Lukewarm Stove: Updating Conforto's Market, Marlins Looking for a CF, Grichuk Trade, Stassi Extension, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Updating Conforto’s Market, Marlins Looking for a CF, Grichuk Trade, Stassi Extension, More

Chicago Cubs

We are officially LESS THAN two weeks away from Opening Day. But the rumor mill is still buzzing, so let’s check in on what’s going on around the league …

Michael Conforto’s Market

Michael Conforto is still a free agent, the last free agent of an impact-type level, and it’s very likely tied to his rejection of the qualifying offer back in November. Now, any team interested in signing Conforto – besides the Mets – will have to give up a draft pick, the associated bonus pool space, and varying levels of available IFA dollars (for the Cubs, it would be their second round pick and $500K in IFA spending for the next period).

To that end, yes, we’ve been proponents of a pursuit of Michael Conforto this offseason if on a favorable deal, but given the pickup of Seiya Suzuki, the presence of Ian Happ and Clint Frazier (you really do have to find out what those two guys have in them), the playable center field platoon of Michael Hermosillo/Rafael Ortega, and the presumption that Brennen Davis will arrive in Chicago at some point this summer, the remaining fit is difficult to see. And that’s without mentioning how much more the Cubs may value that high second round pick than we already assumed. So who will get the Conforto lottery ticket? Well …

On his most recent Big Time Baseball podcast, Jon Heyman identified the Texas Rangers as the favorites to land Conforto, in large part because they’ve already signed two free agents attached to the qualifying offer, making the marginal cost of adding another (Conforto) lower than any non-Mets team. But even as Heyman calls the Rangers the favorites, he believes the White Sox “make the most sense,” and it does align with their remaining needs. So no arguments here. The Rays and Giants are the other two teams name-checked by Heyman.

Elsewhere, Shi Davidi reports that the Blue Jays “have checked in on Conforto,” but chalks it up to little more than due diligence. And Anthony DiComo calls a reunion with the Mets “extremely unlikely.”

Marlins Not Done?

One team not mentioned in the hunt for Conforto, the Marlins, are reportedly still looking for help in the outfield, but not at a position Conforto is expected to cover:

Clearly, they’re open to a trade, which does get the wheels turning given that the Cubs arguably have four center-field-capable outfielders on the roster: Ian Happ, Rafael Ortega, Michael Hermosillo, and Jason Heyward.

My personal preference, however, would to be give Happ starts in left field with a potentially productive Ortega/Hermosillo platoon in center, but … it just seems like the Cubs are not yet willing to cut bait on Heyward. More on that right here:

Grichuk-Tapia trade

Hey, while we’re on the outfield market, the Blue Jays have traded (former Cardinal) Randal Grichuk and $9.7M to the Rockies for Raimel Tapia and MiLB infielder Adrian Pinto.

The cash helps offset the $18.7M Grichuk is due over the next two seasons and gives the Rockies another option for their outfield? I guess? Grichuk hasn’t been very productive over a full season for a long time, but I suppose he offers more immediate offensive upside than Tapia for whatever it is the Rockies are trying to accomplish this year.

Max Stassi’s Extension and Impact

With Willson Contreras likely opening the season without a deal in place with the Cubs beyond 2022, we’re a little more sensitive to catcher news around the league. For example, the Angels just extended catcher Max Stassi to a three-year, $17.5M contract, with a club option for 2025, taking him off next offseason’s free agent market:

Stassi, 31, would have been a free agent next winter and could’ve been seen as a potential Cubs target if Contreras landed elsewhere. But now he’s locked up through his useful playing days and that’s that.

Although Stassi had similar offensive production to Contreras last season (and significantly more defensive value, according to the advanced metrics), his limited big league track record, his age, and smaller overall offensive upside make his deal a poor one for comparison’s sake. Instead, Contreras is likely looking for something closer to the contract the White Sox gave Yasmani Grandal ($73M), and probably believes he can get it, considering everything that’s broken his way so far: Another free agent catcher just came off the market, next offseason’s free agent class is particularly weak on hitters, the NL adopted the DH, and Contreras is hitting the market at a time when revenues should be back to normal, with labor peace ensured for four more years. I suppose it will come down largely to how he looks this season, and whether the Cubs seriously re-engage on extension talks.

Odds and Ends

•   I am happy that MLB has spent a record amount of money this offseason, but I always struggle with the usefulness of these comparisons, given how different one free agent class can look than the next. For example, next offseason’s class doesn’t look like it’ll have HALF the talent of this year’s group, so measuring that spending on an “offseason by offseason” basis just feels … not particularly useful, even if it is a good thing in isolation (and still has value as a data point for multi-year trends). Either way, there is a TON of useful context in Jeff Passan’s latest, I jut wanted to add my two cents.

•   31 arbitration-eligible players have failed to reach agreements on a new contract for this season, which is an absolutely huge number relative to the last decade of arbitration (info via MLB Trade Rumors): 2021 (8), 2020 (12), 2019 (10), 2018 (22), 2017 (15), 2016 (4), 2015 (14), 2014 (3), 2013 (0), 2012 (7). Willson Contreras is one of the most notable players of the bunch, but there are plenty of other big names: Aaron Judge, Dansby Swanson, Jacob Stallings, Victor Robles, Austin Riley, Trey Mancini, Jesse Winker, and so on (full list here).

•   Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I have a perfect explanation for the delay. The crunched time to get a deal done (because of the CBA negotiations) certainly plays a role. HOWEVER, you might just as quickly have expected players and teams to be especially motivated to get a deal done so as not to drag out these cases into the regular season, another unfortunate side effect of the lockout. And I do wonder how early season performance or health may affect these cases, regardless of if that’s “allowed.”



Author: Michael Cerami

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