 2014 (3.6 WAR) and peaked in 2015 with the Marlins (4.8 WAR), but he was eventually busted and suspended for PEDs, playing only 79 games in 2016 because of it. He was back out there stealing bases (60) and playing excellent defense in 2017 (3.6 WAR overall), but his first go-around with the Mariners was not nearly as much of a success.
Offensively, Gordon was about as bad as a regular can be (77 wRC+) and he stole half as many bases as he did the year prior. On top of that, he spent quite a bit of time in center field and it did not work out (-8 DRS, ranked 58th among all center fielders with at least 200 innings at the position).
Of course, as a versatile bench guy who can play in the infield (including a little shortstop in a pinch), outfield, and steal bases, well, you can do a lot worse than Dee Gordon, even if he loses a step.
But here’s the thing about thinking of Gordon as a nice bench piece: he’s well paid. Gordon is due $13M next year, $13.5M in 2020, and a $14M vesting option in 2021 (with a $1M buyout). His deal comes with a $10M AAV.
So, given the contract and the risk that he’s just kinda fading, you have to wonder if that’s the best use of the Cubs resources, when the offense needs an upgrade more than the defense/bench/base running. Then again, the Mariners are a pretty flexible trade partner and the Cubs have a pretty thoughtful front office. Perhaps there’s some room for the Cubs to get creative with the salary of certain big league players and something could come of this in the form of a bad contract swap.
For example – and this 100% entirely speculative – what if the Mariners saw something in Jason Heyward they thought they could fix? In that case, the Cubs could wind up *saving* some money on a swap (even if they ate some salary), while adding depth to the roster and opening up their options elsewhere. Note that Heyward currently has only a limited no-trade clause.
With Heyward’s salary at least partly moved, the Cubs wouldn’t just have some extra money available as soon as this winter, they’d also have the flexibility to add to third base (pushing Kris Bryant to the outfield) or add to the outfield (keeping Bryant on third). The Mariners get someone capable of playing center field and a chance at fixing a former-star (who’s still quite young, by the way), Heyward, for slightly less than what’s left on his deal. (But then the question is, which of the two guys would you rather have on the roster right now. If it’s Heyward – and it is – this only make sense if it’s paired with a big, impactful signing.)
Separately, what if the Mariners saw a buy-low opportunity in Tyler Chatwood, who figures to make almost the same amount as Gordon over the next two years. The move could be cost-neutral for both sides (though the Cubs save almost $3M in AAV), but the Cubs could get trade from a position of depth (starting rotation) for a lottery ticket that checks some useful boxes and provides cover for the rest of the offseason. It’s not like the Cubs have an obvious place for Chatwood right now, as it is (the bullpen doesn’t seem like a great option and he is, at best, 7th on the rotational depth chart right now).
[Brett: I would add that you can get really creative with the accounting when trading contracts like this. Say the Cubs gave up actual value to get Gordon PLUS $15 million from the Mariners. In that case, the Cubs could actually SAVE money for luxury tax purposes in 2019, depending on when they received the included cash from the Mariners. It’s a way to take advantage of the difference between the AAV in Gordon’s deal and the actual money he’s owed. The Dodgers and Yankees have each worked deals in the past in this way, for what it’s worth.]
There’s a lot of mystery and guessing (and hoping) in all of that, of course, but that’s the *sort* of creativity I’m getting at. Don’t get too invested in any of it in particular, though, because there are a few miles between this speculation and something actually happening. Moreover, Gordon’s 2018 season really leaves you concerned that his days of being a useful starter – let alone an offensive upgrade for a club like the Cubs – are far behind him.
Instead, for now, just keep the Mariners – and Dee Gordon – on your radar.