There was some light Cubs-Trevor Story chat earlier this year, and there was the report yesterday about the Cubs doing some background work on the top free agent shortstops, so I don’t want to act like this is coming completely out of nowhere. Just like I said with Carlos Correa (and have said with Javy Báez), yeah, there are versions of a Cubs-Trevor Story marriage this offseason that could at least become plausible. It’s not like I don’t want any of these guys on the Cubs! I’m just trying to take a realistic assessment of both the market and the Cubs’ situation.
You know what? I’m getting ahead of myself.
Here’s the story: Mark Feinsand got into the “likely suitors” for Trevor Story this offseason, and the Cubs made the cut. That, alone, isn’t crazy, because the Cubs do need a shortstop, and they obviously have plenty of payroll available to make a move if they want. If the market does something surprising, then any of these guys could be a fit for the Cubs. Here’s how Feinsand put it, listing the Cubs fifth on a list of nine likely suitors for Story:
Chicago did a reset at the Trade Deadline, dealing away Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Craig Kimbrel and Kyle Schwarber among others, but the Cubs don’t figure to go into a long rebuilding mode. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer recently said the club will be “really active in free agency” this winter, so the idea of the Cubs signing one of the big-name shortstops is certainly in play. The Cubs have two shortstops among their top 10 prospects (No. 3 Cristian Hernandez and No. 7 Ed Howard), but neither has turned 20 yet, leaving a need at the position.
General stuff. But not inaccurate.
Here’s how I could see a Cubs-Story situation playing out. Let’s say the market doesn’t develop strongly for Story after his down 2021 season (which included some concerns about his throwing arm), and he intentionally starts to market himself as angling for a short-term deal to take another crack at free agency next year or the next. It was a rough walk year for a guy who’d otherwise been looking like a star:
Like most Rockies, Story has the big splits, and while the wRC+ tries its best to adjust, we’ve seen many times that it’s just hard to project perfectly how someone will perform on a different club. That’s especially true given the Coors Hangover Effect, whereby players tend not only to get an artificial boost in their home games at Coors, but also appear to have an artificial DRAG in their road games (people think it’s because of the body’s constant adjusting back and forth to the altitude).
So, anyway, a down year at the plate in 2021 – by any metric – and now, if you’re Story, maybe you just want to try to have a great 2022 and hit the market again. Then he would have bounced back (he’ll hope), he would have shown he can play outside of Coors Field (he’ll hope), and he could no longer be attached to a Qualifying Offer. It’s a story we’ve seen before, and it makes sense in Story’s situation, thanks not only to the down 2021, but also the crowded free agent class, and the fact that he’ll be just 29 next year. Maybe this year’s crop will have pushed the price tags up even further by next year, too? And there’s also all the CBA-related uncertainty right now.
If the huge contract isn’t coming this offseason, it certainly still could come next offseason.
In that situation, there’s a pretty obvious marriage here. The Cubs would be looking at short-term, high-upside, high-risk, high-AAV free agents – the types who could blow up and give them a surprising shot to compete in 2022, but who don’t really lock them into anything long-term. And, let’s be honest: the types who could become really compelling midseason trade pieces if things don’t go well.
You know the big caveat, though, right? It’s that Qualifying Offer. Story is going to get one, and, if he’s already thinking he might have to do the one-year thing, who knows? He might just take it. If he doesn’t, then you’re talking about asking the Cubs to give up a very high second round pick AND the draft bonus pool money associated with that pick AND a chunk of IFA bonus pool money just to get one year of Story. That doesn’t make any sense unless the deal is an absolute steal (and is maybe a two-year deal, rather than a one-year). It gets harder to see that happening when you go down this road, but, again, there are plausible versions.
So, then, I won’t rule it out. Heck, I wouldn’t even TOTALLY rule out a surprising 3 or 4+ year deal if the market is surprisingly weird and it becomes a pure “value” situation for the Cubs. Are the Cubs in an ideal window for a four-year deal on Story (or, like, a six-year deal on Correa)? No. They aren’t. But at some price points, it’s like, you just have to jump because it’s too much value to say no.
Which is why, in turn, yesterday’s report about the Cubs doing their homework makes so much sense. You just need to make sure you’re in a position to know what surprising value looks like. For as much as we don’t think the Cubs will ball out this offseason on monster long-term deals, that doesn’t mean they aren’t in a really fun spot, in my view. Because they can do just about anything. Wherever that value pops up, they have the flexibility to jump. I happen to think that’ll mostly come in the form of shorter-term, high-AAV deals, but hey, value is value. I’m open-minded.