With the non-tender deadline in the past, we are now officially, fully in red-alert-offseason-transaction mode. Right? Right?!? RIGHT!?!?!?
There were already a few big deals in November (perhaps encouragingly so, compared to the last two years), but December has historically been the month. The Winter Meetings start on Monday, and big deals can go down at any minute, including possibly today …
Like for Zack Wheeler:
Ken Rosenthal expects free agent starter Zack Wheeler to sign “any day now, maybe even today.” And, indeed, the Dallas Morning News reports that Wheeler has indicated to teams a desire to sign before the Winter Meetings. So … hello. Wheeler may not be as big of a free agent as Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, or Anthony Rendon, but he is the third best available starting pitcher on the market and is expected to get $100M in any deal. And if a big alternative like Wheeler comes off the board before the Winter Meetings next week, we might expect to see even more significant action than usual.
As for the Wheeler market, Rosenthal concedes that other teams like the Angels could still be involved (the Rangers were told they are out), but really boils it down to three finalists: the White Sox, Phillies, and Reds. The Sox have been connected to Wheeler all offseason long, particularly after they signed Yasmani Grandal, and would be a great fit. Frankly, I think Wheeler’s going to be great next season (he’s been so good the last two years and is only 29), so I’m rooting for them to get him over these other two. Because if the Reds get Wheeler … yikes. Is anyone looking forward to facing a Reds rotation of Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Zack Wheeler, Sonny Gray, and Anthony DeSclafani any time soon? I’m not. The Phillies can obviously use Wheeler, though, and probably have more financial flexibility than the Reds and White Sox.
Perhaps the Angels aren’t the only other “other” team quietly still in on Wheeler though:
I can’t imagine the Blue Jays spending what it would take to get Strasburg or Cole (not with the Yankees and Angels so heavily into both, among many other teams in on each), so Wheeler’s tier on down (Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Cole Hamels) is probably the waters in which they’re swimming.
Here’s Rosenthal on the Bumgarner market, which he seems to believe is heavily dependent on the Wheeler market (i.e., he can sign soon after Wheeler makes his pick to whichever team(s) missed out):
Rosenthal doesn’t think Bumgarner is a lock to get five years and I don’t think he’ll get $100M, but a relatively big four year deal seems to be in play.
Speaking of the free agent starting pitching market …
The narrative hasn’t changed since early November: Cole seems to prefer the west coast (Angels, Dodgers maaaaybe Padres) and Strasburg is expected to return to D.C. In addition, the Nationals feel more confident about their ability to keep Strasburg, compared to Anthony Rendon. So if you want any, tiny sliver of a shot for the Cubs to get Rendon (which is very unlikely at this point, but not entirely foreclosed), your rooting interests are for that narrative to come true – because the Nationals aren’t getting both Rendon and Strasburg back, in my opinion.
But since we’re talking unlikely scenarios (i.e. Rendon –> Cubs), let’s get this out of the way:
At Cubs.com, Jordan Bastian discusses five recent non-tenders that could be of interest to the Cubs this offseason: Blake Treinen, Kevin Gausman, Aaron Sanchez, Junior Guerra, Jason Adam. We’re going to have some more, specifically, on Treinen later today, but I agree with Bastian that all five should be on the Cubs radar. I don’t want you guys to sleep on these non-tenders – there are some legitimately interesting new names on the free agent market that could be huge for the Cubs next season, especially when you look at a group like that and think about how they could impact the bullpen.
One recent non-tender that didn’t pop up on Bastian’s list is former Brewer Jimmy Nelson. Anyone up for a roll of the dice relief target? Because this is the kind of thing the Cubs might have to pull off in order to surprisingly find an impact reliever on the cheap:
Circling back to that Dallas Morning News report, Texas is serious in its pursuit of Anthony Rendon this offseason: “[The Rangers] appear to be reserving their ‘mega’ offer for third baseman Anthony Rendon.” The Rangers are a team that has money, but hasn’t spent it lavishly over the last few seasons, as they waited out the Astros’ storm, while figuring out how to transition out of the Adrian Beltre era. So they could make a great deal of sense. They’ve already jumped out and got a starter, so I’d keep an eye on them for Rendon. And if they don’t get Rendon, look for them to move onto Josh Donaldson (free agent) and Miguel Andujar (Yankees 3B, trade candidate). For what it’s worth, the Rangers appear likely to add another starting pitcher this offseason, too, but it could be from a tier lower than that middle-group discussed above.
A report out of Cleveland seems to suggest that the Indians may not be as willing to move star shortstop Francisco Lindor this offseason as we may have once believed …
Here’s the money quote: “But the only way [and offseason trade] happens is if the Indians get overwhelmed. We’re talking a peyote-induced vision of the white buffalo overwhelmed. If you’re thinking about a remake of the Bartolo Colon trade with Montreal for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips, then you’re on right hallucinogenic highway. Otherwise, Lindor is staying.”
But don’t get the story wrong: the Indians *are* trading Lindor before the end of his team control (up after 2021). It’s just that they apparently now want to wait until at least the 2020 Trade Deadline to see if they can’t reclaim the AL Central first, before making a move. It’s not crazy. They’re a good team, he’s a great player, and although the AL Central is improving, it isn’t unwinnable. You might get less at the deadline than you would now – and you’re risking injury – but you never know what needs or desperation might pop up (and the acquiring team would still get more than a year of control, so …).
What does that mean for the rest of the market? Well, the trio of available superstars – Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Kris Bryant – may actually now feature only two available guys, one of whom – Betts – comes with only one year of expensive control, making a trade all the less likely. And that may increase the likelihood for a Bryant deal. Bryant doesn’t play the same position as the other two, but there are only so many teams out there (1) willing and (2) able to trade for a player of his caliber, and if Lindor was someone’s target 1A, they might just have to move on to 1B – regardless of position – if the Indians are changing their tune. Remember, execs around the league have long expected at least one of these three to be traded this offseason.
Just don’t expect any kind of deal like the “blockbuster” idea floating around involving Bryant and Willson Contreras …