Lukewarm Stove: Winter Meetings Begin(?), Cubs Priorities, Wheeler, Votto, Kim, Pederson, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Winter Meetings Begin(?), Cubs Priorities, Wheeler, Votto, Kim, Pederson, More

Chicago Cubs

Today is technically the start of the 2020 Winter Meetings, an annual event that brings players, agents, scouts, executives (also … owners, job-seekers, accountants, etc.) together to super-charge the offseason and accelerate transactions across the league. However, because of COVID-19, the 2020 Winter Meetings are a virtual affair, and so there’s expected to be considerably less action than normal (sometimes, two execs just need to be elbows up on a barstool to trade a superstar from one team to another, ya know?).

The lack of information on roster size, the universal DH, season length, playoff format, and vaccine distribution (among other items) is surely putting a damper on things, as well. And this is after years of the Winter Meetings, themselves, have begun trending away from more completed deals and towards simple foundations for later transactions.

There probably will still be some important groundwork laid out that could/will lead to big rumors throughout the week – and for the Cubs that would probably be more on extensions or trades than on major free agency – but it just won’t be the same.

Jed Hoyer and the Winter Meetings

Mark Gonzales has a bit of a preview of the Winter Meetings with Jed Hoyer at the helm, which I think you’ll want to check out:

“Every offseason is different,” Hoyer said Wednesday after discussing the non-tender of Schwarber. “What’s different now is that you know that this group was coming up on the end of our natural control of them, so we’d have to make decisions.”

Among the highlights: (1) the Cubs will listen to offers on all of their star players, including Willson Contreras (a familiar rumor), whose return would be expected to be the largest among the other available Cubs who are approaching free agency, (2) the Cubs “might look to acquire a more seasoned contact hitter for the top of the order,” which has always felt like an obvious goal, but has never been explicitly stated, and (3) the Cubs will need to fill innings next year, so … what’s up? Check it out. It’s a good little primer and a reminder of the big picture stories.

Zack Wheeler Available? Over Babe Ruth’s Dead Body

Zack Wheeler was the belle of the offseason ball last winter, with many predicting that his 5-year/$118M deal with the Phillies might actually be the best overall on-field value for the money. And they weren’t necessarily wrong: Wheeler made 11 starts this shortened season and finished with a 2.92 ERA (3.22 FIP), the best ground ball rate of his career, and his lowest average exit velocity in the Statcast Era. That’s all you could realistically ask for.

However, according to “high-ranking executives from other teams” (according to Buster Olney of ESPN), the Phillies have let others in the business know that they are open to trading Wheeler just ONE YEAR after his free agent signing, because he’s their second most expensive player and they’re facing serious financial tightness.

Now, that would be a surprising enough development if the story ended there, but it actually gets even crazier. Upon hearing these rumors, Phillies owner John Middleton absolutely went off, claiming that he would never, ever …. well, let him tell it:

“If they offered me Babe Ruth, I wouldn’t trade him,” John Middleton said angrily in a phone conversation, adding Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt to Ruth’s name for good measure. “I have authorized no one to have a conversation about trading him.”

Well, all right then.

Normally I’m not big on owners getting too directly involved in baseball decisions, but there’s something about this that seems (1) supportive of the player, and (2) a good sign about the financial health of the organization. Did it possibly cost the Phillies executive team some leverage and potentially even muddy up a multi-step plan? Oh, I’m sure. But, hey, it’s his team.

Ken Rosenthal has more on the story, if you’re curious, including a revelation that Middleton has given his front office “no direction to shed existing contracts.” And this becomes all the more complicated seeing as the Phillies are operating with an interim GM. This probably nothing more than some sort of breakdown in communication, but it’s interesting to follow from afar.

The Phillies have also fielded inquires on Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins, for what it’s worth.

Blue Jays Want Steven Matz

Ah, Steven Matz, the guy perennially thrown into every trade proposal, but never traded. The 29-year-old southpaw had a down year in 2020, and will probably never reach the ceiling he tickled in 2015/2016, but is still a desirable target for many teams, especially on his one-year, $5.2M contract (I’d still like to see what he’s got).

In fact, the Mets and Blue Jays reportedly discussed a trade just before that 2021 deal was struck, but nothing came of it (the Mets were also trying to shake other potential suitors loose according to the rumors).

The Reds Would Trade Votto? Well, Yeah, If They Could

The Reds will be unable to retain Trevor Bauer this offseason and are already working hard to move Sonny Gray. And if you’ve already gone that far, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that you’re open to moving Joey Votto, too, but still … that’s shocking. He’s been with the team so long, it would be akin to the Cardinals trading Yadier Molina.

A lot of this discussion is mooted by Votto’s contract – he’s guaranteed $82 million over the next three years – and his downward trending performance, but it’s still weird to see.

It’s entirely possible, of course, that the Reds could be BETTER in 2021 by trading Votto (I doubt it, but it’s possible), but that just goes to show how open the NL Central could be this season. Unless … wait, what?

The Reds Want Who Now?

This is a little surprising:

We already knew that the Reds would be open to adding a starting shortstop, and frankly Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorius are perfectly reasonable targets all things considered. But according to Morosi, they’re not just shopping in free agency, they’re checking out the trade market and the very top of it, to boot.

Ultimately, I doubt the Reds will be able to offer more for Lindor than some other, more competitive teams (including teams that have an actual shot at extending him thereafter), and I don’t think the Rockies will trade Trevor Story (they’ll trade Nolan Arenado and extend Story before they just trade Story is what I suspect), but clearly the Reds are serious about getting better.

And, again, with such a winnable division, maybe it isn’t a terrible idea ….

Get Used to Joc Pederson

One way or another, Joc Pederson could be a thorn in the Cubs backside next season. According to Ken Rosenthal, the three teams with the most interest in the left-handed outfield slugger are the Brewers, Cardinals, and White Sox. Perfect, right? Can’t you just imagine him ticking off Cubs fans with homers at Wrigley Field in the wrong uniform for years?

Ha-Seong Kim Officially Posted

Future Cub (RIGHT?!?) Ha-Seong Kim has finally and officially been posted. Unlike the rest of the free agents this year, this deal has a deadline and could be decided fairly soon:

Technically, Kim has until January 1st to get something done, but he was previously hoping to have a deal done by Christmas, so perhaps this’ll move quite quickly. Trades aside, this is probably the biggest (realistic) opportunity for the Cubs to make their team better in the near and long-term this offseason, so we’ll be paying VERY close attention to this process.

Other International Arrivals

There are some other international postings on the way, as well, and Haruki Nishikawa is someone that could fit into the Cubs plans, but isn’t exactly an ideal match, given the rest of the roster:

Odds and Ends

•   George Springer is apparently “extraordinarily unlikely to sign with [the White Sox],” this offseason, which just breaks my heart. The Blue Jays and Mets are closer on Springer, while the Sox could turn to Michael Brantley (who could be more worth it for the value, frankly).

•   The Yankees may really want DJ LeMahieu, but the Mets, Blue Jays, and Dodgers are all very much in. That could drive up his price to near-normal levels, if everything strikes just right, so good for him, I guess.

•   Stuff:

•   Snell likes his team:

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami