Spring Training 2021 is officially underway, and regular season Cubs baseball begins in exactly one month. Life isn’t perfect, but baseball helps.
Extension SZN Is Underway
Spring Training is the time of the year when most extensions are ironed out, and the Chicago Cubs have a trio of high-profile expiring deals to consider re-upping (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez). But until you see those beautiful words grace your screen “The Chicago Cubs extend Javier Baez …” we’ll follow closely along as other deals are signed throughout the league.
It’s a good way to keep up with the market and successfully navigate Cubs rumors when the time comes. And to that end, third baseman Hunter Dozier and the Kansas City Royals have come together on an extension:
Dozier’s deal has escalators and bonuses that could max it out at $49 million over the five years. He’s a clear part of a Royals team that’s looking to make noise in a suddenly ascendant AL Central. The excellent @ByRobertMurray first mentioned the sides were talking extension.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 28, 2021
Dozier, 29, had avoided his first trip through arbitration with a $2.7M agreement for 2021. But this new agreement will start this year, replacing that pact. It will also buy out his two other arb seasons (2022 and 2023) and at least one year of free agency (2024) with a club option for 2025 … all for just $25 million guaranteed and the chance to max out at $49 million if all the escalators and bonuses *and* the option are picked up (which … probably not).
The Cubs have a 29-year-old third baseman of their own they’d like to extend, Kris Bryant, but his age and position are about where the similarities end. Bryant is better, has been playing for longer, is more versatile, has way more upside, and is on his final year of arbitration. There’s just not much to takeaway aside from it being an interesting deal officially kicking off Extension SZN.
Mets Extensions Coming?
Sticking with the theme for now, the Mets have a similarly high-profile trio of candidates to consider extending: Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard. And all three seem to be on the docket.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson expects talks with Lindor and Conforto to begin soon, while sounding a little softer on a deal with Noah Syndergaard, who’s expected back around mid-season. I’ve been desperately hoping the Mets fail to come to terms with Lindor, who could be one of those uniquely attractive free agents next winter, but I’m willing to bet they do everything in their power to get a deal done over the next few weeks (all the more reason to extend Baez, right?).
As for Conforto, you have to imagine the odds of a deal getting done ticked up significantly, when New York whiffed on George Springer:
Sandy Alderson suggested the Mets had interest in George Springer at five years, but not six. If the Mets had signed Springer, Alderson said, it probably would have precluded them from trying to extend Michael Conforto.
"At some point, even Steve Cohen runs out of money."
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) March 1, 2021
But at the same time, you have to wonder if Conforto will be itching to reach free agency. The versatile outfielder is still just 28 years old and has done nothing but hit in his six big league seasons (127 wRC+ for his career, 157 wRC+ last season). It’s always a balance between risk and reward, but if he stays healthy and posts another solid season before reaching free agency as a sub-30-year-old outfielder capable of playing all three positions in a pinch, he could be in store for a pretty nice bump in free agency.
In all likelihood, he’d be the top available outfielder and leading your position group tends to pay well in free agency.
As for Syndergaard, based on the timing of his return, the Mets priorities, and the comments from Alderson, I suspect he’ll be a free agent when the 2021 World Series comes to an end. And, hey, I wouldn’t mind dreaming on Thor in Chicago. We know they targeted him a long time ago. Who knows?
Cardinals Push Back Mikolas
The St. Louis Cardinals have pushed back Miles Mikolas’ first start of the spring, and they’re doing their best to make it known that their concern is “very low.” HOWEVA … whether it was all an abundance of “caution” or not, the fact is Mikolas, 32, hasn’t thrown a competitive inning since September … 2019 and was supposed to pitch today, but didn’t.
To count on him for a full, effective series of starts in 2021 would be a huge mistake. The Cardinals have a bevy of familiar options to replace Mikolas in the short-term (Alex Reyes, Daniel Ponce de Leon, John Gant, Carlos Martinez), but those guys were already battling for a rotation spot (and each has his warts). And it’s not like Adam Wainwright, 39, is some virtual lock for productivity.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying … when do they bite the bullet and sign Jake Odorizzi?
Funny enough, it’s the Cubs, not the Cardinals, listed as one of the teams who could stand to benefit most by the addition of Jake Odorizzi (according to FanGraphs), but I wouldn’t hold your breath. St. Louis makes plenty of sense and they’re definitely still going for it in 2021. The progress of Mikolas over these next few days/weeks could inform that pursuit.
Odds and Ends:
• At FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski reconfigured his ZiPS forecast model to fit into a variety of postseason types (the current version, the 2020 16-team version, a 14-team postseason, a four-team postseason, and the old-school World Series rules from before 1969). The goal was to find a playoff format that best incentivized improving by one additional win and whaddayaknow? The current version is one of the most reasonable configurations. Of course, we’re likely to get expansion in the near future, so the league will have to take care not to ruin the incentives of each team.
• The Atlanta Braes are the only publicly traded team in MLB, which means they are the only team into which we can discern a specific financial picture. And to that end, it’s worth noting that the team accounted for a $49 million operating loss in 2020 (before depreciation and amortization). Considering the Cubs expected gate numbers and newly minted TV Network, you can probably assume their losses were higher than that. That’s not to excuse any of their decisions (either in the past or forthcoming), but some hard numbers and a little context is nice.
• Albert Almora Jr. in Mets gear is weird.
"I think change is good."
Albert Almora Jr. reflects on joining the Mets as a free agent after eight seasons in the Cubs organization — the only other one he's known. pic.twitter.com/uGRsg3Hnh2
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) February 28, 2021
• Trey Mancini has undergone quite a journey over these past few years, from relative obscurity, to Orioles star, to battling cancer. Dan Connolly has the details at The Athletic.
I began reporting this story 1 year ago, a profile on the #Orioles best player. Then @TreyMancini learned he had Stage 3 cancer. The story changed. Lives changed. 20 interviews later, Mancini’s back playing. His saga, told by those who’ve lived it: https://t.co/IDDTLGofks
— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) March 1, 2021