Ben Fredrickson’s latest at The St. Louis Post Dispatch wasn’t really about the Cubs, but the second-half of his headline really struck me as an important point to remember (emphasis mine): “Cardinals Don’t Yet Know Their Budget, but Any Team Serious About Improving Lineup Can Find Deals This Offseason.”
While we know that the Cubs 2021 payroll could be about $40-$50 million less than their full-season 2020 payroll after contracts rolled off and expected non-tenders coming, we also know that they could actually look to cut their budget *after that* (a Kyle Schwarber trade here, a Kris Bryant … non-tender there, etc.).
But if they manage to successfully save another $10-25M by moving one or more of those guys without repurposing any of that back into the roster, they’ll have made a huge mistake.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve come to terms with “resetting” or “retooling” or whatever the Cubs need to call taking a step back competitively in 2021 with an eye on 2022, but not spending at the margins isn’t the right way to go about it. As far as I can tell, the plan is not to “tank” for a better draft position (which would be silly), so spending short-term dollars on what should be a historic amount of short-term-eager free agents is the way to go. If those guys help you compete, great. If they are traded at the deadline, fine! If they’re just mediocre, you didn’t really lose much and you’ve still got a clean roster and a trimmed budget for 2022, when some other prospects should be ready, the free agent class is much stronger at the top, and fans could be even more comfortable returning to ballparks.
The fact of the matter is that this offseason is different than any we’ve seen before, and any team serious about improving their roster can find deals.
What the Cardinals Want
Circling back to Frederickson, he writes that the Cardinals will likely to add some power to their lineup, after finishing second-to-last in slugging percentage in the National League last season (4th worst in MLB). But unlike Frederickson, I’m not so sure Nelson Cruz is a realistic option for the Cardinals.
I have no doubt Cruz will still hit next season, and I know he’s apparently willing to wait to see if the NL gets the DH in 2021 before making a deal, but he’s been this AL stalwart for 16(!) years. I just can’t see him in the NL, and I’m sure he’s not anxious to get an unfamiliar swatch of pitchers at age 40. But more to the point, I think he’ll be out of the Cardinals price range, and rightfully so: shouldn’t there be a more “win-now” team than St. Louis out there willing to pay for Cruz’s services? I’d think so. Even with the winnable NL Central.
Frederickson also mentions Justin Turner, which presents similar issues to Cruz, but just to a lesser extent. His ability to play third base actually makes him seem a little more likely to me, but I’m still not sure the Cardinals will pony up for him this winter. The recently non-tendered Eddie Rosario, also mentioned by Frederickson, makes even more sense, given their expected payroll, timeline, and needs, but he’s obviously a little less exciting, despite four straight seasons of above-average overall offensive production.
But I’m starting to think Frederickson was going from least likely to most likely, because at the end of his post he mentions Jurickson Profar, Joc Pederson, and Tommy La Stella as lineup alternatives. He’s kind of all over the place but the broader points are clear: (1) The Cardinals need to supplement their lineup, (2) they need to add some power, and (3) the way to do that is likely through free agency.
Yadi Molina Drawing Lots of Interest, Per Yadi
Sticking with the Cardinals, they are expected to decide on Yadier Molina (and Adam Wainwright) before they decide on anything else, but they do have some serious competition for their long-time backstop. According to Molina, himself, four other teams (in addition to the Cardinals) have already reached out to Molina and at least two of them track with our expectations/early rumors:
Yankees: The Yankees want to move on from Gary Sanchez and have already been connected to Molina by local reports out of New York.
Mets: The Mets do not have an obvious starting catcher on the roster, but they do have two young catchers that could probably use some guidance. They also have money to spend and a desire to compete in 2021, which is why they’ve also been connected to J.T. Realmuto this offseason. Molina is a very different direction than Realmuto, of course, but spending on a free agent catcher is not out of the question.
