No matter how hard I try, my brain just cannot seem to fully accept the Cubs financial limitations this winter. I look at their existing budget (currently sitting roughly $60 million beneath last year’s total (and $70-$80M beneath the 2016-2018 figures)) and I look at their roster (which features just TWO outfielders and arguably just TWO sure-fire starting pitchers), and I just don’t believe it. I just can’t believe they’re going to spend next-to-nothing for the third straight offseason, and could perhaps even cut salary from here. I know that it’s reportedly true. I know that it’s maybe even likely. But I just can’t believe it.
And yet, we were all legitimately and pleasantly surprised to see them connected to a real life big league free agent outfielder like Jackie Bradley Jr., which, more or less, tells us what we need to know, right? The fact that a tame rumor like that jazzed us up?
Another Cubs Outfield Option?
Well, despite all the things that attract us to JBJ in the first place (prior connection to this front office, former top prospect pedigree, age, great defense, a couple great seasons many moons ago), I can’t help but be turned off by his offensive fit with the club. Bradley Jr. is a lefty who hits lefties poorly trying to join an outfield that features a lefty (Jason Heyward) and a switch-hitter (Ian Happ) who both hit lefties poorly, on a team that hits lefties REALLY poorly, and may yet trade away one of their best right-handed hitters. Could it work? Sure, of course. But is it perfect? No. Of course not.
But with their budget, in this market, during this offseason, imperfect is going to have to work. So allow me to offer another imperfect fit: Phillip Ervin.
The Mariners designated Ervin, 28, for assignment earlier today, which gives them seven days to trade, waive, or release the youthful, right-handed, former first-round (No. 27 overall in 2013) outfielder. Given his history, pre-arb status, ability to play all three outfield positions, and lengthy team control (through 2024), Ervin would actually be a pretty good bet for a waiver claim in a normal offseason, though we’ll have to see what his market looks like this winter.
The Good News: Ervin can not only play all three outfield positions, he also has a career 113 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and is pre-arbitration in 2021. He’s not an everyday starter, but he fits the Cubs needs quite well *and* should cost very little.
The Bad News: Ervin is not a starter and would probably leave the Cubs still desperate for an everyday center (or left) fielder. His career 24.2% strikeout rate, while not obscene, does not pain the picture of a “contact” bat. His career 85.4 MPH exit velocity is horrendous, and his career 8.5% walk rate is merely fine. Throw in the fact that he is currently out of minor league options (i.e. the Cubs couldn’t freely send him down to the minors) and the picture gets a little muddy.
With that said, if the Cubs *are* able to land a starting-caliber center fielder and if roster sizes are once again 26-men (or larger), I think a 28-year-old, three-position, lefty-hitting outfielder like Ervin could complement this Cubs team quite nicely off the bench.
No Seriously, Check Out That SP Market
Anthony DeSclafani, whom you’ll remember from his time with the Reds, where he was actually quite effective against the Cubs (3.73 ERA over 62.2) has signed a deal with the Giants for one year and $6 million:
Free-agent right-hander Anthony DeSclafani in agreement with Giants on one-year contract in $6M range, source tells The Athletic. First with deal being close: @susanslusser.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 16, 2020
And while a one-year, $6M commitment doesn’t seem like much, I do want to point out that DeSclafani made just 7 starts last season (plus two appearances in relief), which amounted to a 7.22 ERA (6.10 FIP) – a back injury/IL stint delayed his 2020 debut.
And while he’s been a mostly fine starter throughout his career, he has never been particularly durable:
2015: 31 starts, 184.2 IP
2016: 20 starts, 123.1 IP
2017: missed entirely (UCL injury)
2018: 21 starts, 115.0 IP
2019: 166 starts, 166.2 IP
2020: 7 starts, 33.2 IP
So to recap, this is a 30-year-old right-hander, coming off an injured and ineffective season, who’s never been particularly healthy and he landed a $6 million deal in *this* market?
The lesson is clear: the market is VERY hot for starting pitching right now. COVID or not, it is starved for anyone to slot into the rotation.
