Lukewarm Stove: Leaning into the Chaos, Phillies and Cain, Mets Out on Correa, Bryant, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Leaning into the Chaos, Phillies and Cain, Mets Out on Correa, Bryant, More

Chicago Cubs

In their latest Cubs Q&A at The Athletic, Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma got into the 2022 MLB draft, what’s left of free agency, and a whole lot more that you’ll want to check out (and we’ll get into some of it down below). But one answer near the top stuck out, and I want to start there today. Not so much for the specific name, but for the reminder of what the Cubs can do.

When asked if the recent Cubs-Seiya Suzuki rumors carry any weight, Mooney responded affirmatively, reminding us that we first learned of their involvement back in November. But he also cautions that “Jed Hoyer’s front office is going to be … pulled in a lot of different directions once a new CBA is finalized.” Why does that matter for the Cubs, compared to any other team? Because it might just give them an advantage … if they’re smart. And also lucky.

Without an agreement on a new CBA here at the end of January, the remaining “offseason” is going to be particularly condensed. I’d say two full weeks before the start of Spring Training is a fair, if not optimistic guess. But with 20 of the top-50 free agents yet unsigned, and a handful of potential trades already on tap, there’s still so much to get done. And that could be chaos! Ah, but in chaos there is opportunity — at least, for the teams with the most flexibility. And right now, no team in MLB has as much combined roster *and* payroll flexibility as the Chicago Cubs.

That’s not exactly a compliment, mind you, but it could be used to their advantage. As players and agents and teams navigate the unprecedented waters of a two-week free-agent frenzy, the Cubs might just be better positioned to jump on something unexpected than anyone else. Or, in Suzuki’s case, the Cubs may be more willing to wait him out and/or take the risk. We’ve touched on this concept a million times before, waiting to pounce on a player who’s market hasn’t fully developed late in the offseason, but this will be an extreme version of that. If the Cubs play their cards right, they might just end up with a much greater score than they’re even anticipating themselves. It should be fun.

More from Sharma and Mooney

•   Although it probably always made sense, I’m finally starting to see some rumors connecting the Cubs to at least one late-inning free agent reliever. And given their needs from the left side, and his success and popularity here in the past, a reunion with Andrew Chafin could make some sense. Here’s Mooney on the possibility:

“Money is always a determining factor for a free agent. Being a good team in a good city also helps. But if you’re one of those mid-tier free agents, how much is that exposure with the Cubs worth? It’s a pretty good platform to showcase your talents, raise your profile, maybe get traded to a contender next summer and/or set yourself up for post-playing opportunities in Chicago.”

•   Sharma adds that they’re looking for “multiple bat-missers” in the bullpen, including at least one guy who could go multiple innings. By my count, there are still over 70 free agent relievers on the market.

•   Sharma also believes a Cubs pursuit of Carlos Rodon is pretty unlikely, now that the Cubs have more stability at the front. Anyone they do add from here will be pure depth/upside plays to compete with Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, Justin Steele, and Keegan Thompson (and Caleb Kilian?), which sounds about right and fine to me.

•   There’s so much more in there, I couldn’t possibly hit on it all. Here’s just a tease to get you to click over: (1) Cubs still in on prospect buying trades (a la Eric Hosmer), (2) Danny Duffy makes sense on paper, but …, (3) Chances at signing someone with a qualifying offer, (4) the plan for Caleb Kilian, (5) Prospect promotion odds. And more.

Lorenzo Cain to Philly?

In a division with the reigning champion Atlanta Braves and the new and improved Mets, the Phillies have a tough road ahead of them in the NL East. But with Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and a solid rotation, they also have reason to try.

At The Athletic, Matt Gelb suggests that they could turn to the trade market for upgrades (he really seems to think a trade “or three” is possible) including, potentially, A’s reliever Lou Trivino and Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain:

If Milwaukee is looking to wiggle out of the final year of his contract, the Phillies are a logical fit for the veteran center fielder. He’s won a World Series. He is still a plus defender. His health is the biggest question, as it is for any center fielder who will be 36 in April.

The Brewers already made one cost-saving trade this offseason, dealing from their center field depth in the process (Jackie Bradley Jr.), but they got an outfielder (Hunter Renfroe) back and could look to save some of Cain’s $18 million remaining salary. Cain, 35, had a down year with the bat in 2021, but he was still well-above average on the bases and in center field. Meanwhile, the Phillies current center field projections add up to … 0.1 WAR. So, yeah, I’d say Cain would be an upgrade. And if it costs mostly money? Why not.

As a Cubs fan, you’re rooting interest here is a little conflicting. On the one hand, trading Cain would likely make the Brewers worse off in 2022, which could ultimately prove to be a year in which the Cubs could contend (depending on how the rest of the offseason shakes out). On the other hand, Cain hasn’t been all that productive in a while and if keeping him hurts the Brewers on the field and in their wallet, that could be the better angle.

Mets Out on Big Positional Free Agents?

The Mets made a lot of noise before the lockout, inking Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Esobar, and Mark Canha, but according Andy Martino (SNY), that could be it for them, at least on the positional side/in terms of star power: “It’s probable that Max Scherzer will end up as the most famous player acquired this offseason (that’s not too shabby, by the way), and that Marte, Escobar, and Canha will be the most significant offensive additions, sources say.”

Martino gets even more specific, presumably for the Mets fans who’ve been beating this drum for a while, adding that pursuits of Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa have not been seriously considered since November. Generally speaking, that tracks logically, but (1) you can never count the Steve Cohen Mets out on anyone, and (2) we’re obviously tracking Correa rumors a little closer, regardless of which direction they point.

But what about Bryant?

He has had a shockingly quiet market since becoming a free agent, beginning with the lukewarm comments reportedly originating with the Giants after the season. The Mariners remain the betting favorite, but I’m really starting to wonder if he’ll end up getting anything close to what he and Scott Boras have been seeking since 2015. Hey, remember all that talk at the top about the Cubs being able to pounce when guys … no, no, never mind.

Also in that write-up? The Mets continue to shop Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, and Dominic Smith, which could theoretically become relevant to the Cubs (they’ve been connected to McNeil in the past, he can play multiple positions, and he’s certainly a buy-low, high-upside play for whichever team is willing to take on the risk), but I wouldn’t count on that one.

Odds and Ends:

•   The Mets are still looking for another starting pitcher and Yusei Kikuchi is a “distinct possibility.” Kikuchi was a one-time Cubs speculated target this offseason, but after adding Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley, I don’t expect there to be any overlap there. The Mets, like the Cubs, are also looking for relievers, though, so maybe there’s some competition remaining.

•   In case you missed this:

Author: Michael Cerami

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