As we examine the Cubs roster and consider their needs heading into 2021, an outfielder who can handle lefties is probably right there atop the list (either a righty who mashes lefties, or a lefty without huge splits). The Cubs have only two outfielders at the moment, and were one of the worst offenses against left-handed pitching in 2020. Ideally, that player would be a center fielder who could push Ian Happ out to left, where he’d likely add a lot more value with his glove, but I do think Happ could stay in center, especially if the right bat was found for the corner (contact bat, righty, lefty-mashing, etc.).
Maybe the Reds will trade Nick Castellanos to Chicago? I tease …
What You Doin, Reds?
… But there is a grain of truth in there!
A couple years after pushing all in for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Cincinnati Reds are selling off … hard. They have already moved closer Raisel Iglesias to the Angels, and have lost Trevor Bauer to free agency. Meanwhile, Sonny Gray’s presence on the trade market is already well-established, and he’s being joined by the other best-remaining pitcher in Cincinnati, Luis Castillo:
Luis Castillo as well as Sonny Gray is being discussed in trades. Asks are appropriately high for young frontline starters. The #Reds went for it last winter (and were rewarded with a playoff spot) but the belt tightening this winter is clear.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 20, 2020
No, I don’t think the Reds will trade Castellanos (at all, let alone to the Cubs (let alone the Cubs being interested in/able to pay him)), but they are getting appreciably worse heading into next season. All the more reason the Cubs should seriously consider not just punting on 2021.
As for Castillo, well, yeah he’s going to be one very attractive trade target. Not only is this market starved for starters, but also Castillo, 28, is still young and under affordable team control via arbitration for the next three years. Moreover, his upper-90s fastball/insane changeup, elevated strikeout rate, and high groundball rate really does make him the model of the modern pitcher – the type most front offices are trying to unearth every day.
He’ll have some competition on the trade market, including from his own team (Sonny Gray) and division (Yu Darvish?), but the rest of the league is also very likely considering similar sells, considering the need in the market (Blake Snell).
I don’t have much in the form of an established market for him at the moment, but we can make at least one strong, educated guess based on what’s already happened: The Angels.
Buster Olney reports that new Angels GM Perry Minasian “has been aggressive in trying to add pitching, to the degree that one of his peers compared Minasian’s early decisions to those of Washington general manager Mike Rizzo.”
“He’s not messing around,” said a rival executive. “He’s got a need and knows he can’t win unless he deals with it — and he’s dealing with it.”
And considering the Angels just completed a trade with the Reds for Iglesias, you have to imagine they have some alignment on value and a good sense of the other organization.
Also, notably from all this: the Reds pushed their chips way in for 2020, it didn’t go their way, and now they’re unloading immediately? It would be a bummer to be a reds fan.
Tomoyuki Sugano is the Next Best Starter?
Of course, the free agent starting pitcher market does still have some interesting names. Reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer is at the top of that list, but according to Jon Morosi, NPB transplant Tomoyuki Sugano is the next best available starter this winter:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) December 19, 2020
That’s high praise. We generally knew Sugano was excellent in Japan, but I didn’t quite expect him to be considered at the very top of the market like that. In any case, the Blue Jays and Rangers are both reportedly interested in his services, according to Morosi, in addition to the Red Sox, Giants and Padres. Morosi gives those last two NL West teams a special shoutout, saying he really likes the fit there.
The Cubs almost certainly wouldn’t be pursuing a 31-year-old starting pitcher at the top of the market, just for what it’s worth.
Nationals Clearly Want a Bat
The Nationals are frustrating the heck out of me this offseason. More or less we know that (1) They’ve had trade talks with the Cubs in the recent past, (2) They need a third baseman and they could use a catcher, (3) There have been rumors about Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras filling either/both of those needs before … and the opposite of everything I just listed is also constantly churned into the narrative.
Also, the Nationals have no money. That is sure to get in there somewhere from time to time.
And throughout all that back and forth, we’re met with information like this:
The Nats have interest in J.T. Realmuto. But it will come down to whether the Lerners approve the expenditure. Their payroll has been relatively high but they have their limits. @Britt_Ghiroli on this
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 19, 2020
On the one hand, rumor has it the Nationals don’t even have the money to pay Kris Bryant if they were to trade for him, but somehow they’re also interested in J.T. Realmuto, arguably the top free agent on the market? Come on.
Setting that aside, though, there’s a more useful piece of intel here: The Nationals are willing to go big at catcher, for the right guy. I’d really, truly, hate if the Cubs traded Willson Contreras this offseason, but he is arguably the guy who could net the biggest return on the team *and* the Cubs have Victor Caratini (for now) and Miguel Amaya (possibly for 1-2 years from now) waiting in the wings).
There was also this a couple weeks ago:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) December 4, 2020
But to use my own logic against me – the Cubs and Nationals just must not see eye-to-eye on trade value, because they’ve been toying with deals for a couple years and haven’t gotten anything significant done. Moreover, is there really a package from the Nationals that would intrigue you in a Contreras deal? They aren’t including guys like Juan Soto and Trea Turner – HA! – so what’s a great return from them? Not sure it exists.
Yankees Plans for SP and LeMahieu
This is a smaller rumor, relatively speaking, but it feels important to note:
If the Yankees re-sign LeMahieu, expect them to find a starting pitcher in free agency or trade for less than $10 million in 2021. If they don’t sign LeMahieu, the Yankees can apply more money to the area, but will then also have to address the middle infield.
The Yankees, as we all know (because they won’t stop telling us) are making re-signing D.J. LeMahieu the priority of the offseason. And if they succeed, which feels likely, they will still add a starter but probably on a more affordable deal for less than $10M. If, however, the Blue Jays or someone else successfully lure LeMahieu away, they could devote more money to their rotation.
NOTE: Pretty easy to see why things are moving slowly, right? Pitchers may be willing to sign before the DH rules are settled, but positional players have been more reluctant to act so swiftly. And if LeMahieu is waiting for the ruling, but the Yankees are waiting on LeMahieu, and some pitchers are waiting on the Yankees … well, you can see how this works. Also, reportedly, LeMahieu is up to wanting five years and $125 million.
Odds and Ends:
• Speaking of the Yankees and pitchers, we’ve got an old friend alert:
Adam Warren is back with the Yankees on a minor-league deal @BrendanKutyNJ 1st
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 20, 2020
• The Tampa Bay Rays have re-signed Mike Zunino, filling one of their catching vacancies for 2021, but they do still want/need another big league catcher to pair with him, as well as some upper-minors level depth.
• MLB.com has one of those round table discussions on the Mets/George Springer/Trevor Bauer, which is fun to read through. In general, the experts believe Springer is more likely to end up with the Mets than Bauer, and a five-year deal is a reasonable expectation.