With Theo Epstein officially out the door, the Chicago Cubs stand at an even bigger crossroads this offseason than they already did thanks to a small handful of stars heading into their final year of team control (Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Schwarber). But here’s where I’ll make some guardedly optimistic speculation about the next year in Cubs fandom.
After whatever roster-restructuring occurs this winter, I think the Cubs are going to come out big next offseason – as in, they’ll be major players on the top free agents in a way they haven’t actually been for nearly half a decade (by then, oof).
After all, they’ll be one more year removed from the start of the pandemic (with another year to get Marquee’s revenue stream actually flowing and fans back in the stands), they’ll have reset their place beneath the luxury tax threshold in 2021, they’ll have a clearer picture of who’s staying long-term (or not), and nearly all of their top prospects (Nico Hoerner, Miguel Amaya, Brennen Davis, Brailyn Marquez) should either be already contributing or knocking on the doorstep of meaningful big league production. They’ll also (presumably) still have Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks leading the rotation, which is no small piece of the puzzle.
With a new President of Baseball Operations (Jed Hoyer), a new GM (TBD), and a manager they love, David Ross, who hasn’t yet enjoyed an offseason of significant additions to his roster, the Cubs are going to break back out the checkbook next winter. I’m fairly confident.
The Next Crop of Free Agents
Speaking of that next winter, MLB Trade Rumors has an early look at NEXT offseason’s crop of free agents, and you’ll be comforted to know that at a time when the Cubs should have more resources and space to add externally than they’ve had in years, there are a number of really intriguing players.
We’ll skip over the catchers and first basemen, for now, because I largely expect Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo to remain with the Cubs through whatever comes next. Along the same lines, the second base market is a little weak, but the Cubs should have Hoerner and David Bote available, and hopefully even someone like Ha-Seong Kim.
And that brings us to the shortstops (age): Javy Baez (29), Carlos Correa (27), Francisco Lindor (28) Corey Seager (28), and Trevor Story (29) are the belles of the ball and they’re all under 30 years old. Obviously, some of these guys could get long-term extensions before next winter, but some of them WILL make it to free agency. That is one crazy group.
Meanwhile, the group of third basemen already includes Kris Bryant, as you know, but Nolan Arenado can opt out, as well. That might seem unimaginable (and it probably is unless he has a great year and revenues explode around baseball), but we know how badly he wants out of Colorado, so … just keep an eye on that.
Other interesting players: Kyle Schwarber, Starling Marte, Michael Conforto, Nomar Mazara, Jorge Soler, Nick Castellanos (can opt out), Kevin Gausman, Jon Gray, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Michael Lorenzen, Steven Matz, Mike Montgomery, Carlos Rodon, Max Scherzer, Drew Smyly, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Verlander, Kenley Jansen, Andrew Miller.
That’s a lot of talent, and not even half of the list.
Nolan Arenado Trade to the Nats?
Arenado won’t have to think about exercising that opt-out if he is successfully traded this offseason, which seems to be the way the wind is blowing. In fact, he previously mentioned a willingness to move that opt-out back to help facilitate a deal.
The latest rumor/discussion contemplates an Arenado trade to the Nationals, who need to fill the void left by Anthony Rendon, with center fielder Victor Robles as the center piece of the deal (along with post-hype prospect Carter Kieboom and a lower-tier pitching prospect). According to the article, the Rockies *extremely* do not want to enter a rebuild, so big-league ready pieces are going to be a must in the return (which actually does help, given the financial burden of Arenado’s deal (whether he’s worth it or not)).
And that’s not all, while Arenado may be willing to maneuver the opt-out, the acquiring team may have to buy that off of him. It’s all a very sobering reminder that the monetary cost of acquiring Arenado is going to be truly difficult for any team in this environment (and that’s to say nothing of the potential return).
Speaking of Robles, who had a very down 2020 season … if the Nats are actually willing to move him for Arenado, whom they’d acquire primarily to max out 2021 (while they’ve still got Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Max Scherzer under contract), you have to wonder if they’d be open to a much more affordable (both financially and in acquisition cost) trade for one year of Kris Bryant? Am I dreaming? Maybe Kieboom is a more realistic target? Either way, both might be in that post-hype mold.
Cardinals Financial Doom
Derrick Goold’s latest at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch spells financial doom for the Cardinals immediate future: “The Colorado Rockies did the math for their season-ticket holders and told them, in a letter, teams averaged a revenue loss of $100 million. The Cardinals were close to that average, if not slightly above, sources confirmed.”
I wouldn’t partake too much in the schadenfreude, as the Cubs reportedly claimed a loss of $140M, but the Cardinals ownership is clearly bracing fans for an offseason of extreme austerity. They do hope to bring back free agents Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, and I’m starting to think they probably will, but beyond that? Without a guarantee that fans will return next season? I wouldn’t expect the Cardinals to do anything significant early in the offseason. (Perhaps later, if the path to fans looks more certain? Well, teams like them and the Cubs might change their tune, to the extent quality players are still available.)
It’s entirely possible that Drew Smyly accepted a 1 year, $11M with the Braves, despite seeking deals in the 3/$30M range, because (1) he saw them as a good personal fit or (2) he believes he can earn a better, longer-term deal next winter, but … I’m not so optimistic. My bet is he reached out, felt the icy grip of the COVID-crunched 2021 budgets, and took what he could get.
Hearing Smyly was asking teams for the neighborhood of 3/$30m. Not sure why he took 1/$11. Perhaps he felt the #braves were a good personal fit, or he could get even more with a good, full 2021. He is from Arkansas.
— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) November 16, 2020
If he pitches really well in 2021, then, hey, all the better for him, since the financial picture could be improved AND he’d have shown more high-level success.