One thing the Cubs have NOT done well over these past few years is knocking those short-term, medium-cost, high-upside free agent signings out of the park … when they’ve made them at all.
Ben Zobrist may come to mind for some, but he actually cost quite a bit and was signed to a four-year deal, five years ago (so that’s not exactly what I’m talking about here). And while Dexter Fowler is maybe closer to the mark, that was all the way back in 2016 (he also fell into their laps at the last minute as a RE-signing, so…). John Lackey was fine? A whole lot of silence since then, though. Missing in this way isn’t the only reason the Cubs have underperformed relative to expectations over the past few seasons, but it’s certainly a factor.
Some recent examples of this working in practice include DJ LeMahieu with the Yankees (2 years, $24M) and Didi Gregorius with the Phillies (1 year, $14M). Both guys signed short-term contracts and both absolutely contributed above their pay grade.
The Braves have done exceptionally well on this front, signing Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23M deal before the 2019 season (.259/.359/.521 (132 wRC+); 4.9 WAR), signing Travis d’Arnaud to a two-year, $16 million deal before this season (.321/.386/.533 (145 wRC+); 1.6 WAR in 44 games), and signing Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18M deal before the 2020 season (.338/.431/.636 (179 wRC+); 2.5 WAR in 60 games). That’s what you need to sustain multiple years of high-level success. And speaking of Ozuna …
Marcell Ozuna: The Belle of the Ball
Marcell Ozuna has “no less than 10 teams, including the Braves” lobbying for his services this offseason, which, again, he earned with a stellar 60-game performance as a 29-year-old out of Atlanta in 2020. He’ll spend all of 2021 as a 30-year-old slugger, who has just finally tapped back into that offensive upside flashed during his last, borderline-MVP season with the Marlins (he was just slightly above average with the Cardinals, which I always appreciated very much):
No less than 10 teams, including the Braves, have showed interest in Marcell Ozuna, who led the NL with 18 home runs and 56 RBI and finished 6th in MVP voting. Interest comes from both leagues but it can’t hurt that the universal DH is on the horizon.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 13, 2020
The existence of the universal DH would certainly expand his opportunities across the league, but even without it, a bat that projects as well his is useful to every team in baseball. I doubt very much the Cubs are among those 10 teams, but I will definitely follow his journey closely. If he’s actually still this good, he can transform almost any lineup.
Is Kirby Yates an Option for Cubs?
Even if the Cubs really crunch the payroll in 2021, I expect them to make some additions to the bullpen. And while they’ll stay out of the deepest end of the pool, they have shown an inclination for formerly dominant closers who could use somewhere to rebound. So … sup, Kirby Yates?
The former Padres closer was arguably baseball’s top reliever as recently as 2019, when he was worth a ridiculous 3.4 fWAR with a 1.19 ERA over 60.2 IP, but after a 2020 MRI revealed bone chips in his elbow that required season-ending elbow surgery after just 4.1 innings pitched, he may not get what he’s worth on the free agent market this winter. I’d love for the Cubs to be the team that rolled the dice on his upside, especially if they’re stuck “running it back” again in 2021.
For what it’s worth, the San Diego Tribune wonders if a one-year, incentive laden minor league deal is in store for Yates in 2021, which, let me just say … the Cubs better be ALL OVER that if it’s all it takes (and if he’s healthy). But MLBTR projects a big league deal worth $5 million, which is obviously a much more significant commitment (especially if it didn’t come with an option for 2022). Yates will pitch next season at age 34.
What About Blake Treinen?
When Blake Treinen was available last offseason, we pushed hard for the Cubs to give him a closer look as a rebound candidate. Unfortunately, the Dodgers lured away the 2018 phenom (0.78 ERA, 3.6 fWAR over 80.1 IP) with a one-year, $10M deal that was far more than most were expecting. Well, he didn’t quite rediscover his 2018 form in L.A., but he was a pretty useful reliever over his 25.2 IP (3.86 ERA, 3.15 FIP). And I especially liked that 84.8 MPH average exit velocity (18th in MLB).
It’s not quite clear if the Dodgers will try to re-sign him, especially with so much competition out there on the relief market (and more coming after December 2’s non-tender deadline), but the LA Times gives it a closer look, with some useful information spread throughout. Aside from the Dodgers, the Padres, Athletic, and Red Sox are considered his best fits for now.
The Pederson-Schwarber Connection
Brett recently discussed the free agent contract projections for Joc Pederson – whose career I’ve always followed closely, given how many headlines the first half of his rookie season stole from Kris Bryant – with respect to the tender decision and potential market for Kyle Schwarber. But Pederson, himself, is an interesting free agent to discuss.
Although his career numbers are shockingly close to Schwarber’s overall, he actually showed more sustained, higher-level success in each of his last two *full* seasons:
2018: .248/.321/.522 (126 wRC+); 9.0 BB%, 19.2 K%
2019: .249/.339/.538 (127 wRC+); 9.7 BB%, 21.6 K%
Thoughhhhh he is pretty much unplayable against lefties (59 career wRC+), so you’re looking at some numbers that have been much more platoon-protected than Schwarber’s.
But still, Pederson is only 28-years-old and is entering free agency for the first time, at a time when the universal DH looks like it’s here to stay. The Dodgers decided not to extend him a qualifying offer, and his cost will be quite low no matter what, but the LA Times does admit that the Dodgers could use his skillset next season and beyond.
Besides LA, the Cardinals, Giants, and Indians are all listed as possible destinations. We’ll want to watch his rumors/next move closely, because it can tell us a lot about how the market probably sees Kyle Schwarber.
Gary Sanchez Trade Bits
On Thursday, there was not one, but TWO articles at the New York Post (from a total of three different writers (Dan Martin, Ken Davidoff, and Joel Sherman)) discussing the Yankees willingness to trade catcher Gary Sanchez. Needless to say, somebody wanted this out there.
Davidoff is particularly vociferous in his remarks, stating that “as the Yankees deliberately make their way through this confusing Hot Stove season, one truth should guide them: They can’t bring back Sanchez, their two-time All Star and one-time king Baby Bomber. They must move forward without him.”
And he even points to a recent rumor that the Yankees have already reached out to Yadier Molina as a potential replacement behind the dish, while James McCann remains an option, as well (though all of this, it seems, depends on their ability to re-sign DJ LeMahieu).
Some slightly conflicting reports quickly followed. According to the first Post article, two sources said that the Yankees will “at minimum listen to offers on Sanchez.” According to the second Post article, which came just a few hours later, two officials from other teams said that the Yankees were NOT pushing a Sanchez trade. My read? They’ll try to trade him.
One wrinkle to all this? I’m sure the Yankees are waiting to hear back on the universal DH, because if it’s in effect next season, you may just open up 15 new potential trade partners for Sanchez and the $5.0-$6.5M he’ll be due in arbitration next season.
As for performance, the short version is that he still has the power, the strikeouts have exploded, he’s lightyears away from the guy he was for a brief, highly-publicized stretch in 2016 (170 wRC+), and the questions about defensive ability persist:
To the extent the Cubs listen to offers on Willson Contreras, I’m really not sure Sanchez’s availability would impact things TOO much. They are likely regarded as being in very different tiers at the moment.
Nationals Needs, Abilities, Vacancies, More
• Although it was largely speculative, Brittany Ghiroli figures the Nationals will be in the “middle of the pack,” when it comes to spending this season, with the majority of their available funds heading toward a bat at the corner infield or outfield, which just feels important to note, given the Cubs potential trade candidates (should they go that route).
• Speaking of the corner infield, Ghiroli was asked about the trade value of (former top) third base prospect Carter Kieboom, who’s value still exists, but has “certainly gone down” after a disappointing debut. We’ve used Kieboom as a sort of unofficial proxy for the type of post-hype prospect the Cubs could center certain trades around this offseason, but we can leave that part here. Funny enough, Ghiroli suggests that Starlin Castro could push Kieboom out of the picture at third – or at least give him some legitimate competition.
• And lastly, the Nationals are also looking for starters, and although a long list of names are mentioned, Jake Odorizzi gets the special mention, because of his connection with former Cubs pitching coach and new Nationals pitching coach Jim Hickey.
Minor Cardinals Signing
With the negotiations on Yadi Molina getting fairly public – his camp sure seems to want the Cardinals to know he has a lot of interest – the Cardinals made sure to announce a minor league catcher signing (retweeted by their main account, and getting attention at MLBTR … ):
We have signed minor league switch-hitting C Tyler Heineman to a minor league deal with an invite to major league camp. pic.twitter.com/8VipFxUSow
— Cardinals Player Development (@CardsPlayerDev) November 14, 2020
Regardless of what the publicity dynamics are here, the Cardinals do need to bring in some additional catching options if Molina walks. And to their credit, Heineman does have a track record of success in the upper minors, at least. Probably a pretty good depth catching option, even if Molina comes back.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.