The Cubs regular season is over, but the offseason will not begin in earnest until after the World Series. And even then, an evolving Collective Bargaining Agreement could (further) limit (the already disappearing) early action to only those teams and players bold enough to enter into talks half-blind. The rules for anything from roster size and makeup, to payroll minimums and tax levels, to the draft and the actual game, itself, could change at some point this offseason (the current CBA expires December 1).
So, sure, there may be some early action (as in, before the new CBA is minted), but it’ll be risky for both parties and it’ll be limited.
But the rumors wait for nobody …
Although we have every reason to be skeptical about the Cubs intentions to spend aggressively this offseason, Jed Hoyer has made two things pretty clear that I tend to believe: (1) The Cubs do have some money to spend this offseason, and (2) the focus of that money will be in the rotation.
Given how truly awful the Cubs starting pitching was this season, and the fact that none of Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, or Alec Mills gave us a reason to absolutely-definitely-no-questions lock any of them into a 2022 rotation spot … I’d say, yeah, I hope there’s a lot of rotation spending.
And one of the more interesting free agent targets (with multiple prior-Cubs connections) is Rockies starter Jon Gray.
Though the Rockies, having recently completed a couple of extensions, have turned their sights on retaining the righty:
After signing both Antonio Senzatela and C.J. Cron to extensions, the Rockies would still love to sign Jon Gray to a deal to keep him in Colorado. Nothing new on that front as of now, however, according to sources.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) October 5, 2021
Gray had a down 2020 season, complete with injuries and depressed velocity, but he bounced back a bit in 2021, making 29 starts with a 4.59 ERA (3.95 xERA according to Statcast) pitching his home games at Coors Field. The Cubs had Gray near the top of their 2013 draft board before electing to go with Kris Bryant instead (good call), and have been connected to him in rumors over the past few years.
Gray, 29, might not be a top-half-of-the-rotation starter, but he is still young and affordable, with the pedigree and upside you’d be looking for this offseason. And, to be frank, the Cubs simply need more sure-fire starting pitchers.
Here’s the rub: Even if he’s not extended by the Rockies, they could hand him a qualifying offer (which he’s likely reject), attaching him to draft pick compensation. And considering that the Cubs have their highest relative draft pick in each round since 2014, that’s a non-zero consideration. I still expect the Cubs to be involved on Gray (ditto Noah Syndergaard, who’s in a very similar situation on the QO question), but that is one part of this to keep in mind.
We’ll dig deeper on Gray as the offseason unfolds. For now, just keep him in mind.
Overlapping Yankees Rumors and Anthony Rizzo
At The New York Post, Joel Sherman got into a whole host of Yankees rumors, predictions, and clearly informed speculation, much of which potentially overlaps with the Cubs. Here are some of the highlights.
• I totally slept on the fact that Aaron Judge was entering his final year under team control in 2022. Judge, 29, had another monster season in New York (148 wRC+, 5.5 WAR), but signing him to an extension might be tricky with Giancarlo Stanton occupying the DH spot – expensively – through 2027. If the DH comes to the NL next year … if and Judge is still crushing it … and if the Cubs take a step forward/look competitive in 2022 … and if the DH spot is still open, maybe they can kick the tires.
• Anthony Rizzo is a good fit for the Yankees at first base, but Sherman doesn’t see them – or any team! – offering him more than just a two-year deal, which … feels low, but does make the Cubs’ reported five-year, $70 million extension offer from earlier this season look more reasonable. Rizzo finished the year hitting .248/.344/.440 (112 wRC+), and turned 32 in August. It’s TBD whether the Cubs will seriously explore a reunion, but if Rizzo’s market just isn’t there, you can be sure there will at least be a conversation or two.
• The Yankees traded for Joey Gallo at the deadline, and it didn’t go particularly well in New York (95 wRC+, 38.6% strikeout rate). Sherman calls him the “hitting Sonny Gray,” suggesting that he doesn’t like playing in New York, and implying that he would play better elsewhere. So, the implication goes, the Yankees would be wise to move on. Gallo, 27, has one more year of team control and if the Yankees are seriously considering a trade, the Cubs should absolutely consider it. It may seem weird to advocate for the Cubs to trade for a one-year player, but it’s kinda the same situation as free agency: short-term, high-upside, interesting players. So long as the acquisition cost on the prospect side weren’t outrageous, there might be an angle here. The Cubs must reintroduce some power back into their lineup, and Gallo has as much of it as anybody (and he can play multiple spots). He’s got warts, but that’s a gamble worth considering, at least. (Incredibly, the Yankees also might have financial considerations at play, and Gallo’s $10-ish million projected salary might be something they want to move.)
• The Yankees will be looking for a short-term shortstop to bridge the gap between now and their top prospect’s expected arrival in 2023. Sherman sees Corey Seager (who would eventually move to third) and Marcus Semien as realistic free agent targets. And he thinks both are more likely than Javy Báez, Carlos Correa, or Trevor Story.
• But if they go the trade route, Sherman points to Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez and Padres Shortstop Jake Cronenworth. Interestingly, Sherman wonders if Cronenworth may be obtainable in a deal that includes the Padres also sending over a big contract (Yu Darvish, Drew Pomeranz, etc.). The Padres were involved in such rumors at the deadline and the Cubs were right there in those speculations (though those involved Eric Hosmer and prospects, the concept is all the same). Cronenworth, 27, has a career 14.4% strikeout rate and 118 wRC+.
