Although this offseason has moved at a frustratingly slow pace, I do still think there is an enjoyable acceleration ahead of us. No, it won’t suddenly be the categorically pleasant experience it once was – particularly for Cubs fans, and especially without the winter meetings and without knowing the exact timing/logistics of a COVID-19 vaccine. But I do think we can expect to see a lot more movement and rumors after (1) the December 2nd non-tender deadline and (2) a decision is reached on the universal DH for 2021.
And, of course, your level of enjoyment as a Cubs fan will really depend on the horizon. For example, I won’t be surprised to see moves that make the Cubs worse in 2021, but possibly (hopefully) better in 2022 and beyond.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) November 23, 2020
So I guess, if you’re a big-picture kind of fan, you might still have a good time this winter, even if it means an early hurdle to what otherwise probably would be a competitive 2021 season.
Any Guesses on the Timing?
Kiley McDaniel Seems to think the big boys won’t sign until mid-January, but that’s not actually that far off from the free agent schedule of the last 3-4 offseasons (usually there’s at least one or two significant deals before then, but still …):
I would guess mid-January for the $50M+ type deals to begin https://t.co/SL4jvHqw1H
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) November 23, 2020
And as for the price tag/range:
I see the candidates as:
Almost surely $50M+: Realmuto+Springer
Around 50/50: Ozuna+Semien
His Call: Bauer
+ a couple longshots that are under 10% chance https://t.co/JlREOwJwKl
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) November 23, 2020
Nelson Cruz and Marcell Ozuna
Nobody is tracking a decision on the universal DH more closely than Nelson Cruz and Marcell Ozuna.
• Cruz: Ken Rosenthal points out that any NL team interested in Cruz will, of course, have to wait for a DH decision, which actually opens up a lot of interesting angles. My first instinct was to wonder whether there’d be an AL team out there willing to offer just enough to get a deal done before the DH decision comes down. But the efficacy of that strategy assumes we WILL get the universal DH in 2021. If there’s a chance the NL goes back to “normal,” then Ozuna’s camp will actually lose leverage after the decision, potentially allowing an AL team to weaken their offer. It’s a game of cat and mouse. My gut tells me he’ll wait, we’ll get the universal DH, and he’ll have more than his fair share of suitors.
• Ozuna: Meanwhile, Marcell Ozuna, who had a monster year with the Braves in 2020, just made *another* agent switch, after reportedly becoming upset that he hasn’t yet received any offers (file that fact away, I suppose). His former agent, Melvin Roman, was reportedly expecting a multi-year offer from the Braves in December, but Ozuna wasn’t willing to wait.
• Ozuna (Cont.) Notably, Rosenthal seems to believe that Ozuna’s goal (or at least the goal set out by his former agent) was to secure a $100 million contract, which … could be tough in this environment, despite his age and production. I think it’ll really depend on whether or not teams see him as an outfielder (at least over the first 1-2 years of the deal) and whether or not the NL gets the DH, creating more competition and better fallback options for the latter years of any agreement.
DJ LeMahieu and Toronto
The Yankees are still the favorite to land DJ LeMahieu this offseason, according to Ken Rosenthal, so no surprises there. But there is another legitimately interested party:
The Blue Jays might seem an odd fit for free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu, considering that he thrived the past two seasons with the Yankees, a more veteran club. But while money is the biggest incentive for most free agents, other factors often come into play.
In that sense, the Jays for LeMahieu would not be such a stretch. LeMahieu lives in Detroit, approximately a four-hour drive from Toronto, and is quite familiar with the Canadian city. He even has an affinity for hockey. During baseball’s shutdown, the YES Network posted a video of him practicing shots into a small net in his living room, with his dog playing defense.
Last time I checked, they do have hockey in New York. But Rosenthal is right … it’s a whole SIX MORE hours from New York to Detroit than it is from Toronto, so obviously, the decision is all but made. I kid, I kid. Let me just say this: that rumor may seem thin, but I sincerely doubt Rosenthal brought it up for no reason. If he mentions the Blue Jays as a legitimate suitor, they probably are one. And, hey, that tracks with our expectations for their aggressiveness this offseason.
Arenado and the Cardinals
On the one hand, I can’t see the Cardinals taking on a significant portion of Nolan Arenado’s remaining $199 million deal. But on the other hand (1) the Rockies can still eat some of it, while (2) a bad contract swap could offset the money further, and (3) the Cardinals do have a history of trading for big-time players like Arenado (Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Holiday, etc.).
So for whatever it’s worth, Rosenthal believes “Arenado remains a fit for the Cardinals….” Which … Oh, joy.
Now, a lot of that reportedly depends on whether or not the Cardinals believe fans will be back at Busch Stadium next season, but, again … it is possible. And this sort of trade seems to fit the Cardinals M.O. Plus, Matt Carpenter has aged out of himself pretty significantly at the plate over the last two seasons, but Paul Goldschmidt is still sitting there at first base in a very winnable division (especially if the Cubs sell off). The Cardinals trading for Arenado is one of those things that just seems to make sense.
(And remember, Arenado is one of the most likely big-time trade candidates this offseason, just after Francisco Lindor, and the Cardinals, like the Cubs, were theoretically pursuing him last offseason. Either one of these NL Central contenders could be trying to drive up the price on the other, but I think they’re both just actually interested in a deal).
Let’s Talk Pitching
• At The Athletic, Eno Sarris speculates that as many as 2o+ legitimate starting pitchers are on track to take one-year deals this offseason, ranging somewhere between minor league offers to something like Drew Smyly’s one year, $11M deal with the Braves. There are all sorts of reasons why more starters than normal will look for those one-year cushion deals, but the general understanding is that teams will have more flexible budgets next winter.
HOWEVER, while Smyly may have accepted a one-year deal, multi-year offers were on the table:
“Several clubs had multi-year interest in Smyly, but with salaries in the $6 million range, according to a source. The Braves gambled that Smyly’s performance in a 60-game season would translate to 162. And Smyly, like Josh Donaldson, Marcell Ozuna and Cole Hamels before him, bet on himself by agreeing to the Braves’ lucrative one-year offer.”
• Like Smyly, Michael Wacha is apparently also drawing significant interest on the free agent market, based almost exclusively on the underlying numbers that make his 6.62 ERA with the Mets last season look like an aberration. All I know is the Cubs have always absolutely destroyed Wacha – 6.50 ERA, .284/.362/.525 (.377 wOBA) in 98.1 IP – so I hope he ends up back in the NL Central.
• Circling back to Eno Sarris … his top four free agent pitchers whose peripherals could push them as strong short-term bets include one somewhat long-time Cubs target and former top prospect (Taijuan Walker), two guys who almost certainly won’t end up in Chicago (J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker), and one former Cub with plenty of history on the North Side (Tyler Chatwood). I tend to think Chatwood would actually be a pretty obvious Cubs target this offseason … if he hadn’t just pitched for the Cubs. Although I recognize the weakness of this argument, I tend to think that the organization is going to prioritize change over projection when it comes to Chatwood (and Jose Quintana as a starting pitcher, for that matter).
• And finally, for today, J.A. Happ is still pitching and is drawing interest from the Boston Red Sox:
Sources: #RedSox showing interest in J.A. Happ, and perhaps we should have seen this coming: Happ, 38, has thrown more IP at Fenway (66-2/3) than any ballpark he has not called home — and he has a 2.57 ERA in his career there. @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 23, 2020