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Lukewarm Stove: Conforto and Syndergaard Decisions, Castillo, Donaldson, and Buxton Available, Verlander, Heaney, More

Chicago Cubs

At MLB.com, Mark Feinsand picks one out-going free agent for every team who could re-sign with their 2021 club this winter. For the Cubs, that guy is Matt Duffy, who could be a steady, affordable, and useful presence off the bench next season. I wouldn’t expect Duffy, 30, to make much of an overall impact (outside of general leadership and positional versatility), but I was happy to have him around and would welcome him back next season.

Those Pesky Qualifying Offers

The real reason I brought that list up, however, is Michael Conforto (and Noah Syndergaard). Feinsand picked the former to accept his qualifying offer, though that doesn’t preclude Syndergaard from doing the same. Draft pick compensation cost aside, both are the sort of short-term, high-upside types on whom I’d hope the Cubs would gamble this offseason, but the qualifying offer is right there for the taking, and the compensation makes it tough to envision the Cubs involvement.

So if they’re both happy in New York, there’s not much of a reason to look for something similar elsewhere. Maybe they could get more guaranteed somewhere else, but, again, the qualifying offer really makes that difficult, including, if not especially, for the Cubs, who have a higher pick (and bonus pool) to lose than most teams. And since the goal is to score big in free agency next year anyway, those two will want to pick the place they feel will help them succeed the most in 2022. For Conforto then, New York feels like a no-brainer.

I could argue that Syndergaard might prefer somewhere *like* Chicago, where the rotation is WIDE open (and the competitive expectations are low for the moment), because they’d likely allow him to pitch through almost any level of struggles as he returns from surgery and an almost entirely missed season. But, for the third time, the draft pick compensation for Syndergaard really makes that tough if he’s only willing to sign away one year.

Luis Castillo Available?

The Reds must’ve over-extended themselves. After allowing the Cubs to get Wade Miley for just his 2022 salary, there is now a report that righty Luis Castillo, 28, is very much available, despite his youth, success, and two additional years of team control via arbitration.

Castillo has made more starts over the last four seasons (108) than all but Aaron Nola (111), totaling the 10th most innings pitched (618.0 IP) along the way. So maybe he’s not an elite-ERA guy necessarily, but his stability/health is *elite* and has plenty of value on its own (also, let’s not sell him short, he’s still really good, as most Cubs fans know).

Unfortunately, I can’t imagine the Reds would really prefer to trade him in the division, and they’ll have no shortage of suitors. Plus, he’s going to net a haul if moved. The only tough part for the Reds is that the free agent market has a lot of depth in terms of starting pitchers, so there will be competition. If they’re not entirely pressed for money, they might be wise to hope for a strong first half and a deal at the deadline.

Twins Trade Candidates

A few days ago, I pined over theoretical trade candidate Byron Buxton, and I’m about to do it again, now that his availability is becoming even clearer.

Here’s Aaron Gleeman at The Athletic, discussing the situation, as part of a broader piece on the many Twins trade candidates:

Based on reports that the Twins offered less than $100 million guaranteed over seven years and balked at the size of playing-time incentives meant for the oft-injured center fielder to cash in further if healthy, it’s logical to assume the front office doesn’t plan to have Buxton past 2022. Both sides have said the door isn’t closed on a deal, however, so that outlook could change in a hurry. Let’s hope.

But barring an extension, Buxton is an obvious trade candidate with big value. If the Twins were willing to move him in July, why wouldn’t they also be willing to move him now, with perhaps even more motivation ahead of his final season before free agency? The alternatives are to trade him in July or let him walk for draft-pick compensation after the season. They can get more for Buxton now.

Gleeman mentions a number of other interesting trade targets on the Twins, who could be motivated sellers this offseason, including Josh Donaldson, who, Gleeman contends, has negative trade value despite his performance, because of his age, injuries, and remaining salary. That all may be true, but if the Twins want to give him away for a song, the Cubs should come calling. No reason to worry about an expensive two-year deal for a potentially useful player at a theoretical position of need.

Just Verlander’s Plan of Attack

Justin Verlander is throwing for teams today after received the $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Astros. My guess is that he’ll be seeking feedback to help him decide whether to accept it. It certainly feels like it makes sense to just accept the one-year deal, but if he looks great, and finds a contender who REALLY wants him for 2022 (and is willing to pay him more and/or for longer), he’ll obviously go that route. I’m just not sure if that will be there, especially attached to draft pick compensation.

The Blue Jays are one team that’s going to be there, but perhaps not so seriously.

Odds And Ends

•   Andrew Heaney is one of the interesting/upside arms available this offseason, but from the sound of it, he might move quickly:

•   Heaney, 30, didn’t get stellar results last season (or, any season, really), but when you’re a lefty that can pair a 27% strikeout rate with a ~7% walk rate, people will be interested. After a quick look into the data, I see that the exit velocities are a little high and the groundball rate is a little low, but his home run/fly ball ratio is out of whack and his strand rate doesn’t quite match a starter with that good of a strikeout rate. I’d say there’s probably a solid chance at some positive regression, though you obviously hope to pair that with some meaningful change to improve the contact management.

•   These old pitchers just don’t want to hang ’em up. And I guess why would they? They keep on keeping on.

•   Kiley McDaniel (ESPN) shared some information earlier today, that generally amounted to multiple anonymous big league executives claiming that better-than-expected gate revenue and deep postseason runs have left some teams “awash” with more cash than they anticipated before the season. I’m starting to think I know *exactly* which team he was referencing:

 



Author: Michael Cerami

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