Lukewarm Stove: Cruz, Trading Starters, Struggling Free Agents, Exploiting an Inefficiency

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Lukewarm Stove: Cruz, Trading Starters, Struggling Free Agents, Exploiting an Inefficiency

Chicago Cubs

lukewarm stoveThe quiet of the holidays is likely to end next week. Still, there’s plenty to discuss …

  • The Nelson Cruz market continues to be slow, to put it kindly. The outfield slugger appears to have scared suitors off earlier in the offseason with some hilariously lofty demands (complete with rumors that he turned down a five-year, $75 million offer from the Mariners), and now budgets are shrinking and cocked eyes are becoming even cockier about a 33-year-old coming off a PED suspension. FanGraphs reviews the possible landing places for Cruz, and comes up with just one fit – Baltimore – though the Cubs and a handful of other teams qualify as a “stretch.” In terms of outfield composition and the theoretical desire to add a couple wins in 2014, the Cubs could use Cruz. At the outset of the offseason, I targeted him as an intriguing buy-very-very-low candidate for the Cubs, given their needs and the subsequent possibility of flipping him (for greater value than the second round pick it would cost to sign him). I suppose I could still see some surplus value if he has to settle for a two-year, $20 million contract – but, at that point, would he consider just sitting out until after the draft to remove the noose of draft pick compensation?
  • Ken Rosenthal continues to believe the Diamondbacks, who are among the suitors for Masahiro Tanaka, are more likely to sign a free agent starter than trade for one (i.e., Jeff Samardzija).
  • Speaking of trading for starters, once the Tanaka market sorts itself out (and the subsequent Garza/Jimenez/Santana market), we’ll see an uptick in trade rumors once again. With the Red Sox having more veteran starters than they can use, and John Lackey presenting a clear “sell-high, nice contract” opportunity, will he be another presence on the market to compete with the Cubs’ efforts to shop Samardzija (should that occur)? Ian Browne says it would take a “stunning development” like signing Tanaka to get the Red Sox to trade Lackey. Instead, they seem more likely to deal one of Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster, should they feel a trade is necessary.
  • Kiley McDaniel got folks talking earlier in the week with a report that the Yankees are going to pull a Cubs and go nuts on the international free agent market this year, and he now offers a little more clarity on the “why Yankees, why now” questions that popped up in the aftermath. He works in an apt tragedy of the commons reference, which means it’s a good read.
  • In an untended consequence that was foreseen by anyone paying attention long before the 2012 season, the market for non-elite free agents who received qualifying offers has once again been jacked. Jeff Passan writes about it here. Buster Olney here. As we’ve discussed, the problem isn’t solely the attachment of draft pick compensation; nor is it solely the draft changes (effective hard slotting with a bonus pool). It’s the combination of the two. Draft picks – and the pool space associated with them – are more valuable than ever. That’s tough noogies for Cruz, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales. The current CBA doesn’t expire until after 2016, and you can bet these twin issues will be addressed. It’s possible they could be changed even sooner, but I wouldn’t count on it.
  • Any time there are problems like this, inefficiencies arise. The inefficiency I see here? Teams with a protected first round pick, and with the ability to sit around and wait on the tough noogies free agents until January/February, should go nuts and grab as many of those types as they can in a single year. Why? Well, they stand to benefit not only from the depressed prices on the free agents, but they lose only a second round pick (and pool money) for the first guy they sign, and then a third/fourth/etc. pick for the latter guys. In other words, the effective price goes down for each additional guy you sign. Very few teams are going to be in a position to execute this kind of strategy, but the Cubs certainly are. The problem this year? Morales and Drew are not fits, and Cruz (as discussed above) is barely a fit. One of Santana or Jimenez could make sense, but probably not both. And then you’ve got the issue of convincing guys like these to actually sign with a rebuilding club whom you know is probably just looking to sign you for surplus value (which can later be captured in the form of a trade). Maybe next year?

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.