I’m really looking forward to this offseason. Free-agent-spending shenanigans aside, I enjoyed last winter, too. I know some people got a little bogged down by the end of it, but we’re lucky to have another top-heavy free agent class at a time when big moves are a real possibility (necessity?) for the Cubs.
- The upcoming market is led by a sub-30-year-old STAR position player (Anthony Rendon) and a sub-30-year-old STAR starting pitcher (Gerrit Cole). There’s also a 28-year-old outfielder (Nicholas Castellanos) who’ll be high on most Chicago wish lists, and a rival 31-year-old catcher (Yasmani Grandal) who theoretically presents some unique value to a team like the Cubs. All of which is to say, we’ve got quite a sequel of an offseason on our hands, and that’s not something you can count on every offseason.
- Basically, I’m excited to see that the Cubs have some real, roster-changing options available in free agency, should they choose to go that route. At a minimum, it provides options that the front office cannot hand wave away as not really offering an upgrade, and it also should help them with some additional leverage on the trade market. This front office has not had a great record in the offseason lately, but I still trust them more than most to improve the team for the near and long-term.
- Of course, things are not always entirely within their control. Despite the Cubs need to think about starting pitching, I tend to lean toward Rendon as my #1 target of the offseason, thanks to the kind of bat he could provide this otherwise-too-homogenous lineup. He’ll have plenty of suitors, including a couple of heavy hitters on either coast. The Washington Nationals have reportedly already offered Rendon a seven-year deal, which, deferred money or not, he’s likely to consider strongly. And on the other side of the country, the Dodgers may well be planning to court the slugging third baseman, as well.
- Interestingly, Buster Olney seems to believe that Rendon could look for the sort of short-term, high-annual salary offer the Dodgers extended to Bryce Harper last winter. It’s a unique structure with plenty of pros and cons – it’s also not the sort of offer every team can provide – but if it is indeed what Rendon is looking for, we already know the Dodgers aren’t opposed to it.
- Obviously I never expected a player of Rendon’s caliber to have any shortage of suitors, but the Cubs may already have to thread the needle between a long-term, deferred east coast deal from a playoff team and a short-term, high-salary offer from a west coast playoff team. That won’t be easy. And that won’t be the end of their competition.
- Speaking of that other sub-30 star, Josh Reddick believes Gerrit Cole is signing somewhere “west of Nevada” when the dust settles, which is … not Chicago.
- Remember, though, Cole isn’t the only highly attractive starting pitcher on the market. Stephen Strasburg, 31, can opt out of his remaining four-year, $100M deal with the Nationals and I increasingly think he will. The righty has dealt with injuries in the past, but he threw over 200 innings this season across 33 starts with a 3.32 ERA and 3.25 FIP (5.7 WAR). If you can get him for 3-4 years less than Cole (who’s younger, remember) and maybe $80-100M fewer dollars, that wouldn’t be a terrible consolation prize, right? Cole is younger and better, but he’s going to break a free agent starting pitcher record. So, yeah … keep that in mind. The Cubs were speculatively connected to Strasburg before he extended with the Nationals at the beginning of the 2016 season and could be again this winter.
- You’ll want to check out Joel Sherman’s latest at the New York Post, as he speculates that this winter’s manager purge could be followed up by a front office purge next winter, including the Cubs. Sherman does admit it’s harder to see that with the Cubs than several other teams, but doesn’t put it out of the question. I think it would be very difficult to be the owner that fires Theo Epstein for extremely obvious reasons. But hidden in that otherwise interesting piece is a throwaway line about how it would NOT be surprising to see the Cubs “change the dynamic with a significant move – say, trading Kris Bryant.”
- I know it feels like we’ve been discussing that for a while now, but this sort of pervasive industry speculation can’t be ignored. Perhaps some of it is self-propagated, but at a certain point smoke is smoke. People are talking about this behind the scenes. It’s clear. And that reminds me of an often under-discussed piece to the “trade Bryant” puzzle: his cost. Kris Bryant is no longer a “cheap” core piece. He may still be young and he may still be a part of the core, but in his third of 4 arbitration years with an MVP title under his belt, Bryant is projected to make $18.5M this season and well over $20M in his final year under control (potentially closer to $30M, in reality).
- You don’t often think about trading arbitration-level players as a cost-cutting measure, but not many players are Kris Bryant. If the Cubs wanted to take a big run at Rendon or Cole, trading Bryant could help clear the way financially (while still bringing back a huge return), as well as positionally. Again, you wouldn’t trade Bryant *BECAUSE* you want to move his salary. Clearly. But it’s part of the total calculus.
- Speaking of which! The Red Sox, who are apparently looking to get under the 2020 luxury tax threshold, could look to trade Mookie Betts, who’s in his final year of team control via arbitration, but he’s making a pretty penny, as well (projected $27M). At more money with one fewer year of control, the return wouldn’t be quite as big as Bryant, but you can bet it would take a lot. Regardless of what happens with Betts, 27, this winter, I’d sure love the Cubs to keep an eye out for him when he’s a free agent next offseason.
- And finally Shi Davidi discusses the Blue Jays many options with respect to closer Ken Giles, whom the Cubs pursued at the trade deadline this season. Giles feels like a good bet to be on the move this winter (though the Blue Jays could just as easily hold onto him and trade him at the deadline), and I think the Cubs should be interested. Giles is just 29 years old and had a monster season in 2019 (1.87 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 1.8 WAR, 53.0 IP). He’s projected by MLBTR to make $8.4M in arbitration next year.
- Related reminder:
I actually think Kimbrel is probably going to be excellent next season … I just don't want the front office thinking that way. There are way too many early season should-be-wins that go to waste when the bullpen isn't a priority in the offseason.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) October 10, 2019