Four years ago to the day, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and it was awesome. Unfortunately, not everything since then has been quite as smooth. I know, I know – we can go back-and-forth about the results and direction of the franchise since then (which I’d still argue has been disappointing, even with the relative success), but that’s not really my point. Instead, I’d like to address what it’s been like to be a Cubs fan solely from the angle of talent-acquisition over the years. Because from that perspective, things have taken a decisive left turn.
From 2011-2015, the Cubs were stockpiling young talent from the draft (Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Dylan Cease, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ), to the trade market (Addison Russell), to international free agency (Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Jorge Soler). And from 2015-2017, they were amassing talent via free agency (Jon Lester, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Yu Darvish) and trades (Jake Arrieta, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, Wade Davis), as well.
Since then, however, things have been pretty bleak. That’s not *entirely* the Cubs fault, mind you – and this is probably too nuanced a discussion for an introduction – but the effects of (1) no first or second round picks in 2016, (2) a couple of relatively disappointing first round picks in 2017, (3) a financial strategy that kept the luxury tax firmly in the picture in 2018 and 2019, and (4) the combination of pandemic-crunched budgets, plus the inauspicious launch of their TV network alongside the conclusion of a 2x-over-budget renovation and real estate investment in and around Wrigley Field has kept things pretty stagnant on the roster-side for three straight years (just talking young talent acquisitions, not even talking about trading away youngsters, too). And that suuuuuuuucks to watch as a fan.
Sure, you can point to the mid-season additions of Craig Kimbrel and Nick Castellanos a couple years ago as brief moments of respite, but it’s been a LONG TIME since I’ve gone into an offseason actually expecting the Cubs to make significant improvements to their roster, regardless of how badly they may need it. I mean, I used to actually look forward to the top free agent rankings that come out around this time of the year. But now? We already know the Cubs are out and it’s the THIRD offseason in a row living in that reality.
Speaking of which …
Top Free Agent Rankings
Was that all an extended set-up for the first-header punchline? Yup. Still true though.
Even if you’re a Cubs fan, you should still check out the top-50 free agent rankings (and predictions) at MLB Trade Rumors and ESPN+. Although they cover the same issue, there are actually some pretty notable splits in opinion.
For example, while DJ LeMahieu is projected to land an identical 4-year-contract by both publications, ESPN ($88 million) has him making $20 million more over the life of that contract that MLB Trade Rumors, which is a pretty serious difference in a market like this. I doubt the Cubs would find their way in either way – despite a pretty ideal fit (if they were going for it Last Dance style in 2021) – but, man, 4 years and $68M seems supremely doable for one of baseball’s best pure hitters from the middle infield, right? MLBTR has him going to the Blue Jays, but the Yankees have been pretty clear about their intentions to re-sign LeMahieu, so they’d be my guess.
Also crazy? MLBTR’s top free agent, Trevor Bauer, is projected to get just a four-year deal, albeit one worth $128 million, which actually wouldn’t surprise me. The Dodgers have been trying to push these short-term, high-AAV deals on the top free agents for years and Bauer is kind of up for anything. In any case, I find that easier to believe than the 1-year $31M deal ESPN projects. No, a one-year deal is not crazy. Bauer has literally said he wants to do it (much to the chagrin of his agent, who had to do some walking back), but if he is going to do just one year, he’s going to get more than $31M. Even in this market. Just my estimate.
Looking way down the ESPN list, Tyler Chatwood (45th, 1-year, $5.5M) and Jose Quintana (46th, 1-year, $5.5M) are both ranked better than Chris Archer (47th, 1-year, $5.5M), but they’re all projected to land the same contract. And, as we discussed earlier, Archer is the only one connected to the Cubs at MLBTR.
Things I hate: George Springer as a fit for the Cardinals. Michael Brantley as a fit for the Cardinals. Ha-Seong Kim as a fit for the Cardinals (with no mention of the Cubs, despite eight possible destinations). Jon Lester projected to the Braves.
Things we can look into another time: The Cubs are mentioned as possible destinations for Jurickson Profar, Cesar Hernandez, Kirby Yates, Rick Porcello. [Brett: I’ve had a tab open on Profar for about a week, intending to write something, so that one sure tracks for me.]
Kris Bryant’s Market
The trade market for Kris Bryant will probably be sufficiently light (given his contract) that he winds up back with the Cubs next season, which obviously isn’t a bad thing. But suffice it to say, after last offseason, he’s clearly *available*.
And this could mean good things for his market:
There's good FA available (+more coming, probably) but looking at the lists, I'm struck by how desolate corner IF is. If you assume Turner back to LA is likely, & DJLM as mostly 2B, there's not one full-time starter available? Maybe Santana? I like him but he is 35 & wasn't good. pic.twitter.com/jEIMIUj7j0
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) November 2, 2020
To the extent teams are looking to pick up an impact third baseman on a short-term contract, Bryant might be the best option available.
Yadier Molina’s Future
I know the Cardinals have explicitly said that payroll will be lower next season – and have already put their money where their mouth is (or, well, the opposite of that) – but I just have a hard time imagining Yadi Molina in any other uniform. My guess? If he plays next season, it’s in St. Louis.
But that’s clearly not a lock:
Yadier Molina has been contacted by 3 teams in addition to the #STLCards since free agency began, his agent, Melvin Roman, told me today. Molina, 38, wants to play for 2 more seasons and will listen to clubs' proposals with that objective in mind, Roman said. @MLBNetwork @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 2, 2020
Now, with that said, we know Molina’s history with new White Sox manager Tony La Russa. And we know that the White Sox just lost a really good veteran back-up catcher to free agency, James McCann. And we know that young White Sox team, with a ton of young pitchers, could use all the veteran help they can get. And we know they’re likely ready to spend. And we know Molina is probably best suited for a part-time role anyway, so … yeah. I can see him going to the White Sox if it’s not happening in St. Louis.
Charlie Morton Wants to Play
And finally, 36-year-old righty Charlie Morton “wants to play” in 2021, which would be his 14th big league season, but he strongly prefers to stay with the Rays.
Morton will “keep an open mind” regarding proposals from teams other than the #Rays, Abbott said. Morton, 36, has cited a desire to spend time with his four children as a significant priority in his life. @MLBNetwork @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 2, 2020
It sure sounds like he’d be willing to give the Rays a pretty big discount (and after how good he’s been with them over the past two years, including the postseason, he’s earned their interest in having him back), but the grim financial reality remains. The Rays simply may not be willing to offer him NEARLY as much as another time might, because, frankly, I bet he’s got another solid year left in him.