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Lukewarm Stove: Buying a Royals Prospect, Over/Under A’s Trades, Conservative Cardinals, Conforto, Verlander, More

Chicago Cubs

Yesterday, we got our first local and concrete report of mutual interest between the Chicago Cubs and top free agent shortstop Carlos Correa. And while significant hurdles remain (the Cubs are not interested in handing out the sort of significant-length deal Correa is almost certainly seeking, and a short-term deal will require significant annual dollars if it could happen at all), the cat is out of the bag. They’re involved.

And Marcus Stroman is once again recruiting on behalf of Chicago.

Buying a Royals Prospect

Earlier this week, we learned that the Cubs may have been targeting catching prospect Luis Campusano (No. 37 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline) in their mid-season “prospect-buying” trade talks with the Padres.

If you’re unfamiliar, the concept of this type of deal is simple: The Cubs would take on a high-priced/over-market contract for a player they could hopefully use at least in minimal fashion (in that case, Eric Hosmer) and in exchange for picking up that salary, the trading team (in that case, the Padres) would also send a prospect to make it worth their while.

We’ve discussed similar concepts all winter, because the Cubs are in a unique position of having (1) tons of short-term payroll flexibility, (2) room to play pretty much any over-priced contract they pick up (extreme roster flexibility), and (3) a strong desire to continue amassing young talent at the moment. And, of course, there have been multiple direct rumors that they’ve been open to this sort of deal for the last year.

But it takes two to tango. So far, we more or less know the Padres and Rays are two teams to watch on this front, but you can count the Royals in, as well, with respect to first baseman Carlos Santana, according to The Athletic.

Santana, 36 this season, is due to make $10.5 million in 2022, his final year under contract. His defense rates out poorly at first base and he just had – by far – the worst offensive season of his career in 2021 (83 wRC+). There are some glimmers of hope that the bat could still be useful (he’s pretty much always walked a ton and rarely strikes out, even last season), particularly against left-handed pitching, but it’s an over-priced contract, no doubt.

With that said, it’s only $10.5 million and it’s only one year, so I don’t think the return would be quite as exciting as, say, Campusano, whom the Cubs were targeting to help cover (most of?) the $59 million worth of Eric Hosmer’s contract.

Over/Under on A’s Trades

The Oakland A’s are another team looking to shed salary via trade this offseason, but the players they’re dangling are largely positive-value contracts: Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Chad Pinder, etc. In other words, you’ll actually have to give up something to get one of them, even if the return won’t be quite as heavy because, well, they are still trying to save money. To that end, Kevin Goldstein is setting the over/under on big name trades for the A’s at 2.5 this offseason, which is a lot!

From Goldstein in his latest chat:

Mitch Meluskey: When a team like Oakland seemingly has everything on the block, is there a bandwidth limit to what can logistically be done even if you get good offers for everyone? I would think completing trades for all 5 or 6 of their veterans would overstretch the front office personnel to where it isn’t feasible in one offseason

Kevin Goldstein: They can get it done. I’m sure they are VERY WELL buttoned up. I would set the over/under on big name trades before Opening Day at 2.5.

There haven’t been any direct rumors with respect to the Cubs yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them involved.

The Win-Now Mets

The New York Mets have already added Max Scherzer ($130M), Starling Marte ($78M), Mark Canha ($26.5M), Eduardo Escobar ($20M) this offseason, ballooning their payroll to over $250 million for 2022. But after adding manager Buck Showalter, 65, on a pricey short-term deal, there is no question about it: They are full-steam ahead on 2022.

And that likely means more improvements are coming this offseason — at least, that’s the impression I got from Buster Olney’s latest on the Mets and their decision to hire Showalter at ESPN.

But Michael, their payroll is already so high! Surely, even Cohen wouldn’t consider stretching significantly beyond $250M, right? 

I don’t think he thinks about money quite the same way we do.

Cardinals Spending

Katie Woo answered a bunch of Cardinals questions over at The Athletic, and it’s worth checking out to keep yourself apprised of what’s happening in St. Louis.

For example, by piecing together stray answers here and there, I’m starting to get the sense that the Cardinals don’t necessarily intend to spend too heavily the rest of the offseason, at least not all in one place (like a Carlos Correa or even Trevor Story). According to Woo, the Cardinals didn’t pursue Corey Seager, Javy Báez, or Marcus Semien, in part, because they “were never going to fork over the amount of money” necessary to get a deal done.

But that’s not the only quote of relevance. Multiple times throughout the piece, Woo underscores that the Cardinals were never planning to spend big this offseason, pushing back against the concept that money will soon be available:

The concept the Cardinals have a large amount of money coming off the books is actually fairly misleading. Yes, they unloaded the contracts of Matt Carpenter (two years, $39 million) and Carlos Martínez (five years, $51 million) along with the remaining $14.75 million of Dexter Fowler’s retained contract, but they also pick up a larger portion of Arenado’s contract starting next season. The team will factor in Yadier Molina’s $10 million extension and Adam Wainwright’s $17.5 million deal, which is double his 2021 contract of one year, $8 million. They will also have to account for arbitration and salary raises for many of their young core talent. Jack Flaherty, Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader are due for major raises as they maneuver through another year of arbitration. The front office will also have to decide which talent they offer extensions to, and Flaherty and O’Neill will require lofty contracts.

Although the Cardinals are still hoping to upgrade the bullpen and could pursue a bench bat (only if MLB approves the DH?), “the reality is the Cardinals are going to continue being middle-tier spenders” at most.

Michael Conforto and Miami?

Michael Conforto is one of the guys I really hope the Cubs target this offseason, especially if they stack qualified free agents. But they will have some competition from at least the Marlins, who have been connected to a number of free agent outfielders in this range all offseason (including Nick Castellanos):

For what it’s worth, I do think the Marlins are legitimately interested in outfielders/Conforto, but I don’t necessarily think Conforto is going to get $100 million. That was surprising to hear.

It’s complicated, though. On the one hand, Conforto is only 28 years old. On the other hand, he’s coming off a down offensive season, plus a hamstring strain. Under normal circumstances, then, he’d be an ideal candidate for a one-year pillow deal … but he’s attached to draft pick compensation, which makes that tougher to swallow. On the flip side, that could make teams more interested in locking down a longer deal to spread out the impact of that draft pick cost over multiple years, which, then, yeah maybe the deal does get up there in total value.

Buuuuuut I still don’t see nine figures in his future *this offseason*, unless the CBA changes some stuff dramatically. I do hope the Cubs seriously give him a look, though.

Odds and Ends

•   On the surface, Justin Verlander’s two-year, $50M deal (with, effectively, an opt out after the first year) seemed high for a 38-year-old pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery who has thrown just 6.o innings over the last two years … and that’s because it is! But it’s not quite as high as it seems. That second year, $25M player option is reportedly conditioned on him pitching at least 130 innings in 2022.

•   So will he get it? Well, history works in his favor: Verlander surpassed 200 innings in 12 out of 13 seasons from 2007-2019 and had literally never thrown fewer than 130 innings since his first full season in 2006 through 2020. But his age and recent injury issues are obviously a concern. But while this deal remains pricey, I can see it working out for the Astros as a reasonable risk. He’ll get paid in 2022 no matter what. That part is a risk, sure. But if Verlander is healthy enough to throw 130 innings next season, he’s likely a good bet to be worth the money and worth paying again in 2023.

•   Just guessing you’ll want to read this one if you missed it:



Author: Michael Cerami

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