Lukewarm Stove: Cubs and Cain? So Many Teams on Yelich, February Signings, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Cubs and Cain? So Many Teams on Yelich, February Signings, More

Chicago Cubs


only moderately warm; tepid.
“they drank bitter lukewarm coffee”

That actually sounds too generous for the baseball stove these days.

Nevertheless, there remain interesting things to discuss, so long as you aren’t interested in actual action …

  • Earlier today, Bruce Levine jumped on 670 The Score to talk Cubs baseball with Spiegel and Parkins, focusing primarily on the Cubs’ renewed interest in Jake Arrieta, which we discussed at length yesterday, and updated today. But near the end of the interview, Levine added an unrelated tidbit that caught my attention. If you start with the assumption that Joe Maddon does not trust Albert Almora, Jr. to be the Cubs’ everyday center fielder next season, Levine speculated: “I just believe that they’re gonna trade for a guy like [Christian] Yelich, or sign a free agent like [Lorenzo] Cain who fits in.” We’ve discussed the obvious merits (and roadblocks) in trading for Yelich already, but we haven’t seriously considered free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain just yet. He hasn’t really been connected to the Cubs, and understandably so, given the relatively full outfield/positional side for the Cubs, and their remaining pitching needs.
  • Cain, 31, is a high-quality center field bat and glove coming off a 4.1 WAR season with the Royals in 2017. Over the past four years, he’s slashed .300/.352/.437 (114 wRC+), stolen nearly 100 bases, and has been worth 17.9 WAR. There’s no doubt he’s an excellent player, but does he fit with the Cubs? They could certainly use a leadoff man, and adding Cain would further allow the Cubs to use positional trade chips to acquire pitching, but that’s about as far as the fit goes.
  • In the case against Cain, I’d point out that he’s nearly 32, looking for a multi-year deal, and figures to be quite expensive – various projections have him netting upwards of four to five years, and $68 to $80 million. He’d cost the Cubs their second highest draft pick and $500,000 in IFA money, too. On top of that, he doesn’t walk a ton, as his OBP is supported primarily through his batting average (which also comes on the strength of a consistently high BABIP). If he were to lose a step (in terms of either speed or exit velocity), that BABIP, batting average, and, thus, OBP could come crashing down – which wouldn’t make him an ideal leadoff candidate. My gut says this isn’t happening (not without another, very significant trade), but at this point, given how many free agents might be left scrambling late in the winter, you never know when you might find a steal.
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
  • Back to Yelich for a moment, though: Joe Frisaro reports that at least 15(!) teams have contacted the Marlins about Yelich, so, yeah, like we’ve said, almost every team is interested in a 26-year-old outfielder on a team-friendly contract who can play great defense and hit leadoff for years to come. Frisaro says, though, that it would take a “huge overpay” for a team to land Yelich. Based on the volume of interested teams, that would probably happen anyway, but it’s not like the Marlins got diddly plop in return for the other pieces they’ve moved this winter. I’ll buy them getting a “huge overpay” on any player when I see it.
  • Travis Sawchik points out that, at least in terms of the total volume of free agents, this year isn’t actually as unusual as we might think. Sure, the fact that so many *top* free agents have gone unsigned is extremely unusual, but the total volume of free agent signings that have lasted into February has actually been spiking since 2015. The reason, Sawchik opines, is that teams have simply become more comfortable waiting out the guys who are not their tip top targets. You can see this playing out for the Cubs, who quickly signed the relievers they wanted and the young starter they want to see blossom, and now they’re going to sit back and pick off deals that arise, knowing that their roster could plausibly be acceptable as it is.
  • If you want to see the hula hoops some teams have to jump through to try to add players right now when considering the financial implications (which is a big part of the market holdup), look no further than the Mets. Never a *huge* free agency spender, the Mets have typically done quite a bit in the second and mid-tier of free agency, but this year they’re doing a whole lot of bupkis, because they have almost no money to work with. See the lengths Joel Sherman goes to in order to try to add some quality to the roster.
  • But, contrasting all of the above, the Eric Hosmer market is possibly insane right now:

  • But maybe sliiiiiightly less insane than that report indicates:

  • Keep in mind: long deals with relatively lower AAVs in the current luxury tax era are going to be more valuable assets going forward, even if a team itself is not a threat to go over the luxury tax cap. Those deals will be much more movable.
  • That said … Hosmer has been valued as a literal replacement-level player in two of the last four seasons. Yes, he’s 28, but his batted ball data looks horrid even in 2017, a year when he BABIP’d his way into a career-best 135 wRC+. Teams must see something projectable about him in the future, and I will thus be fascinated to see how his next few years shake out. Because as it stands, I don’t see why teams are valuing him like the Cubs valued Jason Heyward, who had similar pock marks and was also young, but at least came with elite, impact defense in a corner outfield spot. Maybe teams are valuing the defensive floor at first base, too? Beats me. I’m just glad the Cubs aren’t desperately in the market for a first baseman.

Michael Cerami contributed to this post.

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.