I hate to get too repetitive, but misery loves company and I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cubs’ lack of movement so far this offseason (the addition of catcher Yan Gomes notwithstanding). Well, let me rephrase that: I understand what the Cubs were saying a few weeks ago. They wanted to stay nimble. They wanted to spend intelligently. They still want to see how the new CBA shakes out before they make any moves. But I don’t quite understand why they didn’t change their plan (on the starting pitching side, at least?) when the entire market decided they were going to act now.
I totally get why the Cubs didn’t outbid the field for Marcus Semien ($175M), Corey Seager ($325M), Max Scherzer ($130M), or Starling Marte ($78M). And I get the circumstances on why they weren’t in on Eduardo Escobar, Noah Syndergaard, or Robbie Ray. And so on and so on.
But there were plenty of deals that could have made sense for them: Javy Báez at $140 million seems reasonable enough. Anthony Desclafani, Kevin Gausman, Corey Kluber, and Andrew Heaney all seemed like plausible starting pitching targets who didn’t get outrageous AAVs. And Steven Matz ($44M) and Jon Gray ($56M) are probably the two players who’ve signed so far that would’ve made the most sense for the Cubs given their age, position, cost, and upside. Again, why no urgency?
While there may be plenty of positional free agents left (and I’m sure the Cubs will get … someone), the free agent starting market has really taken a hit. And if you assume they’re not going to lay out the money necessary for Marcus Stroman or take the gamble on Carlos Rodon, it certainly seems like the Cubs let a market FULL of their greatest need (starting pitching) just skate right on by.
I was thinking about all of this this morning, when I drifted back to that idea of “spending intelligently” and/or only when the time is right, which Jed Hoyer hinted wasn’t right now, at least not for the top tier. I just keep mulling the “why” of it all.
I will *generously* set aside the fact that “now is not the time to spend big” is increasingly tough to square with the idea that “we’re totally not about to enter a rebuild“, given the proximity of most of the Cubs top prospects, and will instead try to come up with an alternative explanation for not really doing much spending this offseason, if that’s how it plays out.
I landed on one possible explanation: maybe the Cubs like next year’s group of free agents? This year’s class is unusually strong, but, hey, let me just take a look and …. nope. That’s not it.
Here’s a look at the free agents that will be 30 years old (or younger) by position next offseason (via MLB Trade Rumors).
2022-2023 MLB Free Agents
C: Austin Hedges (30), Gary Sanchez (30)
1B: Josh Bell (30)
2B: Jose Peraza (29)
SS: Dansby Swanson (29), Trea Turner (30), Xander Bogaerts (30, opt-out)
3B: Hanser Alberto (30), Brandon Drury (30)
OF: Andrew Benintendi (28), Jurickson Profar (30, opt-out), Brandon Nimmo (30), Joey Gallo (30), Manny Margot (28)
SP: Kohei Arihara (30), Zach Eflin (29), John Gant (30), Chad Kuhl (30), Joe Musgrove (30), Joe Ross (30), Noah Syndergaard (30)
Sure, this list could always grow/improve organically. Some surprising guys will break out this season, others will be non-tendered, and some of this year’s free agents will sign one-year deals. But the list can also shrink. For example, the shortstop market may look like it has a few nice names, but Trea Turner seems increasingly likely to extend with the Dodgers, now that Corey Seager has signed with the Rangers. And Xander Bogaerts would have to opt-out and not simply sign a new deal with the Red Sox. Possible, sure. But so is an extension that keeps him with the only team he’s ever known.
And while there are some players that missed the age cutoff like Didi Gregorius (33), Aaron Judge (31), Trey Mancini (31), Matthew Boyd (32), Mike Clevinger (32), Andrew Heaney (32), Sean Manaea (31), and Jameson Taillon (31), I think the point remains: This is NOT an overloaded group right now on paper. There are basically no superstars and the best remaining players are on the older side, which still might not make sense for the Cubs’ apparent timeline.
So what I’m saying here is staying nimble and intelligent this offseason already didn’t make a lot of sense, and unless the Cubs see something for next winter that we don’t, it might be at least TWO more years before they can add significantly from outside the organization.*
*Nothing would make me happier than watching the Cubs burst out of the CBA lockout with a ton of free agent deals, making me/this article look very stupid. Please, Cubs, make me look stupid. I’ll take the L.