Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Shrinking Budget, Harper, Machado, Merrifield, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Shrinking Budget, Harper, Machado, Merrifield, More

Chicago Cubs

I’m still warming up to the idea of targeting Andrew McCutchen this winter, considering our discussion this morning. I think he fits offensively, positionally, and financially – plus, he’s just an easy guy to root for.

But there’s a catch. Well, two catches. First: I hope, this self-evident, but, for the purposes of that discussion, I’m operating under the assumption that Bryce Harper or Manny Machado are off the table for the Cubs. Second: I’m assuming the contract estimates from MLB Trade Rumors, Jon Heyman, and FanGraphs (roughly 3 years and $40M) will end up being close to reality. If McCutchen instead gets the Lorenzo Cain treatment (5 years/$80M), well, that changes things.

  • And to be fair, Cain was almost the same age when he signed his deal with the Brewers last winter, coming off a very similar season offensively (115 wRC+ v. 120 wRC+) and without nearly as much past success as McCutchen. Then again, Cain also provides far better defense at a more premium position, so it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples thing. There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that McCutchen’s agent will be pointing to Cain’s 5.7 WAR season in 2018 and the $80M deal that preceded it.
  • Buster Olney’s podcast shook some rumors and news loose, including a Bob Nightengale deduction that the Nationals are probably going to miss re-upping with Harper – suggesting instead, that, with no apparent intentions to keep negotiating from Harper’s side, the Nats will simply have to move on under the assumption that he’s not returning (a decision, which could force that $300M offer off the table entirely, if it isn’t already).
  • With the Giants likely out and the Yankees’ eyes elsewhere, there’s only one obvious landing spot as of today – at least, in their minds:

  • The White Sox are also named as potential landing spot, but the Phillies are expected to “do everything possible” to get Harper to sign there. As for Machado, the expectation is still New York, according to Nightengale, though the Phillies and White Sox are mentioned once again.
  • Olney reiterated that he’s heard the Cubs are “boxed in” with their payroll, prompting this response from Jesse Rogers (emphasis mine): “Well, I think you’re right, but I would not have said that 6-8 weeks ago as the season ended. I thought for sure they’d be in on the Bryce Harper sweepstakes and making some other changes. [But] I think the rhetoric changed once the front office got its budget.” Rogers reaffirmed his belief that things must have changed from the end of the season to the start of the GM meetings – “I think ownership drew a line” – and even suggested that Theo Epstein won’t be able to overhaul as much as he’d like (or planned to?) because of that budget. Wow.
  • If Rogers’ sense is correct, that’s a borderline bombshell. No one calls the Ricketts family cheap, because, well, until now, they’ve essentially allowed Epstein and Co. to do whatever they want. And also, it’s not like the payroll won’t be a huge number in 2019 regardless. But if the front office wound up being caught off guard by a firm budget line drawn by ownership? That would be quite a surprise, and it would make you wonder if that’s an artificial decision, or if it reflects revenue issues that no one expected.
  • Other than that, Rogers thinks the Cubs will add a left-handed reliever (naming Andrew Miller and Zach Briton as potential options) and should add a leadoff hitter to shake things up – which is easier said than done.
  • Olney has heard that the Cubs are not setting their budget based on the CBT tiers, but Rogers shares a sentiment from an agent that the Cubs are in CBT hell, because if they spend at all they’ll blow past the top tier and incur all those penalties. But while that last part is correct if the Cubs commit another $20 million or more, the penalties for going over are actually not that bad. Just do the math – Brett did, and he likes spinach pancakes.
  • The good news is that clearly the Cubs and White Sox are finalists for Bryce Harper:

  • All the smoke in the world is pointing towards Manny Machado and the Yankees. I think it’s easy to say they’re the public favorites at this point, as the rumors continue flowing:

  • BUT things are never this simple. And at USA Today, Bob Nightengale shares the following Hal Steinbrenner comments: “If it’s a $300 million guy or a $10 million guy, clearly those comments are troubling.” The Yankees’ owner went on to say that it’s really GM Brian Cashman’s job (to deliberate?), but really stuck with his original point: “Because that ain’t going to sell where we play baseball …. That conversation will happen.”
  • Something tells me Machado is really gonna be crawling out of his skin if/when that conversation goes down.
  • But what are his other options? The Yankees have obvious interest and I’m guessing the White Sox do, as well, but the Nationals likely do not. The Phillies may be prioritizing Harper, and I just don’t believe they’re actually going to sign both guys. The Dodgers and Cubs are debating not spending big this winter, the Rangers and Braves reportedly are not, the Red Sox may not make a huge commitment to another bat, and Machado also doesn’t quite fit perfectly into many other clubs’ budgets. I suppose I could see the Cardinals or Brewers having the need, but not the guts to do what it takes to get it down (in years for St. Louis and dollars for Milwaukee).
  • The Giants, meanwhile, have a crowded left side of the infield with Evan Longoria (tough to move contract) and Brandon Crawford (they don’t want to move) at third and short. And word is Farhan Zaidi is looking to create a little financial breathing room for the Giants, which is understandable for a new President and a team that loaded with aging veterans. The Yankees might be by far Machado’s best option.
  • Here’s a breakdown of what it would take to sign a free agent attached to draft pick compensation fo reach team: if the Cubs sign one of the free agents attached to draft pick compensation – like Bryce Harper – they’ll have to give up their second-highest pick and $500K in IFA bonus pool money.
  • And lastly today, Jon Heyman dumped a bunch of notes at FanCred, which you can sort through for the full effect, but among the notable bits … A.J. Pollock could be a sneaky candidate to return to the Diamondbacks if he’s not finding the right value on the free agent market. I think the Cubs could show interest in Pollock, but only if they fail on Harper, Machado, McCutchen, and maybe someone like Michael Brantley, who’s projected to get a similar deal to McCutchen, but is slightly younger. That said, Brantley is reportedly high on the Braves’ wish list.
  • Also according to Heyman (re: a trade for potential Cubs target Whit Merrifield): “GM Dayton Moore does not like to trade stars who have already made a connection with fans and in the clubhouse …” I know the Cubs can afford to operate differently with respect to “star players” than smaller market clubs, but if the Royals don’t trade Merrifield for that reason alone … woof. That’s a bad look.
  • Finally from Heyman: expect J.T. Realmuto rumors to be all the rage at the winter meetings and the Astros, Dodgers, and Yankees might make the most sense. The Marlins do not want to trade him in their division.

Author: Michael Cerami

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