Ah … a Lukewarm Stove on a Saturday morning. Now we’re getting somewhere.
At this point in the offseason, there’s usually enough legitimate rumors to go around for just under one Lukewarm Stove a day – maybe we’ll get 4-5 in a given week. But in the middle of the frenzy – which will come – we have to start drafting up our next post soon after the last one was published. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting mighty close.
The latest …
- Despite the latest rumors that the Cubs are “in” on Bryce Harper (extremely cautious optimism advised on that front), we have to remain guarded against the hope that the Cubs will go against everything we’ve seen publicly regarding their willingness/capacity to spend. Indeed, it remains more likely that the Cubs will make their “big changes,” via trade: “I think we’re open to business and listening,” General Manager Jed Hoyer said, “and [the trade market] will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the [free-agent] market.” Okay, fair enough. That tracks with the majority of the rumors that’ve been revealed this offseason, but how do the Cubs improve the lineup when they really only have other position players, with their own upside, to trade?
- Theo Epstein has you covered: “There’s lots of different ways to do it. You can trade up the service time clock. You can trade backwards for more years of control. You can trade for an established guy. You can trade for somebody you think is ready to break out. There’s no one way to do it. You can trade two comparable players with different shapes if you think it benefits you.” Basically, the Cubs can trade their cheap and cost controlled, but less sure-thing offensive contributors (purely for example: Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, etc.) for more expensive, sure-thing guys or guys with just 1-2 years remaining on their deal. Or they can trade power (Schwarber, Happ) for contact or defense (Almora) for power or whatever. It’s all about matching up with your partner’s needs, which is why I always feel reluctant to answer the question who’s most likely to be traded? Usually, it’s not entirely up to the Cubs.
- As for whom they could target on the trade market, well that’s even harder to pinpoint, because it’s impossible to know what other teams think of their players. But just for fun, I’ll point out that we’ve hoped for Jurickson Profar and Whit Merrifield and have heard some rumors regarding Dee Gordon, but each comes with wildly different levels of #want and, of course, price tags. Just hold the line on this front for now, because the front office is notoriously secretive about trades. They pretty much just get announced when they happen. [Brett: Good point on the trades. Just about the only ones I can think of that had serious multi-day build-up and expectations that a trade like what happened would actually happen: Starlin Castro to the Yankees, and Jorge Soler for Wade Davis. Am I missing any?]
- At ESPN, Buster Olney guesses this can be another slow winter, not unlike last year, and believes that we may get even more free agents than we already have because of churning tides on the non-tender front, particularly with relievers: “The number of free-agent relievers has just about doubled over recent winters, and relievers figure to be among the players who don’t receive contract offers, as clubs look to take advantage of the many market choices, seeking those with high spin rates, or high velocity.” Considering the fact that we *know* the Cubs are going to be active in the free agent relief pool, more options at more competitive prices is a pretty good thing for the Cubs, especially because I trust their ability to pluck the right guys at just the right time (like Jesse Chavez, for example).
- Speaking of which, there’s been no news on the Chavez front just yet, but I still expect him to return to the Cubs after a stellar second-half performance and an admission that he’d like to return to the Cubs. I’m sure he’ll like to see what else is out there – and it’s always possible someone overpays based on his finish – but I bet we’ll be smacked by a Cubs tweet announcing the signing before any rumors squeak through on that front.
- Jeff Passan has heard the same thing as Olney:
One veteran market reader today predicted a larger-than-usual number of non-tenders at the end of this month. With free agent volume so high, adding more players to the market could depress prices even more and drive players to accept what in the past would've been subpar deals.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 16, 2018
- I suppose we should prepare ourselves for some more interesting names to join the free agent fold. Obviously, players that are non-tendered are going to be imperfect, but there’s a chance we might be surprised by the volume and quality.
- Furthermore, if this is a widely-accepted premise, the slow start to the offseason has its first explanation: everyone is waiting to see which guys are non-tendered before making their decisions and plans. It’s not that crazy. It actually makes a lot of sense. And when you throw in the fact that most teams are going to wait on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, we may just have ourselves a narrative. [Brett: Also, the early Thanksgiving this year could have left some folks a little more patient to wait to be aggressive until the window between Thanksgiving and the Winter Meetings.]
- At the outset of the offseason, the Yankees all but signaled their intentions to seriously pursue Manny Machado and not Bryce Harper, and while that is up for debate, they do seem ready to spend. According to MLB.com, the Yankees are “on the hunt for two more starting pitchers, preferably of high-end caliber, and have spoken with both Zach Britton and David Robertson about potential returns ….” If the Yankees are serious about Machado and also add 1-2 of the premier starers and 1-2 of the premier relievers, they’re going to be dropping a whole lot of money. Which, after going back under the luxury tax last year, and having untold revenues, they can certainly afford to do.
- “I think we’re always open-minded to being big or small players,” Cashman said. “I don’t think it really matters what we wind up doing, as long as we do well enough that we become the best team in baseball.” Haha, well … must be nice. The Yankees are likely going to make major improvements and be very scary next season. But don’t think it’s going to be exclusively through free agency. The Yankees have reportedly contacted the Indians over Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber as well as the Mariners over James Paxton. They have a lot of talented young players and a good farm system – they can make some stuff happen in their quest to unseat the Red Sox in the AL East.
- And on the flip side, Andy Martino is reporting that the Yankees already have multiple offers on the table for Sonny Gray. Gray is not the pitcher he was a few years ago, but not (entirely) unlike Chris Archer, someone will probably pay for some past performance, the cheap year of control, and dream on the upside. The Yankees are strangely candid about their intentions: “Once we feel comfortable with the return, we’ll make the decision to move him,” Cashman said in early November. “But the plan is to move him because I don’t want to keep going through the process of something that won’t work here.”