Lukewarm Stove: Free Agent Freeze, Red Sox Big Decisions, Trading Big Cubs, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Free Agent Freeze, Red Sox Big Decisions, Trading Big Cubs, More

Chicago Cubs

Well, it’s certainly not as rewarding as the playoffs, but I do love me some rumors. And given the known roster turnover, expected payroll space (more on that soon), and ongoing managerial search, we should be in store for plenty of them over the next few months.

Here’s a collection of the latest.

  • Ken Rosenthal assembled the apparent offseason intentions of a handful of teams (Rockies, Astros, Red Sox, Marlins, Blue Jays) and it doesn’t look good in terms of free agent spending. Naturally, Players Union Chief Tony Clark isn’t thrilled: “After another year of declining attendance, it seems odd that several clubs rushed to announce that they plan to sit out the free-agent market before the first pitch of the postseason had even been thrown.” He continued: “The Hot Stove season has traditionally been about ticket sales and fan engagement. Yet several clubs are laying the groundwork for more of the same, even as franchise values skyrocket and central revenues continue to increase.”
  • Clark isn’t wrong and this could be a league-wide issue for the third-straight offseason, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for the Cubs.
  • Let’s actually consider the last two offseason in which the free-agent freeze-out was an issue …
    • (1) Heading into the 2018 MLB season: Although this was roughly the beginning of the free agent nightmare, the Cubs weren’t really the problem. They may have spent late and they may have spent poorly, but they certainly spent plenty – Yu Darvish ($126M), Tyler Chatwood ($38M), Brandon Morrow ($21M), and Steve Cishek ($13M).
    • (2) Heading into the 2019 MLB season: This was the second straight frustrating winter for free agents, but this time the Cubs can not claim to be uninvolved. They hardly spent any money at all, despite several clear holes on the roster, and went into the season with largely the same team as what they had the year before. Moreover, the Cubs were the team that wound up signing one of the frozen free agents in Craig Kimbrel, after the draft pick deadline passed. HOWEVER, you could point out that the Cubs didn’t spend because they were already carrying a payroll that was among the very highest in baseball. I said then and I’ll say it again now: they made a HUGE mistake by not increasing that level given the circumstances, but they were well above the luxury tax, so in a group of 30 teams, they’re hardly shouldering the bulk of the blame.
  • Point being: If the Cubs carry a payroll around where it was lastyear, then they should be positioned to spend again – just like they did two years ago. Don’t let the broader (but fair) MLB narrative and an idiosyncratic payroll decision of 2019 cloud your expectations. The Cubs should have money to spend and they clearly have PLENTY of reasons to spend it. If they don’t, I’ll be the first one to call it out.
  • For what it’s worth, Rosenthal points out that the Reds, Rangers, and Nationals have each signaled their intentions to spend more this offseason in their own ways.
  • Speaking of spending plans: the Red Sox stated their desire to get the payroll below the lowest luxury tax threshold, and discusses their many difficult upcoming decisions. For example, they already have several outgoing free agents (and a possible Jackie Bradley Jr. non-tender), but there’s also a potential opt-out situation in the making (J.D. Martinez) that could impact their decisions elsewhere (like trading superstar Mookie Betts (WANT?)).
  • And of particularly random note from that article, there’s this: “One thing to keep an eye on: If the Sox can trade a couple of players who are on big salaries, could they make a blockbuster with the Mets for Noah Syndergaard?” That’s an awfully specific rumor to toss in at the very end of the post, so you should probably keep it in mind. Of course, the Mets have appeared to be both willing and unwilling to trade Noah Syndergaard for … 2-3 years now. So I really don’t know if he’ll ever actually be on the move, and the Mets have said he won’t be. (But whatever.)
  • After Theo Epstein’s end-of-season press conference, one discussion point seems to be taking the greatest hold of Cubs fans (and for obvious reasons): Trading Kris Bryant and/or Javy Baez. Although I think everyone on the roster will theoretically be on the table (at least not unavailable), there seems to be a particularly greater focus on those two, as Brett discussed recently. For more, Mark Gonzales weighed the pros and cons of keeping or trading either of them.
  • You can check out his article for the actual pros and cons, but I will highlight a few key/stray notes: (1) Gonzales seems to expect the Cubs to take another shot at signing Kris Bryant long-term, (2) re-signing Nicholas Castellanos could make it easier to trade Bryant from an offensive standpoint, and (3) trading Javy Baez would basically leave Nico Hoerner as the starting shortstop from Day 1 (which isn’t necessarily a good idea for a number of reasons).
  • The Cubs catcher situation is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic topics to me right now. On the one hand, they have a star in Willson Contreras, who’s probably got one of the two best bats (and possibly athleticism) at the position in all of baseball. He struggles significantly with framing, but he may be improving there, and very few teams wouldn’t love to have him. Behind Contreras, you have Victor Caratini who emerged as a slightly better framer and worse (but still solidly above average) offensive contributor, who can play first base and switch-hit. If the Cubs wanted to, they could go back into 2020 with these two behind the plate and be just fine. However … (1) the Cubs have been teasing big changes, which doesn’t exclude their catchers (2) Contreras missed big chunks of the season in 2017 and 2019 due to injury, (3) Caratini has just one year of high-level success under his belt, and (4) … Yasmani Grandal is available in free agency.
  • If the Cubs were so inclined, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where trading Contreras and/or Caratini and using their financial capital to sign Grandal wouldn’t leave them better off in the long-run (return from the trade) and possibly close to neutral – or even better – next season, as well. Grandal has AVERAGED 5.0 WAR per year over the last five seasons and has been a solidly above-average bat in 3 of the last 4 seasons. The Cubs do not have to make a move at catcher, quite obviously. But it wouldn’t be an offseason of change if they didn’t seriously consider how a coordination of moves might leave them much better off for 2020 and beyond.

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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