I was mostly following along as a fan, rather than a writer or editor or whatever, but even my head was spinning a bit trying to keep up with the NBA rumors and trades and signings and contract complexities yesterday. The Bulls landed Lonzo Ball in a sign-and-trade, landed another guard, Alex Caruso, on a sizable deal. They also might be doing a sign-and-trade of their own, plus they still have to figure out what to do with Lauri Markkannen. And that was all just the first, like, five hours of free agency, and was just the Bulls. Across the league, it’s madness when things open up.
I don’t prefer it to baseball’s drip-drip of an offseason, but I do wish baseball was a LITTLE more condensed in the action. Many have talked about a December cutoff for free agent signings on big league contracts – think about how wild and crazy the Trade Deadline was – and maybe that would do it. The rub there is that you could see quality players really getting squeezed by teams at the deadline, and it might only serve to depress salaries. And the other rub, at least this year, is that the CBA expires on December 1, and there’s virtually no chance a new one is in place by then. I fully expect the league to be shut down for at least a couple months in December and January.
Which reminds me, the drip-drip of the offseason? It could be even worse this year, as teams will not want to make major moves before the CBA is in place, and if that doesn’t happen before December 1, then they *can’t* make moves until it’s done, and that might not be until February or March. So I guess then maybe we will get the crazy crush of free agency right before Spring Training anyway …
• I haven’t had a chance to share and discuss this yet, with the crush of Trade Deadline fallout, but I want to make sure to put a spotlight on it today. It’s Jake Arrieta, who has been run through the gamut of the different types of transactions a player can face, talking about the players departing the Cubs. As a guy who came, who left, and who came back, Arrieta has a unique perspective (Cubs.com): “Hugging Rizzo, KB and Javy goodbye just reminds you of how special this uniform is to wear,” said Arrieta. “Whether you win [a World Series] in this uniform or you’re just part of the organization for a brief period of time, this organization is different. I think that that’s pretty obvious to even the new guys that are here today. And if they don’t know it yet, they’ll soon understand just how important the Cubs uniform is to wear and the legacy that this group has left on the city of Chicago. I think that will be remembered forever, so it is special for all of us.”
• We don’t know for sure what Arrieta’s experience was like in Philadelphia, but we do know that, despite almost certainly feeling like the Cubs let him go because they preferred Yu Darvish a few years ago, Arrieta was still open to coming back. Things haven’t gone well for him this season, but the affection for the organization – and the city and the fans – is still there. I won’t sit here and tell you that will make the three traded players come back in a few months or a few years. There are so many factors there. But I will tell you that Arrieta’s perspective about how great it is to play for the Cubs in Chicago is still going to be a reality, even after these trades. The folks who think the Cubs have suddenly soured themselves to free agents are, in my view, just wrong.
• (Of course, those soft factors are only a very small part of free agent races, which still requires that the money be at or near the top of the market for the player you’re pursuing. That’s the part that will be an open question until the team demonstrates otherwise.)
• Gerrit Cole is the latest Yankee to test positive for COVID-19, which means he’ll be out at least 10 days. Despite being a team over the 85% vaccination threshold, the Yankees have dealt with so many positives. On the one hand, the vaccinations have assuredly helped the healthy outcomes be way better, and also probably reduced the absences for contacts. On the other hand, it is probably a little demoralizing to have so many absences on your team when so many other teams haven’t dealt with it at all.
• Chad Kuhl, Cole’s former teammate in Pittsburgh in 2016-17 (unrelated!), also tested positive for COVID-19. This is just what it’s going to be like for the next two months as cases continue to climb once again. It sucks. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating, especially when we know there’s a safe and effective answer that was developed in record speed, and the impact it could be having nationally would be even more dramatic if there was more adoption.
• Dang it, just as I’m typing this section out, I see that Josh Hader ALSO tested positive and is out. Woof. I’m glad that there is less concern about outbreaks this year than last year, but it still is just so jarring to see these positives in succession. Hader was replaced on the roster, by the way, by former Brewers closer John Axford, who is 38 and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2018. Unfortunately his outing last night went poorly and then he left with the trainer.
• The next impressive Cubs relief prospect is on his way to Triple-A:
It appears Ethan Roberts is being promoted from Tennessee to Iowa.
Roberts on the season has a 1.97 ERA with a 36.3 K% and 5/1 K/BB ratio in 32 innings. The stuff has really popped.
🎥 by @CubsCentral08
— Ivy Futures (@IvyFutures) August 2, 2021
• Roberts, 24, was the Cubs’ 4th rounder in 2018, a really high pick for a college arm seen as a true reliever, but the Cubs knew there was a lot of upside there, and that was the period where they’d really started to take more risks on pitchers in the draft. Roberts has been relief-only since then, has been dominant-only since then, and will now be firmly on the radar for the 2022 big league bullpen. It’s possible he’ll appear there later this year, even, since he is Rule 5 eligible and will have to be protected by adding him to the 40-man in November anyway. (The Cubs’ farm depth is finally going to start “catching up with them” this offseason, by the way. When I peruse the Rule 5 list over at TCR, there are a considerable volume of guys who are obvious adds, and then an even greater volume of lower-level guys that I could see rebuilding clubs trying to snag and take a flyer on because of the stuff. We’ll get there when we get there, but it’s a reminder that the Cubs cannot be too cavalier about calling guys up over the next two months who aren’t already on the 40-man and who don’t need to be protected yet.)
• It’s amazing that the Cubs have called up Manny Rodriguez, Michael Rucker, and Jake Jewell over the last week – all of whom had been super dominant at Iowa – and yet the Iowa bullpen still features so many guys who also give you those upside feelings (Roberts, Ben Leeper, Dakota Mekkes, Tommy Nance, and even Rowan Wick). And that’s not to mention the two guys starting at Iowa who’ve already shown the ability to dominate in the big league bullpen (Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson). Don’t get me wrong, you always prefer that the pipeline up top in the system is in dominant starting pitchers – converting them to big league relievers out of necessity is always a possibility, and the guys who are already relieving by Double-A/Triple-A are doing so because of some limitations – but dang if the Cubs aren’t just blowing my mind the last couple years with how they keep churning out relief prospects AND reclamations at the big league level.
• And speaking of those relievers, Manny Rodriguez was already a personal favorite because of the 100 mph fastball and nasty slider-cutter, but this just ramps it up a notch:
“I didn’t bring you into this world to cut off your wings.”
— Andy Martínez (@amartinez_11) August 2, 2021
• Just something I was thinking about and wanting to enjoy again:
Can you be tearfully nostalgic about plays that happened just a couple months ago? pic.twitter.com/tMd92aagtX
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) August 2, 2021