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The Short-Term, High-AAV, High-Risk, High-Upside Pitchers Are Getting PAID – When Do You Adjust Course?

Chicago Cubs

It has been the space we wanted the Chicago Cubs to play in free agency this offseason, even where we knew they were going to have to be aggressive to land the guys they want: short-term, high-average annual value, high-risk, high-upside players. I’ve probably typed that group of four hyphenated descriptors a dozen times in the last few weeks, and it’s because it makes sense for a team with so many holes, with so much money to spend, and with a desire to at least take a swing at competing in 2022 (without locking down many detrimental long-term deals). Up to a certain price on the AAV, it’s like … who cares how high it goes, right? It’s a one-year shot, and then it’s off the books. Get the guys you want, (almost) however high it climbs.

But as is always the case in baseball: when an approach looks mighty attractive to one team, it probably also looks mighty attractive to lots of other teams. Even teams in totally different situations. And they all adjust so quickly. So that “however high it climbs” thing is really being tested.

For example, you’ve got a SERIOUSLY WE HAVE TO GO FOR IT team like the Angels committing $21 million (and draft pick compensation!) for a year of Noah Syndergaard. You’ve got a clear World Series contender like the Dodgers setting a new price point ($8.5 million) for pure reclamation plays like Andrew Heaney. You’ve got teams retaining their own like the Astros and Justin Verlander at $25 million (plus a player option for 2023 at the same price). Different types of teams from the Cubs, all happily pushing the boundaries on this type of signing.

That is to say, the early data points on short-term, high-AAV, high-risk, high-upside players have been eye-opening, both in terms of how they came together, and the price levels. For the pitchers, at least, that “high-AAV” part has been VERY TRUE*. I still want the Cubs to go this route where there are opportunities, but you always wonder about a recalibration happening.

In other words, a little bit of me wonders if, like with the Jose Berrios extension or the Eduardo Rodriguez deal, some parts of the market are already adjusting to the point where going a little longer term could be an advantage? That is to say, at some point, the annual price tags on the short-term guys is going to pass a point where it makes sense to stay short-term when you could add more years and bring down those AAVs dramatically.

The Cubs are in a weird spot to actually try to adjust like that. Since they aren’t a dominant team desperate to make sure they have a guy for 2022 (and thus are willing to add however many years is necessary to get the guy now), adding years to deals makes sense only where the Cubs feel the player will provide clear value in 2023 and beyond. But that is the time period where the Cubs are trying to preserve roster/financial flexibility.

Still … for the right player who DOES project to age well, who is interested in a longer-term, lower-AAV deal? I don’t know. Maybe so. Maybe now is the time for the Cubs to consider those deals, because maybe now is gonna wind up having been a sneaky time to get a great value for 2023 and beyond.

For as much as the Cubs talk about spending “intelligently,” that doesn’t *have* to mean short-term deals. Sometimes, a long-term value presents itself and the intelligent thing is not to say no.


* (To be sure, I’m not (yet) bothered by any of the specific short-term pitchers that have signed with the not-Cubs. Syndergaard attached to draft pick compensation on a one-year deal was just not all that attractive to me. Heaney was not on my short list of preferred reclamation options. Verlander was never signing with the Cubs, and that price point, given the age and the surgery and the lack of sticky stuff, is truly wild. So my point here is not about the Cubs having missed the boat on these guys.)



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.