Matt Chapman’s Decline and Availability
The Oakland A’s could be ready to move on from both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson this offseason. Olson, 27, and a first baseman, is coming off a monster offensive season (146 wRC+) and is under team control via arbitration for two more years. Chapman, 28, and a third baseman, played his typically top-notch defense at the hot corner, but struggled offensively and has been on a general offensive decline for a while now:
Chapman also comes with two more years of control via arbitration, but it sounds like the A’s might be ready to use either/both Matts to reload their farm. And while I don’t think the Cubs are going to be involved with Olson (giving up a huge prospect package for a first baseman doesn’t seem on the docket), I do think Chapman could be an intriguing buy-low candidate. Of course, the “buy-low” qualifier is precisely why the A’s may choose to hold onto Chapman until he rebuilds some of his value, which is a fairly reasonable expectation given his age and even more time separated from his 2020 hip surgery.
As for Chicago: The Cubs do have Patrick Wisdom (lots of power, lots of strikeouts, solid defense at third base), but they should not let Wisdom prevent them from seeking what would be a pretty obvious baseline upgrade. Especially given Chapman’s upside, if you can see reasons for him to bounce back.
I’m not sure there’s much to support this other than a gut feeling, but I think the Cubs are going to make at least one “buy-side” trade this offseason, wherein they acquire a big league player for some combination of other big-league ready players and/or prospects. And the teams they’ll target are smaller-payroll organizations with guys (like Chapman and Olson) moving up through arbitration, so they are still leveraging their ability to “spend,” even if not exclusively in free agency.
Other Teams Spending Big?
• Seattle has to win back over their locker room after trading Kendall Graveman to the Astros at the deadline (plus, Mariners President Jerry Dipoto is always making moves), and it sounds like Marcus Semien could be in their sights.
• Texas tore things down further at the trade deadline, sending Joey Gallo to New York and Kyle Gibson to Philadelphia, but they used to carry a pretty big payroll and haven’t made any noise in a while now. But President of Baseball Operations Jon Daniels came out strong:
“Ownership has recommitted recently to support us financially, to pay market dollars,” Daniels said of the pending free-agent search. “We’re not in the postseason, obviously — we haven’t been now for five years; we don’t have that advantage. We’re not on TV tonight. So we understand this isn’t a situation where we’re looking for discounts. We’re gonna have to pay market dollars to get top players and we’re prepared to do so.”
• So prepare for that. And keep an eye on the big shortstop class, which seems to be their focus.
• Meanwhile, the Marlins haven’t really registered on the national level (aside from knocking the Cubs out of the postseason in 2020), since a new ownership group and new GM. But now, they’re ready to spend and they could have Nick Castellanos in mind (more on that later):
"𝙁𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙨𝙩 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙮 𝙨𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙚 𝙬𝙚'𝙫𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙚𝙣 𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙨 𝙖𝙣 𝙤𝙬𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙨𝙝𝙞𝙥 𝙜𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙥, 𝙄 𝙚𝙭𝙥𝙚𝙘𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙥𝙧𝙚𝙩𝙩𝙮 𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚…"
— Bally Sports Florida: Marlins (@BallyMarlins) October 2, 2021
The Astros, Correa, More
The Astros are not counting themselves out on re-signing this offseason’s top free agent, Carlos Correa, but given their reluctance to go past five years and their previously failed efforts to get a deal done, it’s not looking strong: “I never count anything out….We have a history of doing something in the neighborhood of five (years) is the most we’ve ever done since I’ve been here,” Astros Owner Jim Crane said. “Things can change. We’re not counting it out.”
Based on some other comments you can find here, Correa, 27, is pretty clearly seeking one of those really long-term deals, the likes of which the Cubs are simply not going to give out this winter. Indeed, even IF the Cubs do spend a lot and/or on top-tier free agents it’s going to be of the short-term, high-AAV variety, based on everything we know about and have heard from this front office. Remember, Correa also comes attached to draft pick compensation, but that’s not as much of a factor when you’re talking about a 27-year-old All-Star shortstop looking for a 6+ year deal.
Speaking of the qualifying offer, Justin Verlander will “probably” get one from the Astros, despite being 38 years old and missing the entire 2021 season. And although I would’ve guessed that’s actually a nice fit for Verlander (~$19M for your age-39 season (after missing an entire year) somewhere you’re comfortable with a team that should contend), Crane said Verlander is “looking for a contract of some length.” Well, then. Good luck, I suppose.
The Astros are likely to pick up Yuli Gurriel’s club option, but retaining Dusty Baker didn’t sound quite as certain: “we haven’t really talked about it. We’re going to wait for things to get over with here” in the Astros’ playoff run.
Go For It, Cubs
If you hate phrases like “spending intelligently” and “stacking good decisions on top of each other,” and “being opportunistic,” I have just the article for you. At NBC Sports Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer lays into the Cubs, imploring them to do more with the ample resources they have:
This isn’t the time to sell fans on trust-me timelines, second-tier free agent efforts and comparisons to Tampa Bay’s princes of the game’s pauper class, writes @GDubCub.
Not two months after selling off actual championship players and fan favorites.https://t.co/pL0ugbPZgH
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) October 7, 2021