Although I can see enough in the merits of seriously considering offers for Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras (among other Cubs) that I don’t dismiss the idea, there is an element to the decision informing those trades that I am not super keen on granting weight: the financial side.
I’m not ignorant of the prevailing sense that, yes, the Cubs are trying to get back under the luxury tax this year, but that doesn’t mean I have to view moving the salaries of valuable players as some kind of added benefit to the trades. A guy like Kris Bryant is easily worth his salary. So it’s not an independent – or even marginal – plus that the Cubs would “clear” $18 million in salary by trading him. Instead, the salary does go with him, but the trade must make clear baseball sense to get me on board (to say nothing of what I’d then expect the Cubs to do thereafter in free agency).
For Willson Contreras, who is projected to make just $4.5 million in his first year of arbitration, all of that goes double.
Trading Contreras now is not – can not be – about moving salary. That isn’t only because he barely makes any, but also because he is so valuable both as a member of this team and/or as a trade asset that the Cubs would be squandering so much real baseball value if any kind of key consideration was financial.
As we’ve discussed before, the clear baseball impetus in making a guy like Contreras available is simply about acquiring more young impact talent (because so many of the best and most impactful players in the game today are pre-arbitration), and maneuvering the timelines of your core pieces to prevent a cliff of non-competitiveness after the 2021 season.
That’s the kind of deal – be it for Kris Bryant or for Willson Contreras or for another controlled player – that I am willing to consider, and that the Cubs should be willing to consider. There is a version of such a trade that improves the Cubs considerably for after 2021, dings the Cubs only a bit for 2020-21, and leaves open the possibility that the Cubs can be a little more flexible in free agency to try to stay competitive during those two years. (On that last one, note that even that rationale is not solely about the financial ability to spend, but also simply is about bringing in different players/reapportioning internal playing time to reduce the hit from losing a guy like Bryant or Contreras. You aren’t going to replace those guys internally or in free agency or trade, but you can soften the blow.)
That is all to say, while I remain very openminded about these trade possibilities, it’s virtually entirely about long-term competitiveness and baseball rationale. It isn’t about simply moving out salary.
So you can imagine how much this line from Gordon Wittenmyer made my blood boil (emphasis added):
“But Willson Contreras might be the Cubs’ most valuable trade chip this side of Javy Baez — with more controllable years at less cost and at a position of greater scarcity. And that theoretically gives the Cubs their best shot at the greatest haul of younger players, if not their only shot to build a package that might send a bad contract off the books in a deal.”
The contract immediately referenced thereafter by Wittenmyer is Jason Heyward’s, though it’s conceivable other shorter-term obligations could slot in.
*takes a breath, collects self*
If the extreme surplus value of Willson Contreras is used – AT ALL – to unload the undesirable contract of a team that has the wherewithal to spend up to and beyond the luxury tax on a consistent basis, I will lose my shit.
Even if such a trade were immediately followed by a major financial outlay to bring in a new player. Not only is that just irrational, it is ***NOT AN EITHER/OR PROPOSITION.*** Do the Cubs have some financial limitations tied to actual revenue? Of course. Are those limitations so profound that it is utterly impossible to sign any free agents whatsoever without moving a huge contract out? I do not believe so. A competitive, large market team – if smart and operating efficiently – should try to do both things: trade very valuable shorter-term players for longer-term assets to smooth the transition to the next window, WHILE ALSO signing short-term free agents to help provide support at the big league level in the near-term.
Unloading huge contracts is not necessary to accomplish that approach, and we’re already being mighty understanding in suggesting that it’s totally cool if the Cubs’ primary free agent pursuits are of the lower-cost, higher-risk, higher-upside variety. It’s not like we’re demanding the Cubs keep all their big contracts on the books AND go out and sign Josh Donaldson.
I’m losing the thread a little bit here because the idea that the Cubs would anchor a key, valuable piece like Willson Contreras to a bad contract instead of trying to maximize the total PLAYER return is just so infuriating to me that I need lots of blinks to reel it back in.
OK. Here’s me taking another breath: this is not necessarily a rumor that’s out there. This is not necessarily something that the Cubs are actually considering. We don’t really know for sure, and I’m fairly certain that if the front office has its druthers, they will absolutely prefer to maximize the total player return in any of these trades. It would be silly to assume otherwise. If something crazy and bad happens, we can be angry about it then. No reason to get too riled up now. (You hear me, Brett?)
But all that said, I guess I just wanted to put this out there for now before anything happens. Using a guy like Contreras to unload a bad contract is not something that would, uh, yield the warm fuzzies.