Will the Cubs and Red Sox ever untwine their stories? First, they were the cursed franchises who couldn’t win. Then, Theo Epstein showed up, turned things around, won the World Series (well, more than one in Boston …), and watched things get a little ugly, before setting off for the next adventure.
Fast-forward a few years, and yes, the Red Sox are technically a bit ahead of the Cubs in their narrative arc. Post-Theo, they (1) hired Ben Cherington as general manager and (2) slotted Dave Dombrowski ahead of him as president of baseball operations, before finally (3) replacing Dombrowski with Tampa Bay nerd, and low-payroll specialist, Chaim Bloom (who, you may recall, traded away players like Mookie Betts and David Price in the face of luxury tax issues to begin a rebuild).
All of which makes his latest comments about the future of the franchise interesting for reasons other than what one of the biggest teams in MLB may be planning for their immediate future.
What’s Next for the Red Sox?
Here’s what Bloom had to say about Boston’s latest moved and what’s next via the Boston Globe:
“We always want to contend. We did this year. I don’t think that will ever change,” said Bloom. “[But] sometimes, those moves can come at the cost of getting to where we want to go in the future. When that happens, we need to prioritize sustainability. We need to prioritize championship contention and that goal of doing it for multiple years.”
“It can be painful at times,” said Bloom. “It sometimes means that you have to do things that are not gratifying in the moment. It sometimes means you have to believe in your convictions and your process even in the face of a lot of criticism.”
The article continues on about how the Red Sox are happy with the Betts trade, and how they aim to acquire players who’ll peak individually when the team peaks as a whole, while focusing on the bigger picture, etc. But I do want to swing this back around to the Cubs, because despite their obvious parallels there are a few HUGE differences.
For one, the Red Sox won the pennant in 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018, winning the World Series all four times. The Cubs won the pennant in 2016, but came up short in 2015 and 2017, and won just one World Series overall. For another difference, while there are always talented up-and-comers in MLB that could be your next Theo Esptein, so-to-speak, some of the best/most obvious targets have either recently been scooped up or already have top gigs (Andrew Friedman, Chaim Bloom, Farhan Zaidi, and the former Cubs front office mate Scott Harris). Obviously, there are plenty of others out there, but Bloom/Zaidi/Harris, in particular, were on my radar for a while. Jed Hoyer could also take over, but that’s not exactly a fresh start, either. Also, it’s not a lock that the Cubs will add an up-and-coming guy underneath Hoyer should they have him take over next year.
And lastly, while the Cubs do have a number of one-year contracts they could theoretically trade this offseason, none of them are Mookie Betts and no one wants to pay big dollars in 2021 *or* give up young affordable talent at a time like this. So … yeah. The Cubs are in much worse shape than the Red Sox, maybe?
George Springer’s Free Agency
One of the top free agent bats of the winter, George Springer, may not want to return to the Houston Astros:
Bad #Astros rumors: hearing George Springer does not want to return to the Astros. Owner had said before season re-signing him was top priority, but nothing ever materialized. Would be huge loss for Houston. top offensive bat/strong defender at premium position. Best FA Bat IMO
— Patrick Creighton (@PCreighton1) October 27, 2020
Springer, 31, has been one of the best hitters in baseball since his debut in 2014, slashing .270/.361/.491 (134 wRC+) overall, with a 156 wRC+ in 2019 and a 146 wRC+ in 2020. He’s dramatically reduced his strikeout rate over the years, he hits homers, he gets on base, and so on – all as a center fielder. If the Cubs were actually willing to do the “last dance” thing in 2020, I might hope they’d find a trade partner for Kyle Schwarber, move Ian Happ to left field, and sign Springer for center. Of course, that’s not going to happen, so I’d probably stop dreaming right now. (To say nothing of the cheating scandal, though obviously Springer continued to produce after it.)
To tie these all of these topics up together, Peter Gammons reported that the Red Sox do hope to re-sign center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. this offseason, but added that if Bradley leaves, they could look to target George Springer.
And for what it’s worth, Bradley, Jr., 30, was drafted by a Epstein-led Boston team in 2011, and just posted the second best offensive season of his career for the Red Sox (119 wRC+). But as a lefty outfielder, who strikes out a lot, and whose cost would probably offset whatever was saved by moving out an outfielder to make room for him … I wouldn’t say he’s an ideal fit for this Cubs team, absent some really significant shakeups.
Rays Impact on the Relief Market
We all know teams (from every sport) love to hold up the World Series winner as some sort of model to copy, because well … they won. Whatever they did, worked. It’s not actually ever as simple as that, but there is some truth to the cliche. But one “veteran agent,” quoted anonymously by Joel Sherman at The New York Post, is worried that the Rays could be the worst type of model at the worst time.
With one of the smallest markets in baseball, the Rays routinely have one of the smallest budgets. However, they found a way to win this season without it (they may not win the World Series, but they’ve clearly come pretty darn close). And this representative is worried that their success can provide EVEN MORE cover for owners to cut costs dramatically this offseason, particularly in the bullpen, where (1) the Rays have spent SIGNIFICANTLY less than everyone else, even relative to themselves, and considering that (2) relievers make up the largest portion of the free-agent market.
But it’s not just free agents who’ll feel the freeze. Sherman anticipates a huge volume of declined options and non-tenders (again, even relative to what we already expect), noting that “the Rays’ model for constructing a high-end bullpen is going to embolden organizations that this is an area in which savings can be made without impacting quality.”
One significant canary in the coal mine could even come from Florida:
Marlins would like RP Brandon Kintzler to return. Either they will pick up his option or try and work out a new deal after the World Series.
— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) October 26, 2020
The Marlins have a $4M club option for closer (and former Cub) Brandon Kintzler with a $250K buyout. Kintzler, 36, is older and had some rough peripherals, but the Marlins also rode his 2.22 ERA to the NLDS and he did have a 2.68 ERA (3.56 FIP) over 57.0 innings for the Cubs in 2019, as well. He pretty much always beats his peripherals. If the Marlins really want him back and really think they can contend again in 2021, then the risk of losing him to free agency for just a $3.75M decision could tell us a whole lot about how teams are preparing to address their bullpens, if not lots of parts of the roster.
Japanese Reliever Drawing MLB Interest
Japanese righty reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, 32, could be coming over to the states as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and according to MLB Trade Rumors, has already drawn interest from more than one Major League team. Which teams are not clear.
The righty has a 97 MPH fastball, a low-90s splitter, and a slider and has generally enjoyed plenty of success in the NPB:
Good or not, we just finished discussing how icy it might be out there for relievers, so my bet is any deal he does get, having not yet proven himself in MLB, is extremely low-cost. Could be a nice low-risk, high-reward target for a lot of teams.