MLBits: Most Improved Cubs, Harper's Crazy Journey, the First $400M Player, Keuchel, Kimbrel, Tanking, More

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MLBits: Most Improved Cubs, Harper’s Crazy Journey, the First $400M Player, Keuchel, Kimbrel, Tanking, More

Chicago Cubs

The 2019 Chicago Cubs have a number of obvious bounce-back candidates on the (expected) Opening Day roster, including guys like Willson Contreras, Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, and Jason Heyward.

But each of their cases presents something unique enough to prevent a real apples-to-apples comparison: Contreras had a second-half drop-off possibly fueled by overuse, Yu Darvish and Kris Bryant dealt with significant injuries, and Jason Heyward, well, I don’t know how to shorten that story, but you know how it goes.

But Ian Happ, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber don’t really have that problem. None of these guys were overused, dealt with major injuries, or had a mid-career offensive meltdowns. Instead, each dealt with on-field concerns – among them: Happ struck out too often, Almora couldn’t hit righties, and Schwarber couldn’t hit lefties – providing clear paths for redemption and breakout in 2019.

  • So my question to you is this: Which of these players do you expect to make the biggest improvements in their area of greatest weakness by the end of the season? Don’t answer with whom you think will produce the most by the end of the year – Schwarber’s 115 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR have proven he can contribute with his current lack of prowess against southpaws – but rather who will improve the most in those particular areas of weakness.
  • My answer? Ian Happ. I think that strikeout rate is going to settle under 30% this season, which would represent at least a 6-7 percentage point drop from 2018. That’s a tall order, but it’s also necessary if he truly hopes to become an everyday, sure-fire starter on the Chicago Cubs. For what it’s worth, ZiPS is not as optimistic, projecting a 34.6% K-rate in 2018, though Steamer is a lot better (30.9%).
  • I’m not even sure how to introduce this truly riveting and monster narrative of how Bryce Harper and the Phillies came together for a deal, but you absolutely have to read it. Matt Gelb details how the conversations began, evolved, and ended, including notes on Manny Machado, real rumors, misinformation, and Game of Thrones-level gamesmanship between Scott Boras, Dan Lozano, the Phillies front office/ownership, and the media.
  • Among the most notable bits: Harper’s final 13-year/$330M offer began as a 20-year(!) idea, before eventually trickling down to 15 and ultimately 13 years. But that wasn’t the Phillies’ only path. They also dangled a three or four-year deal worth $40M/year *and* a six or seven-year deal with a $35M average annual value. In other words, Harper had his choice between destroying the previous AAV record, settling for a middle-ground between AAV and total dollars, and setting a new total guarantee. He took the latter and the rest is history. What a crazy story.
  • At CBS Sports, Dayn Perry notes that Harper fell short of his original $400M goal, but points out that the first $400M contract might not be too far away. Mike Trout leads the way as the “heavy favorite,” while Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor rank among the “other contenders.” I think most of those guys, besides Trout, will struggle to earn such a deal, because they’ll each be about 1-2 years older than Harper and Machado were this offseason. But each does have the sort of talent, marketability, and youth that could at least put them in the conversation. Outside of those five names, Perry lists Ronald Acuña and Juan Soto as the “next generation” and Shohei Ohtani as the “wild card.”
  • The Mets recently hired an outside-the-box general manager in former player-agent Brodie Van Wagenen, and he’s making sure that new voices continue to get a say in their front office: The Mets hired ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza, who’s fantastic at her job, as a baseball operations advisor. Here’s what Van Wagenen had to say about the decision: “Jessica has a very high baseball IQ. She has aptitude to learn anything. She has clearly has elevated herself to show she knows baseball inside and out.” Awesome. According to the NY Post, Mendoza will keep her job as an analyst for Sunday Night Baseball (she’s the best part about it, so I’m happy to hear that). More women in baseball, please.
  • Although the top position players have been taken off the market, the top available starter, Dallas Keuchel, is still a free agent and Steve Adams has the latest at MLB Trade Rumors. But in short … it isn’t looking too good. The Astros haven’t engaged on Keuchel in weeks, the Phillies are only interested in a “very” short-term deal, and the Twins are only looking at one year for Keuchel. Adams believes that, at this point, his best bet is a significant starter injury to a contender somewhere this spring – he specifically mentions that the Cardinals may be without Carlos Martinez to start the year – but it’s all a bit speculative. And remember, Craig Kimbrel is still out there, as well.
  • As for the Cubs, I don’t see a fit for Keuchel at all right now, as the rotation is loaded with obvious starters and back-filled by a capable sixth man, Mike Montgomery, and a potentially high-risk, high-reward lottery ticket in Tyler Chatwood. But Kimbrel continues to intrigue me. If his price tag falls down – by about a bajillion dollars – or he settles for a one-year deal, a contender without an obvious closer like the Cubs is maybe the perfect landing spot. But, you know, money.
  • Speaking of starters who may not be ready for Opening Day, Clayton Kershaw is apparently at risk for the season opener against Arizona. He’s made a franchise record eight straight opening day starts (the MLB record is 12, for what it’s worth) and was already named the Opening Day starter. Unfortunately, there’s not even a timetable for him to throw off the mound yet.
  • In case you missed it, Buster Olney called the NL Central the toughest division in baseball.
  • Portland has, so far, been the most visible suitor for a new MLB franchise, but now Raleigh is getting things going:

  • And finally, at FanGraphs, Craig Edwards has an interesting proposal about tying revenue-sharing to wins and losses. The rich teams would still be forced to share money with the poorer clubs, BUT how much was given and received would depend on how many wins and losses a club had each year – so as to discourage tanking. It’s a bit of a complicated plan, but I can see the intent and imagine something along these lines working.

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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