A quick reminder: The Cubs were able to come to deals to avoid arbitration with every player but center fielder/leadoff man Ian Happ. And speaking of which, if you’ve been on Twitter today, you may have noticed that a few arbitration cases have already been resolved. Happ’s case, as far as we know, hasn’t been heard yet, but that’s likely just a matter of timing, as the league calendar has arbitration hearings scheduled between February 2nd and February 19th.
Hopefully, the Cubs and Happ are able to come to an agreement before the case is actually heard (and hey, wouldn’t an extension be nice?), but history tells us things are probably headed toward a hearing.
One other bit of housekeeping – sure seems like this is coming any moment:
— Deesha (@DeeshaThosar) February 5, 2021
Marcell Ozuna’s Market Emerges
With Trevor Bauer seemingly off the board, Marcell Ozuna is the best remaining free agent available, and according to Jon Morosi, the Braves remain the favorite to sign him. The Braves, of course, grabbed Ozuna last season on one of their productive one-year prove it deals, but have been seemingly reluctant to bring him back, especially now that the universal DH does not seem likely this season. They are still looking for either a corner outfielder or third baseman, however, and are even said to have had interest in signing Joc Pederson, before he joined the Cubs.
But Ozuna-to-the-Braves is not a universally held belief. There was one report from Jon Heyman a few days ago that the Rays could actually jump into the sweepstakes, though they were subsequently shot down by Marc Topkin, who’s generally an authority on all-things Rays. Topkin said the reported interest the Rays would have in Ozuna would necessarily mean a significant change in the contract goals of Ozuna, because Tampa Bay wouldn’t likely offer anything more than a one-year deal.
But in yet another twist, a different Florida beat writer, Craig Mish, not only believes the Rays are finalists for Ozuna, he gives them a “70%” chance of landing the slugger, compared to the Braves 45% and Cardinals 15%, which does not add up to 100%, but maybe that’s not the point. And it’s not like Mish doesn’t recognize Ozuna’s contract target:
Per sources Marcell Ozuna market moving forward. Rays appear to be among final teams involved. Braves still possible. Could be another. Will be a multi-year deal for Ozuna once final. 3-4 year range. Not imminent.
— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) February 5, 2021
I tend to think Topkin is a better source on this particular pursuit (Mish is more of a Marlins guy), especially because the Rays rarely tread in the waters of big, multi-year deals for 30-year-old sluggers. I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long to find out, though.
Braves Uninterested in Bryant
Circling back to the Braves for a moment, I found Mark Bowman’s latest at MLB.com enlightening, but confusing. We do know that the Braves are looking for a corner outfielder or third baseman with a big bat, with the ability to move Austin Riley to whichever position is vacant after an addition. And we now know that they were in on Joc Pederson before he landed in Chicago and that Ozuna remains a possibility. All of that is fine and good.
The confusing part came next. According to Bowman, the Braves (1) spoke to the Rockies about Nolan Arenado before he was moved to St. Louis, (2) could have some interest in free agent third baseman Justin Turner, and (3) believe a trade for Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez could make sense … all while making it “clear they are not interested in trading for Kris Bryant.” Uh … what?
If it was about the money, sure, Ramirez ($9M in 2021 plus at least a $2M buyout for 2022) will cost a lot less, but Justin Turner is likely a bigger financial commitment for a much older player and Arenado still has a TON of money on the books. Whether or not all that money was going to come due this season is relevant, but it’s hardly enough to distinguish between the two.
If it’s about performance, sure, Turner and Ramirez had huge 2020 seasons offensively, but Turner is 36-years-old and Arenado (76 wRC+) had just as bad of a year at the plate as Bryant (77 wRC+). In terms of age, Bryant, 29, is nine months older than Ramirez, but eight months younger than Arenado, and seven years younger than Turner. If it is about defense, Bryant is well behind Arenado and Ramirez at third, but ahead of Turner and offers more positional flexibility than any of the above.
So … why exactly would the Braves have interest in signing Turner or trading for Arenado/Ramirez, but not Bryant. Even if he is their fourth choice (which I recognize isn’t crazy or unfair), shouldn’t there still be interest there, presumably at a lower acquisition cost? And especially now that Arenado is off the board and Turner to the Dodgers seems more likely than ever? It doesn’t add up. I guess it could always be pressure on the Cubs to reduce their asking price for Bryant (hey, maybe they’re really holding that bar high!). But again, Bowman was not parsing words: “Speaking of the Cubs, the Braves have made it clear they are not interested in trading for Kris Bryant.” There are no mixed signals there. Maybe they just flat-out don’t project him to bounce back.
The Cubs were briefly connected to one of their former starting pitchers, Rich Hill, this offseason (also Jake Arrieta and Jeff Samardzija), but it seems as though their name has popped up less and less lately, whenever Hill’s market is reestablished:
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 5, 2021
It’s hard to say what the Mets interest in Hill will look like if they sign Bauer, but Hill could make sense for the Brewers, especially now that they’ve added Kolten Wong and seem determined to give it a go in 2021. And for my part, while Hill is really old, he has still had plenty of success in recent years and always seems able to befuddle the Cubs. So I hope he ends up with one of those “others” when all is said and done.