So … just keep that in mind.
All I can say is if the Cubs actually did consider dealing Darvish, they better get an utterly obscene return.
But the main point here seems to be – based on Rogers' comments on what he's heard – that when the Cubs say they'll consider anything, they really mean it.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) December 16, 2020
Rays Sign Zunino/Catching Market Impact
One of the big “wants” of the offseason was the Rays
desire need to add at least one catcher, after declining the $4.5M option on Mike Zunino and exposing Michael Perez to waivers at the end of October (the Pirates picked up the latter).
But earlier today, they brought Zunino back on a lesser deal for 2021 with a club option for a little more scratch in 2022:
Source confirms: Free-agent catcher Mike Zunino in agreement with Rays on one-year, $3M contract with club option for 2022. Option valued between $4M and $7M depending upon number of games played. If declined, Zunino receives $1M buyout. On it: @TBTimes_Rays, @JonHeyman.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 16, 2020
So there are two takeaways here.
(1) See! The Cubs COULD still find a way to bring Kyle Schwarber back. Schwarber is probably less of an obvious fit than Zunino was with the Rays (not only because of Zunino’s position, but also because of the institutional knowledge he already had with the Rays pitchers). But it does happen. Declining the option is not exactly the same as non-tendering a guy, but … also it kind of is.
(2) The catching market. This one is tougher. The Rays were considered a reasonable match for one of the Cubs two starting caliber catchers, but probably are not anymore. Victor Caratini may be a backup in Chicago, but he could pretty easily be a starter somewhere else if I had to guess, and his flexibility as a switch-hitter and multi-positional catcher makes him a unique fit for a Cubs team – especially if there is, in fact, a DH next season (which, frankly, I expect).
This also takes a catcher off the market, without fulfilling the needs of some catching-desperate teams like the
Mets, Yankees, Nationals, Angels, Cardinals(?) … I’m sure there are others).
And, hey, that Zunino got even $3M plus a pricier option in 2022, after posting a 67 wRC+ over the last three seasons, is yet another sign of a healthy market. James McCann’s commitment was already large enough – and Realmuto may yet get the biggest deal of the winter – but clearly teams are willing to pay for catching too, this winter.
Just another thing to keep in mind, without necessarily drawing any explicit connections.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) December 4, 2020
Nats Free Agent
The Washington Nationals can posture all they want, but the fact that there’s an impending window closing here is lost on exactly nobody:
Boras, asked about Scherzer, says he is going to get together with “Mr. Lerner” after the new year and “we’ll see how that goes."
— Todd Dybas (@Todd_Dybas) December 15, 2020
Max Scherzer may just be one part of their impressive rotation, but he’s the best and most consistent part of it (heading into 2020, he made seven-straight All-Star teams, won three Cy Young awards, finished as a top-5 Cy Young finalist over seven consecutive seasons, and received MVP votes in five of the past seven years).
When they lose him – to free agency, or even just the drag of age – things are going to change. And 2019 World Series rings or not, that puts some pressure to compete in 2021.
Arenado and Story Staying Put?
The Rockies and Nolan Arenado share one thing in common: they’re both interested in Arenado playing somewhere else as soon as possible.
Arenado feels betrayed by the organization and does not agree with the direction of the franchise, and the Rockies would love to get out from under his remaining six-years, $199M and possibly transfer those savings over to Trevor Story, who’s just one year from free agency and just as worthy of being the “franchise face.”
Colorado #Rockies manager Bud Black says he expects that Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story will both be on the team on opening day.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 16, 2020
So, I guess that means they’re both gone, right?
I kid, of course, but there is a kernel of truth here. For one, managers almost always say stuff like this, because: (1) they’re not always privy to the everyday conversations of the front office, (2) it’s strategically wise to maintain leverage in this way, and (3) much like the 15 NL teams do NOT “expect” the universal DH to be in place next season, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.
I hate when people use a generic “Well, what did you expect him to say?” But really … what did you expect him to say?