Lukewarm Stove: Cardinals Won't Be Quiet, Martinez, Tanaka, Cueto, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Cardinals Won’t Be Quiet, Martinez, Tanaka, Cueto, More

Chicago Cubs

We may have a cold, baseball-less winter ahead of us, but at least we have rumors to keep us warm.

Let’s check in on some of the latest from around the league …

  • Unsurprisingly, the Boston Red Sox exercised their 2018 club options on Chris Sale ($12.5M) and Craig Kimbrel ($13M) – as each was predictably brilliant in 2017 and figures to be so again in 2018. Next year will be Kimbrel’s last under contract, so he’ll join a HUGE 2018-2019 free agent class as a 30-year-old when he could potentially set yet another dollar/year high among closer contracts. Sale, on the other hand, has two more seasons until free agency (2018 and a 2019 option year worth up to $16M), if the Red Sox don’t find a way to extend him first.
  • At MLB Trade Rumors, Kyle Downing points out that the Cardinals Pythagorean record last season indicates a true-talent level closer to an 87-win team. And with only four free agents departing (Lance Lynn, Zach Duke, Seung Hwan Oh, and Juan Nicasio), who combined for just 2.7 fWAR last season, they may just be a big move or two away from competing in the NL Central again.
  • As for specifics, it doesn’t sound like the Cardinals are too interested in bringing Lance Lynn back, especially because he’s reportedly looking for a Jordan Zimmerman-sized deal (5/$110M). Instead, if they decide to make a big move, Downing guesses it could be for Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta in free agency or Gerrit Cole or Michael Fulmer in trade. Later, Downing reiterates some of the bullpen/closer rumors we discussed earlier this week, and, of course, the Giancarlo Stanton rumors persist. The Cardinals do not figure to sit still this winter after stock piling prospects and cash the last two years, so brace yourself for likely improvements.
  • 30-year-old outfielder J.D. Martinez figures to be the top offensive prize in free agency, after hitting .303/.376/.690 with 45 home runs in 2017. And because he was traded to the Diamondbacks mid-season, he’s not connected to draft-pick compensation, so his earning potential is sky-high. Naturally, like a shark that smells blood in the water, Scott Boras has become involved:

  • For what it’s worth, I can’t quite see the Cubs becoming involved in the J.D. Martinez sweepstakes, given their existing stockpile of outfielders and (probable) desire to target Bryce Harper next year, but perhaps he could make some sense for the Cardinals, who, again, are looking to improve in the outfield and have plenty of cash on hand.
  • Yesterday, in case you missed it, the Angels kicked the offseason into high-gear by announced a five-year/$106 million extension for Justin Upton, who could’ve otherwise opted out of his deal, had he so desired. I bring that deal up mostly to remind that two other big-time opt-out decisions must be made in the next couple days: Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto. Before the 2017 season began, both seemed like a LOCK to opt-out of their deals and head into free agency as big fish, but after mediocre years, the decisions are not so easy:
    • Johnny Cueto: 4.52 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 1.2 fWAR
    • Masahiro Tanaka: 4.74 ERA, 4.34 FIP, 2.7 fWAR
  • If Cueto opts out, he’ll be betting that he can beat the $89(ish) million left on his deal, and I don’t know if he can. Not only did his strikeout rate fall and walk rate climb, his ground ball rate plummeted, his fly ball rate sky rocketed, his hard hit rate increased, and his soft hit rate evaporated. Even though there was some bad luck … yikes, it was a bad season. Tanaka, on the other hand, feels like a safe bet to beat the three years and $67 million he has left on his deal (I’d give him that much in a heartbeat), especially because he just yesterday turned 29 years old. That, despite the fact that he’s been pitching the last couple years with a partially torn UCL.
  • Of course, if MLBTR is to be believed, the Cubs may rather target Yu Darvish in free agency, above anyone else.
  • Despite a massive 141 wRC+ and 5.0 WAR season, Reds free agent shortstop Zack Cozart might not break the bank this winter. In fact, one AL executive guessed that he wouldn’t even get a three-year deal! Which, wow. Obviously, 2017 was a huge outlier for Cozart, and he’s 32 years old, but I can easily see a team giving him three years, with the hope that he’d be at least (almost) as good next year. To be fair, Cozart could wind up attached to draft pick compensation and just doesn’t have a long track record of success. Who knows, maybe he won’t get a big deal. In any case, the Reds are still in the middle of a rebuilding program, so retaining Cozart is not their priority.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami