I suppose it had to come up at some point, so we’ll go ahead and have the conversation now, dispensing with it relatively quickly.
If the Chicago Cubs have some guys they like, but who have only one more year of team control remaining, and if they have budget problems this year, but maybe not next year … hey, why not trade them now, and then sign them back in free agency after next year, AMIRITE?!?!
I understand why it comes up, as it does with every well-liked, outgoing free agent since time immemorial. At a very superficial, video game, not actual humans, level, it makes sense: trade Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Javy Báez for some value now (hey, throw in Anthony Rizzo if you’re really unloading), then sign them back after next season. You maxed out the one-year tank job, got some prospects, and you’re right back at it in 2022 with the same crew back together again. Piece of cake. Or so Steve Phillips makes it sound:
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) November 17, 2020
The problems with this as an actual play:
1.) Finding trade partners for all three/four players in a single offseason, lest you fail to fully execute;
2.) Getting meaningful prospect value in return for one year of these guys at not-super-under-market rates;
3.) If you’re just flat out tanking 2021, does trading only these guys tank you enough to make it worth it?;
4.) Do you even want to see the Cubs tank in 2021?;
5.) If these guys wind up stinking in 2021, do you even want to sign them all back?;
6.) If these guys wind up being awesome in 2021, can you even afford to sign them all back?;
7.) Just a straight up LOL at the idea of actually signing all three/four of these guys to free agent level contracts;
8.) Is it actually desirable to have the same core together for long-term at this point (well into their 30s, at price points that prohibit a lot of other movement)?
and, lastly, the one that always blows this stuff up: 9.) Are these guys actually going to sign back with the team that traded them away now that they can negotiate with 29 other teams?
I mean, sure, if the Cubs paid at the very top of the market for all these guys, yeah, they’d probably come back. But if the money is close elsewhere? Why is there an assumption that they’re so indebted to the Cubs that, after a trade, they’d just come back? There’s a reason it almost never happens.
Ultimately, this is not really a useful discussion from my perspective, particularly if you’re talking about a big group of players. You want to talk about ONE guys after some trade rumors have kicked up, or maybe after he’s traded? OK. We can talk about it. But this concept as an actual plan? It doesn’t track.