I kinda hate the part of my brain responsible for analyzing Cubs rumors this offseason, because, despite being told (over and over) not to expect a big expenditure – let alone Bryce Harper, specifically – I can tell I’m holding out hope. And no, there’s nothing wrong inherently wrong with hope (I mean, rebellion’s are built on hope after all), but its mere existence sort of proves that there’s something very real and very bad to hope against, right?
From the rumor mill …
- Over the weekend Mark Gonzales jumped on 670 The Score to discuss the Cubs offseason and you can catch the full interview at that link. Gonzales didn’t drop any huge news or new rumors, but he did hit on some major points, including his continued belief that the Cubs don’t have a ton of financial wiggle-room right now.
- Beyond that, he mentioned the Nationals and Phillies as Harper’s main suitors this winter (which tracks, given the rumors about the Cubs, Dodgers, and Yankees), and suggested that the Cubs could move on with their offseason before the Harper saga is over, because it could take a really long time.
- About Harper: there seems to be a lot of unease about the potential length of Harper’s contract (specifically those 14-year rumors), but that just doesn’t matter to me. For one, a contract that long is very likely to help push down the overall AAV for luxury tax purposes, as well as the actual value of a deal thanks to inflation (like when teams defer money). And for another, with opt-outs, the deal isn’t likely to last that long anyway. [Brett: Yes, but the team is still guaranteed the downside risk if things go utterly sideways. Remember when we thought Jason Heyward’s deal would actually be only three years?]
- But perhaps more important than what happens 14 years from now, is the fact that the Cubs are in the middle of a competitive window right now, and could use somebody like Harper. You simply have to do what it takes to get a guy like that in the door – to a reasonable extent – and worry about how you deal with later when later comes. [Brett: I agree with the philosophy here, obviously. Though I would concede that a 14-year commitment does stretch the boundaries of what I think any team will realistically consider doing. I tend to think 10 years is probably the longest we’ll actually see offered, but maybe I’m wrong.]
- Gonzales also thinks the Brewers are unlikely to make a big move this winter (which tracks with our estimation that they have almost no financial wiggle-room either), and that the Cubs are not simply going after left-handed relievers, but rather relievers capable of getting left-handed hitters out.
- Thanks to (1) an apparent Cubs fan preference for Bryce Harper, (2) the rumored spending restrictions, (3) the admitted ugliness of his 2018 postseason run with the Dodgers, and (4) stronger interest elsewhere, Manny Machado has flown almost completely off our radar lately, hasn’t he? Indeed, just last winter, you couldn’t check Twitter without there being a significant Cubs-Manny connection when it looked like the Orioles were going to trade him, and the same was true for most of the first half of the season. But now, for those reasons listed above, he’s nowhere to be found in the Cubs rumor world. With that said, most of the “ugliness” from his time with the Dodgers (the hustle stuff and first base stuff) is explained away by his former manager Buck Showalter. The former Orioles manager admits that Machado is not your standard player, but adds that he is worth every ounce of effort you put into him and that may very well be true.
- Circling back to Harper for a moment: NBC Sports shares some comments from Harper’s agent Scott Boras, regarding Harper’s affinity for the city of San Francisco and how much he likes playing at AT&T in front of that crowd. But in the same article, NBC writes that their sources say the Giants’ interest in Harper is massively overblown and that he’d have to “turn down other, more lucrative opportunities to come to San Francisco.” Now it’s our turn: Are the sources trying to downplay their interest to gain leverage or is Boras trying to drum up fan support to pressure their team?
- The former may seem to make more sense, but in this case, I think it’s more the latter. Frankly, if the rumors are true that the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants are all either not willing to spend or not particularly interested in spending on Harper, and if other big market clubs are out for other reasons (Rangers, Mariners, Red Sox), then the Phillies and Nationals won’t have any big fish to compete against (yeah, yeah, I remember the United Center thing and while the White Sox have money to spend, I wouldn’t exactly call them a big fish). Harper will get a big deal either way, but it simply won’t be as big as it could be without some of those five teams involved, no matter how many other clubs stay in the discussions.
- The Yankees always seemed more keen on Machado anyway:
The #Yankees have downplayed their interest in Manny Machado. But they've spent a lot of time already trying to find out as much about him as possible. And he's definitely interested in them!
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) November 12, 2018
- At The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal discusses Zack Greinke’s availability alongside teammate Paul Goldschmidt (with A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin likely leaving via FA, the D-Backs are sorta up for grabs), as well the Mariners plans with Dee Gordon and Robinson Cano. We discussed the former with respect to the Cubs over the weekend, and the latter could be interested in a return to the Yankees (but I doubt it happens).
- Rosenthal also shares a comment from a rival executive claiming the Phillies are “shopping the hell” out of first baseman Carlos Santana (32, 109 wRC+, 1.9 WAR in 2018) to move Rhys Hoskins back to first. All of it, though, seems to be in coordination with the expected addition of Harper or Machado.
- Another Harper thing: The Astros reportedly had a trade in place for Harper at the 2018 deadline, but Nationals ownership shot it down. Now, on the surface that seems like a really significant story, but I’m not sure it’s anything more than really interesting. In short, the Astros interest at the deadline – when Harper cost a lot less ($), was only going to be on the team for a few months, and was going to cost very little in prospect currency – does not indicate any sort of extra interest now. They were a contending team looking for a mid-season boost for relatively cheap. That’s all we know for sure. Maybe the Astros want him on a big free agent deal, too, or maybe not. The Nationals saying no might also seem like a story, but we already know they tried to offer him a $300M+ deal in September, which he turned down, so … nothing really “new” to take away from this. Still interesting, though.
- I still don’t think the Cubs need any starting pitchers, even one as good as Paxton (for what it would cost and the logjam it would create), but it’s always fun to track that market, because it can get very competitive very quickly:
#Astros on list of teams talking to #Mariners about a trade for LHP James Paxton, sources say. Market described as “active,” including HOU, NYY and a wide variety of other clubs. Paxton in his career against HOU: 2.89 ERA in 71 2/3 innings, .605 opponents’ OPS.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 11, 2018
- And finally, Jim Duquette discusses the shot-down Kris Bryant rumors and the Cubs potential willingness to simply non-tender Addison Russell (ignore the part at the beginning about the Cubs being at $209M for luxury tax purposes – we calculated that number to be closer to $226M when you include the cost of benefits and the rest of the 40-man roster):
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) November 12, 2018