Last week, Jon Morosi reported that the Cubs “loom as a possible suitor” for Nolan Arenado, the Colorado Rockies’ superstar third baseman, extended just last year, whom the Rockies seem very interested in trading at the moment.
I had a lot of thoughts on that rumor, which I wouldn’t say was spurious, but I did regard it very suspiciously, given the Rockies’ interest in trading Arenado (and buoying that market), combined with a fluid third base market situation. It’s impossible to know just who is pushing this narrative onto Morosi, and to what end.
But now there’s a second report connecting the Cubs to Arenado, and when that happens, it makes me listen much more closely.
“As the Colorado Rockies search for potential trade partners, two teams in particular have intrigued them, according to sources: the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs would make sense if they move Bryant. They are not primed for some sort of a rebuild as much as a refresh or reboot — an always-difficult needle to thread, particularly if they hope to dip under the luxury-tax threshold. One source characterized the Cubs as doing due diligence, as they’ve done throughout the winter with myriad trade conversations, but the notion of trading catcher Willson Contreras and a higher-priced, underperforming player in an Arenado deal, then flipping Bryant to revitalize a mediocre farm system, squares in the short and long term.”
Combined with Morosi’s original report, as well as our pre-offseason sense that, yes, Arenado to the Cubs makes a lot of “fit” sense, I think we can now say with confidence that the Cubs have definitely looked into this. Like, legitimately.
To be sure, as Passan cautions, the Cubs explore all kinds of scenarios all the time. That they would check in on a superstar like Arenado makes perfect sense. Arenado offers a sublime glove, a higher-contact approach for a lineup that needs it, reason to believe he’d be fine away from Coors Field, and, most importantly, has already been extended long-term. It would be like “signing” Arenado to the extension you don’t believe you can get Kris Bryant to sign. That’s the theory, anyway, and the reason the Cubs would check in.
But could they actually make a trade work? A deal that makes sense for their near and long-term goals?
Well, going with what Passan mentions, consider a possible, hypothetical scenario: the Cubs deal something like Contreras (oof) and Jason Heyward to the Rockies for Arenado, which the Cubs can do because ditching the Heyward contract allows them to bring on Arenado’s contract (and they have a good young back-up in Victor Caratini), and the Rockies can do because it saves them long-term money and nets them Contreras. From there, the Cubs trade Bryant for prospects/young pitching, and then use the financial savings to re-sign Nick Castellanos to play right field.
In the end, the Cubs are left with a long-term third baseman, a higher-contact, potent lineup for the short-term, young impact pitching for the short-term, and some young talent to help in the long-term. In other words, through this series of moves, it’s conceivable that the Cubs would have not only added more long-term talent to protect against the post-2021 cliff, but also would be overall improved for 2020. Basically, the Cubs are taking on more long-term money in exchange for the nearer-term improvements and getting under the luxury tax. Absurdly neat trick if you can pull it off, and the kind of thing a big-money team should be trying to do.
… but, come on, can they really pull this off? Consider the series of events that would have to happen. First, the Cubs would have to be OK with losing Contreras when he might be on the cusp of stardom. Then, the Cubs would have to get the Rockies to agree to this kind of trade structure, which doesn’t really net them the kind of HAUL they can sell to their fanbase. Then, the Cubs would have to hope that the Rockies aren’t on Heyward’s limited no-trade list. Then, the Cubs would have to get a great return for Bryant, which includes some young, big-league ready, impact pitching. Then, the Cubs would have to re-sign Castellanos on a pretty darn reasonable deal so they could stay under the luxury tax.
That’s an extremely tall order.
And it ignores the challenges associated with Arenado’s contract: it comes with full no-trade rights, an opt-out after 2021, and $234 million still on the books. What if you have to compensate Arenado to waive his no-trade rights? What if you have to compensate him further to get him to ditch the opt-out (otherwise, you’re risking getting just two years of him … the same control you already have over Bryant)? And also, that’s just a huge contract in general.
So, look, I don’t want to be a sourpuss on this, because I do believe the Cubs have explored this stuff, and I also believe there’s a series of moves that accomplishes everything we’d hoped the Cubs could do this offseason (and also achieves their self-imposed goal of staying under the luxury tax). But any time you start working in this many HUGE names and HUGE dollars into a MULTI-step process, the likelihood of pulling it off drops precipitously at each step. And, from my perspective, trading for Arenado makes realistic sense only if it occurs in conjunction with the other moves.
This is fun, and the interest appears to be real. But I’m not getting my hopes up.