Steve Cohen has already flexed his financial might early into his tenure as the new owner of the Mets by reinstating full salaries for every employee that had perviously taken a cut, but free agents expect to explore deeper into the depths of his pockets this offseason, and most of the league seems to agree. Not only is Cohen the richest owner in MLB, he’s also got a big market team in a winnable 2021 division and more of a reason (and ability) to make a splash than most.
But as Jeff Passan reminded us this morning, free agency is far from the only way Cohen can make his financial might felt.
Mets in the Trade Market
This particular trade market offers another unique opportunity to take on high-quality talent for little more than money, and that’s not limited to top-of-the-marquee names: “If the Mets get creative, they can take on a player with a bad contract – and there are plenty of teams looking to shed them – but the price of doing so is to demand good, young talent in return.”
Sure, the Mets can add the Francisco Lindor(s) of the world for a quick turnaround on the big league side, but with Cohen’s money, they might also be able to do one of those moves we were desperate to see in Chicago, before the financial landscape was flipped on its head: “buying” prospects. The concept is simple, and probably more effective this year than any other time in history: Team A unloads an aging, expensive contract on Team B, who pays most, if not all, of the remaining money because that contract comes with a very attractive prospect.
Yes, prospects are being hoarded now more than ever, but largely in hopes of limiting long-term financial pain (prospects become cheap Major Leaguers for a while). If a contract is long/expensive enough, this is a short cut to the same (gross) end game.
Bully for the Mets.
The Qualifying Offer(s) Fallout
Six players were handed an $18.9M qualifying offer, which they must accept or reject by 5pm one week from today.
J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, Trevor Bauer (already rejected), and DJ LeMahieu are all likely to reject the one-year deal, with greener pastures available even in this market, but two pitchers who’ve been very loosely connected to the Cubs in the past, Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman, could conceivably accept.
Stroman is one of the top arms on the free agent market, but he missed the entire 2020 season with a strained left calf muscle/eventually opting out of the rest of the year. It’s entirely conceivable that he might prefer a fairly juicy $18.9M commitment for 2021, before heading back into free agency as a 29-year-old next offseason when the world could be closer to normal.
Meanwhile, the prospect of Gausman accepting might hit some as a disappointment, given his really productive 2020 season (3.62 ERA, 3.09 FIP; 32.2 K%, 6.5 BB%), but Passan actually suggests he could be a candidate for a long-term deal (presumably) before the decision is due. So let’s keep an eye out for that.
Quick Decisions for Some, But Not the Cubs
Although we generally expect this free agent market to take a looooooong time to develop – due not only to the lack of certainty borne out of the pandemic, but also the possibility that on December 2nd (the non-tender deadline) a heap of new players could enter the market – there are a few decisions that could come relatively quickly.
Middle infielders D.J. LeMahieu and Marcus Semien are mentioned alongside Stroman and Gausman as players who could look to jump the market. Like I said, the Cubs have been loosely connected to Stroman and Gausman, and LeMahieu would be an idea fit, but if any of these guys are really going to sign early, I’d expect that means the Cubs, who are probably looking for late-offseason value more than ever, will not be involved. To be fair, with the qualifying offers attached, the Cubs were likely out anyway.
Bryant as Likely to Be Traded as Lindor?
If you were to ask me which star is the most likely to be traded this offseason, I wouldn’t hesitate to say Francisco Lindor. The Indians made their intentions known last offseason, and the pandemic-crunched budgets have made a trade only more likely in my eyes. But at ESPN+, Passan actually suggests it’s “a tie between Lindor and Bryant.”
Passan also pushes back saying that there’s actually NO guy who’s an “absolutely-gonna-go” trade target yet, but, again, when pressed he lands on those two. For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman argues that a Lindor trade is actually “the expectation” at this point.
Passan also mentions Nolan Arenado, who’s also likely very available once again, and I guess it’s at least worth mentioning that the Cubs had been connected to him several times in the past. But all of that was pre-pandemic, so … I wouldn’t get any hopes up.
Sherman also connects Arenado to the Mets, but I think every single player will be connected to the Mets this year.
Orioles Could Be Cubs Competition on SPs
Rich Dubroff (BaltimoreBaseball.com) got a pretty shocking quote out of Orioles GM Mike Elias on Tuesday:
“I definitely think we’re going to be signing some starting pitchers,” he said. “You can never have enough. You see last year we got the injury bug like every team does on a couple of starters so we’re definitely going to need to sign some outsiders, whether it’s a major league or minor league deal, it will be case-by-case …”
I mean, when the guy attaches the “major … or minor league” qualifier it certainly sounds less juicy, but that’s a pretty declarative statement in this market from that team. Considering the Cubs are likely to hang around this buy-low tier of the starting pitching market this offseason, I’d consider the Orioles among the competition.
Kolten Wong Has Heard from Six Teams
The Cardinals suprising decision not to retain Kolten Wong opened the door for us to discuss the possibility of signing him to play second base in Chicago. However, if the interest in Wong is as robust as Derrick Goold makes it out to be (and I believe he’d be in a good position to know), I’m not so sure that’s realistic:
Since free agency opened this past weekend, Wong has heard from at least a half dozen teams with interest. A source previously confirmed the Los Angeles Angels as one of those teams.
Notably, Goold adds that the Cardinals have NOT tried to re-sign Wong, but are hoping he keeps that door open. Wong’s second base competition includes DJ LeMahieu, Tommy La Stella, Jonathan Schoop, Cesar Hernandez, and I suppose also Jason Kipnis, among others.