Lukewarm Stove: Why So Slow? Dodgers in on Freeman and Cruz, Phillies Want Chapman, New Rays Trade Candidates, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Why So Slow? Dodgers in on Freeman and Cruz, Phillies Want Chapman, New Rays Trade Candidates, More

Chicago Cubs

Well, there has finally been some notable activity out there post-lockout, including decisions from Yusei Kikuchi (Blue Jays), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), and Carlos Rodon (Giants), plus that trade between the Rangers and Twins. And, of course, the lesser signing of Andrelton Simmons (Cubs). But it still feels just so … quiet. Yes, we eventually came to expect a bit of a delay from the biggest positional free agents, but there are still like a hundred free agents available. So what’s going on? Why is this taking so long?

Ken Rosenthal shares one theory via a mid-tier free agent pitcher: “Teams are making low-ball, non-roster offers to mid-level veterans, trying to see if they will bite before determining how to proceed in arbitration with certain players.”

That could make some sense. If teams are still able to part ways with arbitration eligible players for something less than a guaranteed contract (something that will eventually change because of the new CBA), then teams would be have an incentive to offer lesser or minor league deals to comparable free agents, who’s total pay (their salary plus the released players termination pay) is less than the projected arbitration price tag for their original player. It’s a little gross, financially savvy, and probably part of the reason the players pushed for guaranteed contracts for players that avoid arbitration in the first place.

There’s also just the matter of teams probably seeing little differentiation between certain players, and happily waiting out low-ball offers. [Brett: Kinda makes you wonder more about why the Cubs would jump so quickly to make sure they signed Andrelton Simmons, right? You could theorize that they didn’t want to be left holding the bag if they couldn’t get someone like Carlos Correa – something you can’t count on – so they signed Simmons to be sure they at least had a top defensive shortstop on a short-term deal, just in case. That would certainly square with the continued Correa rumors.]

Anyway, that – combined with the naturally slower markets for top-tier free agents (including the perception that Freddie Freeman will decide first, which impacts many other teams and free agents by trickle-down) – could be your reason.

Nelson Cruz’s Market

With the universal DH arriving this season, much focus has been directed towards the potentially DH-only free agents like Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos. But perhaps no one has benefited more than Nelson Cruz.

Cruz, 41, is *truly only* a designated hitter, so he’s arguably impacted most by the new NL position. So who’s on his tail so far?

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Dodgers are among the teams pursuing Cruz, which makes a lot of sense – they’re still in a win-now mode (they always are) and they love short-term, high-AAV deals, which is exactly what Cruz is likely to be able to land.

But they’re not alone, not even in the NL West:

With that said, the Padres (a) still need to move salary before signing anyone significant and (b) are probably better suited for one of the borderline DH guys who can also occupy an outfield spot as needed.

One rumor have as many as eight teams in on Cruz, including the Brewers, and another expects a deal done “by tomorrow.” The Brewers theoretically have a need for Cruz, and have been connected to Soler and Schwarber, but I wonder if they’re willing to spend the money on a big bat like that if they can’t first trade Josh Hader.

Phillies-A’s Trade for Chapman?

Because everyone expects Freddie Freeman to sign soon, the trade chatter surrounding Matt Olson has dominated the A’s trade candidate conversation. But Oakland is at least as likely to move third baseman Matt Chapman, and the Phillies are apparently among the suitors.

You know it’s getting a little more serious when Ken Rosenthal starts mentioning potential returns:

And the Phillies match up for a number of A’s players — third baseman Matt Chapman, center fielder Ramón Laureano, reliever Lou Trivino.

Chapman, who is under club control for two more seasons, would be the biggest prize from that group. Third baseman Alec Bohm, whom new Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long recently predicted “would be a force in this league for a long time,” would be a natural target for Oakland. Center fielder Johan Rojas, the Phillies’ No. 5 prospect according to Keith Law, is another potential trade chip.

But if you’re wondering if a deal centered around Bohm or Rojas would get a deal done, I wouldn’t be so sure. That rumor above, plus this report out of Philadelphia, sure seems to suggest that the A’s are pushing for a package centered around one/more of the Phillies top-3 prospects (all top-100 types) and the Phillies are pushing back:

Latest on Freddie Freeman

Although the Yankees could really use Freeman, the increasingly aggressive pursuit from the Dodgers is starting to make this feel like a two-horse race (Dodgers/Braves).

And remember, a decision is expected as soon as today.

If the Dodgers do land Freeman, the Braves reportedly “almost certainly will go hard for first baseman Matt Olson.” And that would pave the way for a return to New York for Anthony Rizzo. So basically, if you’re hoping for a Chicago-reunion with Rizzo, you are rooting against the Dodgers landing Freeman.

But if you allow me to speculate for a moment, I do have one stray thought: So far, Freeman’s priority in any deal really seems to be that sixth year. And for as much as Freeman fits L.A., deals of that length just haven’t been their M.O., especially not for a first baseman. No, my guess would be that the Dodgers are in that shorter-term (3-4 years) massive AAV range. We’ve seen them try that with a lot of free agents over the years, and sometimes it works. So all this increased chatter about the Dodgers could really be about pressuring the Braves to go that extra year to get a deal done.

Oh, the Rays are also reportedly interested in Freddie Freeman, but only on a short-term deal. That feels like an extreme long-shot at this point.

Rays Trade Candidates

But there is some new Rays stuff to discuss, via Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay times).

According to Topkin, the Rays are still looking to move some salary by way of trading Kevin Kiermaier (discussed with the Cubs) or Austin Meadows. Meadows, 26, was very good in 2019 (144 wRC+), pretty bad in the shortened 2020 season, and bounced back a little last year (113 wRC+, 2.0 WAR). He’s due $4.3 million in 2022 and has two more years of arbitration left after that. But Topkin doesn’t stop there.

Another scenario could be for the Rays to trade Margot, who is projected to make $5 million via arbitration in his last year before free agency.

Or if they got really bold, trade Brandon Lowe, who makes $4 million this season, then $5.25 million in 2023 and $8.75 million in 2024, with a $10.5 million option in 2025 and $11.5 million option in 2026.

Lowe, 27, was a 5.2 WAR player last season and has always been an excellent big league hitter (134 wRC+ for his career). Margot has been less good overall – with declining defensive metrics in the outfield – but is likely still a useful player in 2022. In addition to saving money (both now and in the near future), the Rays are reportedly looking for a right-handed hitting first baseman.

There are no indications that the Cubs have any interest in Lowe, Margot, or Meadows, but these two clubs did discuss a Kiermaier deal before. So it all feels worth keeping on your radar.

Odds and Ends

•   This isn’t much of a surprise, given their early-offseason moves, but it’s nice to have some confirmation: The Reds are not in contact with their former outfielder and current free agent, Nick Castellanos. And that “closes the door.”

•   Like Brett said on Twitter (re Carlos Correa, Andrelton Simmons, and the Cubs): “You don’t refuse to sign Correa *because* you signed Simmons. Correa’s a totally different type of commitment. $4M doesn’t block $350M. You *might*, however, sign Simmons if you weren’t 100% confident in landing Correa & wanted to be sure you at least got a top short-term glove.” And that’s perhaps why we’re still seeing rumors like this:

Author: Michael Cerami

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