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Lukewarm Stove: Semien, Correa, and Seager Taking Meetings, Franco Extension in the Works, Contreras, FA Starter Prices, More

Chicago Cubs

When I scheduled my vacation for Thanksgiving week a few months ago, I figured it was a safe time to check out. With an impending lockout on December 1, surely there wouldn’t be any significant rumors to cover, let alone actual MLB transactions to report or dissect. Well, how does that saying go? We plan, and the baseball gods laugh. It’s arguably been the busiest November in seven years and might only speed up from here until the buzzer.

Let’s check in on the latest from the rumor mill …

Shortstop Market Heating Up

Rumors of potential interest in the elite free agent shortstop market have touched a lot of teams so far this winter, including the Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Dodgers, Cubs, Mariners, and Angels. But no two teams have been connected more directly and frequently than the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers. By all accounts, those two clubs are serious about adding a big-time shortstop this winter, and they’re already getting the ball rolling on the process.

To that end:

•   From Jeff Passan: Carlos Correa had breakfast with Tigers Manager AJ Hinch and it reportedly lasted through lunch because of how well it was going (or maybe one of them forgot their wallet and they were stalling). Passan notes that the Tigers “badly need a shortstop,” but stops short of proclaiming this anywhere close to being fait accompli. That said, for my money, Correa-to-the-Tigers is the bet of the offseason, with the Rangers not far behind. Speaking of which …

•   From the Dallas Morning News: The Rangers are indicating an aggressive approach to free agency this winter and are reportedly in on every, “particularly the super class of free agent shortstops.” The Rangers hosted Texas native Trevor Story on Tuesday to explain their vision of the future, and have already spoken with Scott Boras about Corey Seager and Marcus Semien (Correa and Story make more sense for Texas than those two, in my opinion).

Here’s some additional, unrelated confirmation on the Rangers interest in those three:

Wander Franco Extension?

When Ronald Acuña Jr. signed his 8-year, $100 million extension with the Braves back in 2019, it was an understandable, albeit risk-averse contract for the uber-prospect to accept. That’s a huge guarantee, and he’d barely played at all at the big league level at the time. Still, we all kinda thought it might look bad in time, and it’s really only gotten worse (from his perspective) since then.

Starting in 2022, Acuña is under contract with the Braves for another five seasons (at a discounted rate) *and then* they own not one, but two very reasonable club options over him for 2027 and 2028. He may still get another shot at a massive free agent deal at age-31, but between what he would’ve made in arbitration and on the free agent market, this was an extreme team-friendly deal (even if committing $100M to a prospect with 111 big league games also constitutes a risk for the team).

Well, with that experience fresh in everyone’s mind, the game’s next uber-prospect, Wander Franco, is thinking a little bigger. Perhaps much bigger.

You can probably bet that the wide range there has to do with club options tacked onto the end, just like Acuña, so maybe as is, it gets Franco to $200M – but only on the Rays’ terms. As reported above, Franco’s camp is expected to counter and I’d be shocked if they didn’t try to get more than $200M guaranteed over the non-option portion of the contract (and have him hit free agency again by age 30). And although he, too, could come to regret that decision – hitting free agency at 26 years old has been VERY good to folks over the years (and this would be 6 years from now, when salaries are likely much higher) – it’d be harder to call that too risk-averse. Lock in $200M+ and get yourself a chance at a sub-30 free agent bid? Worth it.

What’s the Deal with Contreras?

There has been nothing in terms of rumors on a potential extension for Cubs catcher Willson Contreras this offseason, despite our understanding that those discussions are supposed to be going on right now (lest the Cubs try to trade him). On a much smaller deal, the Rockies were able to find some common ground on a three-year extension for catcher Elias Diaz: three years, $14.5M.

Of course, despite playing the same position, being around the same age, and having only one final year of team control via arbitration, these are not close to the same situations.

Contreras is a year younger, *far* better offensively, and is a sure-fire starter/borderline perennial All-Star catcher. Díaz is a borderline starter, who’s been good at controlling the running game and rated as an above-average pitch framer.

Contreras also has the Cubs in a tough spot. If they don’t extend him now, they may have to trade him this winter (catcher trades play better in the offseason than at the deadline) … just months after the team traded Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez, and Kris Bryant, among several other Cubs, and weeks after they promised that this was not another rebuild. That narrative becomes a lot harder to sell without a big league starting caliber catcher in the entire organization.

So when it comes to the Cubs and Contreras, I guess you can peg a projected deal somewhere between Diaz’s 3 years and $14.5M (on the laughably low, scrape the ocean floor end) and J.T. Realmuto’s five years and $115.5 million on the extreme high end. Pretty useful range, eh?

Maybe something like four or five years and $15-$18M per year is reasonable *IF* you start it after his final year of arbitration (2022)? Even if they don’t think they can beat Realmuto, Contreras’ camp will probably try to reach that $100M threshold, which isn’t realistically accomplished at an average annual value that low. Just tough to sort this one out. I really hope the Cubs are able to find a way to make this work.

Ouch, Derrick.

Free Agent Price Tags?

Ken Rosenthal was ostensibly talking about Noah Syndergaard’s deal with the Angels (more on that below) when he started rattling off potential contract levels for various free agent starters. But I thought you might want to see those, given the Cubs involvement in that market.

It’s not too specific all around, and you should check out the post for more context, but here’s the gist:

•   Robbie Ray and Kevin Gausman could be seeking “more than $130 million over a longer term.”

•   Max Scherzer is looking to earn a recording average annual value over a three-year deal (so we’re talking at least $37M per year for three years … I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes 3/$120M at this point).

•   Marcus Stroman is likely going to go for a “higher price than the Angels are willing to pay,” which is frustratingly vague.

•   Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Steven Matz are “likely to receive healthy contracts in a market that already has yielded $77 million for Eduardo Rodríguez, $21 million for Syndergaard and $8.5 million for Andrew Heaney.”

On the trade market, Rosenthal mentions the availability of Luis Castillo (Reds), German Márquez (Rockies), Frankie Montas, Sean Manea, and Chris Bassit (A’s). And we know that the Marlins are at least kicking around the idea of trading a starting pitcher.

That’s just a very small chunk of the arms available. Lots of options, Cubs. Just go get one or three.

Odds and Ends:

•   With the reporting that free agent Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki could be posted next week – a week before the expected lockout – we had been wondering how the month-long window for signing a deal would work. Now, it seems we have some clarity: However many days he had remaining at the time of the lockout will be returned to him when a new CBA is in place. He could still look to get a deal done within that first week to avoid the uncertainty – and, indeed, he’ll always have a hard deadline anyway, so he can’t play the leverage game quite as much – but now he doesn’t have to. He can wait it out, if he wants. Theoretically, he could make a lot of sense for the Cubs.

•   $21 million is undoubtedly a high price to pay for one year of Noah Syndergaard, who’s thrown just two innings over the past two seasons coming off Tommy John surgery, with one executive calling it “F—— ludicrous” in the Rosenthal article, which … lol. But it also might be worth the risk. And considering that the Mets had already publicly extended him an $18.4 million qualifying offer, it’s tough for me to see $21M as “too high.” The market is what it is. Maybe Syndergaard doesn’t pitch and/or pitches and stinks, but the Angels are a sneaky big-budget team with big needs in the rotation, who got their guy to move 3,000 miles across the country for $2.5M more than he already had on the table. Is it really that crazy?

•   Heyman dropping notes:

 



Author: Michael Cerami

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