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Lukewarm Stove: Dreaming on Buxton, Predictions for Top Free Agents, Heyman Triples Down on Báez-Cubs, More

Chicago Cubs

Although there is optimism that a new CBA could be minted not too long after the current deal expires on December 1st, there’s still a generous gap on “core economics” according to Evan Drellich at The Athletic — that would be the big ticket items like salary caps, taxes, penalties, floors, etc. That was always likely to be the hang-up, relative to the potentially less contentious items, such as the universal DH, roster sizes, and other things don’t smack the bottom line quite so directly.

According to Drellich, each side has made already made an initial offer on core economic issues, which is a decent sign, but neither offer was received well by the other side. This is all quite expected when you’re this far out from the hard deadline, and the possibility of a lockout or a strike.

Speaking of which, a lockout and a strike are two very different things and can occur legally only after certain requirements are met. In recent history, lockouts have been far more prevalent than strikes in the sports world, because they provide the employer (MLB) a little more leverage, especially in terms of timing. At the same time, a lockout tends to swing community support towards the labor (the players), it prevents certain stalling tactics, and it can be tricky to navigate in a legal sense.

If you’re interested in this topic and how it relates to the next few months of MLB, check out Evan Drellich’s latest at The Athletic.

Otherwise, we’ve got some early-morning rumors …

Trade Candidates

I tend to think that a truly impactful Cubs offseason – one that sets them up as clear NL Central contenders – will probably require at least one trade that makes them better next year. I don’t quite expect they’ll use young players/prospects for an established star, but there are other options. For example, the Cubs could take on the big-money contract of a *usable* player if the selling team attaches a prospect as compensation. Or better yet, the Cubs could target the quality arbitration-eligible players on smaller-budget teams (like the Oakland A’s), and pick them up for a song. Either way, I want to see the Cubs use all available levers to improve this offseason, and that includes the trade market.

To that end, boy are there a lot of options being floated out there right now (including players on the Cubs).

Tim Kelly lists ten trade candidates, including potentially interesting-to-the-Cubs players like Didi Gregorius, Whit Merrifield, Cody Bellinger, Matt Olson, and Nick Ahmed. Willson Contreras is also mentioned, but we already know they will try to shop him if they can’t extend him.

Aaron Gleeman (The Athletic) chimes in with another 8 potential trade candidates this winter, including Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler, Taylor Rodgers, and a few catchers that could be trade market competition for Contreras.

But my absolute favorite inclusion on both lists with respect to the Cubs is Byron Buxton, whom the Twins attempted to move at the 2021 Trade Deadline and could again this winter.

Bring Me Byron Buxton

Buxton, 28, is one of those *extremely* talented, but often-injured players that has vexed the Twins for years. He’s projected to make $7.3M in his final year before free agency (2022) and has already turned down a seven-year, $80M offer from the Twins (which was reportedly loaded with heavy playing-time incentives).

I know you’ll say the timeline ain’t great, but if the Cubs could find a way to pry him out of Minnesota, he’s exactly the kind of guy I’d love to take a gamble on next season. Yes, there’s a TON of risk that he gives you almost nothing at all, while costing $7.3M + whatever it took to get him (which won’t be cheap). But the potential reward is tantalizing, as is the inside-track at an extension. If the price tag is merely painful rather than brutal, I can see it making a lot of sense for 2022 and beyond. It’s a gamble, but it’s a fun one. Buxton could very well be on the move this offseason, and I’m dying to see how it plays out.

Free Agent Predictions

Jon Heyman did his weekly podcast yesterday (link below), running down some predictions for the top free agents, including landing spots and price tags for everyone you see below. Let’s discuss. Primary prediction first, other mention in parentheses.

Javy Báez: Cubs (Mets), Six-years, $160M

If the Cubs were to re-engage Javy Báez before the Mets are able to extend him, as they reportedly intend to try early in the offseason, I would be perfectly happy to have him on that deal. Maybe it’s a bit of an overpay, but I’m just a big fan of Báez, he had a really strong finish in New York, and to be honest, I just want him back. Also, the Cubs badly need a shortstop, have already been connected to Trevor Story, and are said to be doing homework on the entire class. (Brett: I just don’t see the Cubs going to quite that level on Báez. I think there are questions about how the defense looked this year, and about how a guy who is all bat speed will age. I love Báez as much as anyone, and would be perfectly happy to see him back – but I just doubt the Cubs would go six years on him at that price level. I mean, look at the next one – Heyman projects a LOWER AAV for Bryant, and just $15 million more guaranteed?)

Kris Bryant: Mets (Giants), Seven-years, $175M

Personally, I can’t see Kris Bryant going to the Mets. New York just seems like a bad match, especially right now. But so far, the Giants have appeared far more reluctant to re-sign Bryant than we expected. They could be playing coy, but I guess we’ll see. And, of course, Buster Posey’s retirement is going factor in one way or another. More notably, the expected price tag is not as high as I imagined. If any team could get Kris Bryant at $25M/year, I think they’ll jump at it. For that reason, I think he might get more.

Trevor Story: Rangers (n/a), Seven-years, $210 million

At 7 years, $210 million, I doubt the Cubs would get involved (that seems REALLY high), but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Story tried to do a one-year deal, reset his value with a stronger season, and hit it big next winter when there’s less shortstop competition and more financial and free agent clarity with a new CBA. Either way, don’t forget that the Cubs have been mentioned as a “likely suitor” for Trevor Story already. They’d be hoping his market doesn’t reach this level, though.

Nick Castellanos: Brewers (Rockies), Five-years, $125M

He just opted out, so he’s officially available again to the Cubs. Just sayin’! I would really hate it if Castellanos signed with the Brewers this offseason, but if they add another $100M+ deal to the books alongside Yellich, it will be just a matter of time before they’re not very good *and* can’t do anything financially. In any case, Heyman correctly notes that they need offense.

Freddie Freeman: Braves (n/a), Six-years, $150M

The Braves were willing to give Freeman the Paul Goldschmidt deal ($130M), but after a big year, he’ll probably get more in overall dollars and years, according to Heyman.

Marcus Semien: Twins (Blue Jays), Five-years, $150M

Carlos Correa: Tigers (n/a), Ten-years, $300M

Robbie Ray: Yankees (Blue Jays, Giants), Five-years, $115M

Odds and Ends

•   The Brewers have signed right-hander reliever Trevor Gott to a one-year, split deal (gotta mine the Giants this offseason, right?). Strictly speaking, it’s the first big-league-ish free agent signing of the offseason. Gott had an okay season in 2019 and a really good one back in 2015, but he hasn’t been successful in the big leagues for a while and had a 4.10 ERA at Triple-A this season. So naturally, you can expect he’ll be a shutdown reliever for the Brewers for years to come. (In all seriousness, they’re giving him a 40-man spot for a reason, presumably.)

•   Some general Astros news.

•   If the DH is coming to the NL next year, too, then why would it matter which league Greinke (a guy who is known to enjoy hitting) signs in?

•   Nick Castellanos is opting out of his deal and is a free agent. Other options decisions here.



Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami