Lukewarm Stove: What's Left for the Cubs? Story's Market? Contreras Still on the Block? More

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Lukewarm Stove: What’s Left for the Cubs? Story’s Market? Contreras Still on the Block? More

Chicago Cubs

When I had finally navigated my way down Clark, past the mob at 1060 West Addison, and made it back to my 700 square-foot apartment a few blocks west of Wrigley Field early in the morning of November 3, 2016, I took out my phone and made exactly one phone call: my grandmother.

She was the reason I became a Cubs fan and was the most supportive voice in the room when I told my family I was leaving my steady career to become a Cubs blogger. I lost my grandma this morning and I’ll miss her a lot. I’m so thankful for her and I’m so glad she got to see the Cubs win it all.

Now let’s get into some rumors. That’s exactly what she would’ve wanted, after all – to talk about the Cubs and baseball.

What’s Left for the Cubs? A Lot, Actually

Over at NBC Sports Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer, David Kaplan, and Tim Stebbins all got together to discuss the near-term future of the Chicago Cubs, and the conversation is worth your time. They make predictions on everything from the lockout, to David Ross’ extension negotiations, to the markets for some remaining free agent former Cubs (Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo, and Castellanos). And it’s just generally a very useful and interesting conversation (it’s a podcast, but they also transcribed the biggest bits right here).

The one thing I want to pull out and share here is the unanimous belief that the Cubs will be spending big once the lockout is over, even if they disagree slightly on the direction of the spending. Here’s Kaplan’s hit, which was especially optimistic:

KAP: I think they add fairly significantly in terms of numbers of players, and I think there’s at least one really big move — whether that big move is as big as Carlos Correa or a big smaller for less money and shorter terms with Trevor Story. Someone like that will get done. I don’t think they’re going 10 years on Correa, but if he said, “I’ll take a seven-year deal and give me an opt-out,” I think they would do that. And if not something like that, I do think they could make a move for Trevor Story and rebuild their bullpen on the fly and then add one more player.  That’s probably what they do.

From my perspective, there are four big pieces to take out of that. (1) The Cubs are going to add “fairly significantly” in terms of number of players. (2) They should have “at least one really big move” left in the tank. (3) They won’t go to ten years for Correa, but that rumored seven year + opt outs deal seems like it’s really on the table. And (4) They could pivot to Trevor Story if that deal doesn’t work out.

For what it’s worth, while Wittenmyer agrees that the Cubs would add in terms of volume, he wasn’t quite so sure they’d actually land another big fish. He believes the luxury tax threshold is going to be “significantly higher,” and that’ll bring more teams to the table ready to spend. And because of that, he thinks the price tag for both Correa and Story will exceed the Cubs comfort zone. Personally, I still buy the interest on Correa, but less so on Story. Check it out for yourself.

Trevor Story’s Market

While we have Story on the mind, Anthony Franco (MLB Trade Rumors) does his best to find the best fits, separating the teams into various categories of potential interest. The teams at the top of the field “with infield opportunity and known interest” include the Mariners, Astros, and Red Sox, each of whom do make plenty of sense.

The Cubs fall into the second category of “solid speculative fits,” alongside the Angels, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Dodgers, Phillies, Twins, White Sox and Yankees. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big field with little more than raw speculation at this point (outside of those first three teams).

I agree with Franco’s take on the Cubs, which aligns generally with what the NBC Sports Chicago trio said above: The Cubs seem to be more focused on Carlos Correa at the moment, so until his decision is made, it’s difficult to know if they’d fall back to Story or divert those dollars to upgrade through a smattering of otherwise expected shorter-term signings.

In other words, I could see the Cubs going with Correa and a bunch of lower cost players in the next tier (whoever’s market drops out beneath them) *or* no top-shelf shortstop while shopping in an upgraded/more expensive group for everything else (two totally speculative examples: Carlos Rondon and Michael Conforto?).

Contreras Still on the Block?

The Athletic (now brought to you by the New York Times) tapped into their array of local beat writers to identify which player on each team could find themselves traded before Opening Day.

For the Cubs, Sahadev Sharma selected Willson Contreras, which shouldn’t be a surprise given everything we know from the beginning of the offseason: (1) If the Cubs cannot extend Willson Contreras, they will look to trade him and (2) The Cubs have not engaged Willson Contreras on an extension yet.

On the one hand, the addition of a borderline starting catcher, Yan Gomes, makes a Contreras trade a little more plausible (at least the Cubs would have a starting-caliber big league catcher to start on Opening Day). But on the other hand, adding Gomes could easily be as much about getting the MOST out of Contreras as it would be replacing him. And when you also consider the addition of Marcus Stroman, a trade just seems less likely.

Sharma believes it’ll be difficult for the Cubs and Contreras to agree on a fair value (what else is new?), but with the total lack of upper-level catching talent and the very low payroll moving forward, the Cubs should probably just eat it on this one and give him what it’ll take to sign.

What would that be? Well, from what I’ve heard, a deal that gets Contreras to sign will have to be north of Yasmani Grandal’s deal with the White Sox (4 years, $73M). Coming close to J.T. Realmuto’s free agent contract with the Phillies (5 years, $115.5M) is probably out of the question, though. There’s a lot of room to work there, and I can see a comfortable deal (from the Cubs perspective) in between those two benchmarks (though closer to Grandal than Realmuto).

Free Agent Fits

The Athletic re-ranked the top-25 remaining free agents, including the best potential fit for each, and at this point, you’ll be unsurprised to see Carlos Correa still at the top with the Astros, Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs listed as his possible destinations. To reiterate, no one seems to disagree that the Cubs are legitimately involved in his market, and that means that they COULD go out of their comfort zone (and into that 10-year range) when it comes down to it. But as of now, no one seems to believe that they will.

The Cubs are among the best fits for Kris Bryant (don’t see it), Anthony Rizzo (would take a market crater), Jonathan Villar (makes sense if they whiff on Correa/Story), and Ryan Tepera (eh … why not? – but also, why does Tepera make these lists but not fellow former Cub Andrew Chafin?).

Obviously, then, that means they were not mentioned on Story, Nick Castellanos, Seiya Suzuki, Carlos Rodon, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Yusei Kikuchi, or Jorge Soler — all of whom are free agents that have been connected to the Cubs one way or another in the past.

I remain a big fan of all of them, but especially Conforto, Suzuki, and Rodon.

Along these lines, Brett dug into the remaining free agent starters earlier today. The Cubs grabbed two established guys already, but they could use one more arm, ideally someone with a little velocity. But that’s easier said than done, given what’s left on the market:

Predicting Contracts

•   At CBS Sports, R.J. Anderson did his best to predict contracts for the top-10 remaining free agents. As you’d expect, he has Correa getting just a touch more than Corey Seager (which is probably the goal), Bryant getting an offer right in the range the Cubs were once reportedly offering, Freeman getting less than I expect he will, and Story landing right in the Javy Báez range. Beyond that, I found the projected price tags for Suzuki (4 years, $64M), Rizzo (2 years, $40M), and Conforto (five years, $80M) all perfectly reasonable. If that’s where they end up, I hope the Cubs seriously explore all three. (Brett: That Conforto price tag … do that. Do that today. Well, not today, but you know what I mean.)

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Author: Michael Cerami

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