It struck me, today, when I was reading Brett’s post on Craig Kimbrel’s trade appeal, that Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, and Jon Lester* are no longer Cubs, while Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Theo Epstein are all on one-year deals.
No, I didn’t just realize this. And, yes, some of those guys might still get extended. But … man, where has the time gone? Where has this championship window gone? I just wasn’t prepared for 2015-2017 to be the peak.
And that makes the 2021 Cubs – fresh off yet another disappointing playoff performance – all the more confusing as a fan. Is this going to be a “Last Dance” of sorts for the core, or more of a transition year? Will the Cubs push the chips to the middle one last time, or start regrouping after some big offseason trades? I really don’t know.
Cubs Trade Chips
If you do expect the Cubs to make some trades this offseason, Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney’s latest at The Athletic is a good place to start. In that post, they run down the Cubs trade candidates (and non-candidates), including some specific rumors where applicable.
For example, while Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks are very likely staying put, the Cubs organizational strength at catcher (Victor Caratini, Miguel Amaya, Ethan Hearn, Ronnier Quintero, among others) could lead to a willingness to move Willson Contreras in the right deal. And as much as you may hate to hear that, it also makes sense, right? Contreras, 28, is still young and was a trade candidate last offseason. He also remained an above average hitter at the plate while making an almost unbelievable year-over-year improvement to his pitch framing. Contreras also comes with two years of team control (via arbitration) versus just one for many of the other Cubs trade candidates.
Like last offseason with free agent Yasmani Grandal, the Cubs probably could look to market Contreras to whichever team misses out on top free agent J.T. Realmuto. According to Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney, that includes the Yankees, Mets, Phillies, and Marlins. For what it’s worth, we know the Yankees are open to moving on from catcher Gary Sanchez, but they do want to get less right-handed, so I’m not sure how much of a fit Contreras will be (more on this in the next section).
Also from this piece: Yes, Kris Bryant is available again (and without a grievance this time), but his anticipated arbitration price tag for just one year is going to limit any possible return. Yes, strictly speaking, Javy Báez is available, but so are a LOT of shortstops over the next 1.5 years. Yes, Anthony Rizzo is “available,” but that’s probably not happening. Yes, Kyle Schwarber is available, but wouldn’t this be selling at a low? Yes, Ian Happ is available, but do you have what it takes to sell high? Etc. Meanwhile, Jason Heyward now has earned 10-5 no-trade rights, so he could only be moved if he wanted to be. No reason he’d want to be.
The Catching Market: Realmuto, Sanchez, Contreras
J.T. Realmuto is probably one of the top 2-3 free agents available this offseason and will probably be paid accordingly (history tells us the top of the market still gets paaaid even when times are tough). Like Mooney/Sharma, Mark Feinsand (MLB.com) sees the Phillies, Yankees, and Mets as potential landing spots. He also includes the Cardinals, Angels, and Nationals, with detailed reasons for each. Check out his post for more on Realmuto, specifically.
But setting aside the specifics of Realmuto leads us to a broader conversation of the catching market this offseason. Clearly, the fates of the high-priced free agent (Realmuto), the strong trade candidate with multiple years of team control (Contreras), and the buy-low, bounce-back candidate (Sanchez) will be tied together. Whether you’re shopping at the top or the bottom of the bin, there’s something for everyone and the early players have been pretty uniformly identified.
This could get interesting very quickly.
Anticipated Arb Battles Could Lead to Pre-Tender Contracts
By now, we should all be prepared for a bunch of seemingly surprising non-tenders across baseball, as teams look to save money any way they can, even if it means letting arbitration-eligible players go. That could (and likely will) lead to a lot of players becoming previously unscheduled free agents – a smart team would take advantage of that, but let’s set that point aside for now.
In addition to the jump of non-tenders, the financial realities of the world/MLB could have another effect according to Tim Dierkes of MLBTR: pre-tender deals.
In short, he thinks he might see a wave of signings accomplished before the tender deadline on December 2nd, partly because of looming non-tenders and a crowded free agent market, and partly because of the unknown risks associated with arbitration price tags after this year. (These deals are not to be confused with post-tender deals to avoid arbitration. These are a separate animal and not something included in the calculus of arbitration deals.)
Also? You might see a lot of trade talks before the tender deadline for all these same reasons. Speaking of which …
Trade Market Bonanza
At The New York Post, Joel Sherman has an entire article about the Yankees intentions and options when it comes to catcher Gary Sanchez, and while that, alone, could be worth it’s own section, I actually want to focus in one point from Sherman that pairs perfectly with the previous section:
“There is an industry expectation of lots of trades between the conclusion of the World Series and the tender date as clubs try to receive something back for players they otherwise will seriously consider non-tendering.”
In addition to an unexpected number of pre-tender deals and an unexpected number of unscheduled free agents, Joel Sherman hears industry speculation of “lots of trades,” between the World Series and the December 2nd deadline. In other words, we need to *seriously* keep an eye on arbitration eligible players.
Hyeon-Jong Yang Will Pursue MLB Opportunity
A former KBO MVP – and left-handed starter – is expected to pursue opportunities in Major League Baseball this offseason. Unlike some other players who’ve come from the KBO (or other foreign leagues), Yang is completely exempt from the posting process, given his age, experience, and immediate free agency. However, while he has maintained his durability, Yang’s MVP years are long behind him, finishing 2020 with a 4.46 ERA, despite some strong peripherals.
Moreover, Yang, 33, is two years older than Kwang-Hyun Kim was when he signed a two-year, $8M deal with the Cardinals last winter, coming off a better season in the KBO *and* without the financial uncertainties of the pandemic. Needless to say, Yang shouldn’t cost much, but could be a good low-cost flier for a team looking for cheap, durable starting pitching.
Which, well, hey … maybe that’s the Cubs. He might actually be in their price range.
20 Teams Watch Aaron Sanchez Pitch
I’ll bet a shiny nickel that the Cubs were one of them:
Right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who missed '20 following shoulder surgery and is a free agent, threw for about 20 teams last week in Miami. The former 15-game winner with Blue Jays is just 28. Could be a good comeback story next season.
— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) October 12, 2020
Sanchez, 28, hasn’t had the success you might remember since 2016, but he was really great that season: 3.00 ERA (3.55 FIP), 3.5 fWAR over 30 starts. But 2017-2019 was an injury-riddled disaster and he didn’t pitch in 2020.
Given his age, previous success, and past stuff, I wouldn’t be shocked if he could still turn things around, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubs wanted to take a flyer. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Best to keep your expectations low, but also acknowledge that sometimes, lottery tickets pay off.