Angels: The Angels are obviously still trying desperately to compete while they have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon and Joe Maddon and … why aren’t they good, again? … But they have no impressive big league catchers and not a single catching prospect in their top-30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline. So I guess they make sense as a landing spot. Maddon seems like he’d love Yadi, right?
Padres: This one seems like a bit of a surprise on the surface – Austin Nola has been pretty good (the Padres traded a good bit to get him) and 22-year-old top-100 prospect Luis Campusano did debut in 2020 – but both catchers on the roster play other positions and Campusano doesn’t have much experience. Getting a mind like Molina in there to work with them in a stewardship capacity could make some sense.
I still bet he returns to St. Louis, though.
Blue Jays/Brad Hand
30 teams passed on paying Brad Hand $10M for 2021, which still seems ridiculous to me, even in spite of his decline in velocity (the results were still excellent). The Blue Jays have entered the conversation now that he’s a free agent:
Source: The #BlueJays, who are among the most active @MLB teams in offseason talks, have checked in on free agent reliever Brad Hand. The Jays have other needs, but a left-handed reliever to join Romano/Dolis at the end of the game is on their wish list. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 25, 2020
I wonder what kind of deal Hand will be seeking (short term? multi-year), and what he’ll be stuck with. He’s one of the top relievers in baseball … but we already know he’s not getting more than $10M for one year, so ….
Japanese Players Posting
A couple of posting bits that could shakeup the market nicely:
Tomoyuki Sugano is expected to be posted within the next two weeks, now that the Japan Series has ended, source says. @MLB clubs have been scouting him for years in preparation for this move. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 25, 2020
You can read more about Arihara from MLB.com:
News from Japan: RHP Kohei Arihara has been posted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Arihara, 28, has a career 3.65 ERA over 882 innings in NPB. (h/t @JCoskrey)
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 26, 2020
Rangers Interested in Ha-Seong Kim
Although we’re all bracing for austerity this offseason, I do hope (and expect) the Cubs to show some interest in free agent shortstop Ha-Seong Kim. He’s young, he’s talented, he can stick in the middle infield and provide a different look at the plate than the rest of the Cubs lineup. It might require some short-term money, but it’s a move that could play out for the long-term benefit of the franchise. They should be interested. But they won’t be alone.
The short answer is yes. Kim, 25, is 5-foot-9 with power and speed and is expected to be posted by the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization. The Rangers have a strong scouting presence in the Far East and have Kim covered. Kim hit .306/.397/.523 with 30 home runs and 23 stolen bases. He is a shortstop but could also play third or second.
All of that fits the Rangers. They have a need for an infielder who could impact a team offensively regardless of the position. If the Rangers feel Kim can do that, they will be aggressive in their pursuit. The obvious caveat is Korean baseball is a step or two below the Major Leagues, but there may be more upside here worth pursuing at age 25 than your average big league free agent this winter.
Get in line.
Odds and Ends:
• MLB.com shares five deals they want to see, but … come on:
Oh, uhm. No thanks. pic.twitter.com/UskJa446fD
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) November 27, 2020
• Given that we generally expect Bryant’s value to equal something close to a post-hype prospect like Kieboom on his own, this effectively makes the second-half of this deal Kyle Hendricks (and cash!) for Cade Cavalli (a 2020 first round pick the Cubs passed on) and Tim Cate, which … no. Hendricks isn’t just some throw in. He’s been one of the most effective pitchers in baseball since 2015, and was just extended to a pretty team-friendly deal. That’s just not the right value and would leave the Cubs with FOUR rotation spots to fill for 2021. Silly.
• The Mets and Phillies are chasing J.T. Realmuto, but the Nationals can’t be ruled out for the free agent catcher yet either. And if they do land Realmuto, Thomas Harrigan believes they’d be out of the running for a Kris Bryant trade. But when one door closes, another opens up and Harrigan believes this could force the Braves back into the Bryant market and even open the door to more suitors for Willson Contreras.
I miss fun offseasons, when the Cubs were the ones getting the good players.