We are in the final week or two before MLB rumors season really kicks into full swing. Here’s the latest in the calm before the storm …
Michael Conforto Signing Soon?
You know what I kinda forgot about? Michael Conforto is still a free agent.
Conforto, 29, declined the Mets’ qualifying offer last winter, attaching himself to draft pick compensation, and then he couldn’t find a home before the season. As it turns out, the draft pick compensation was only half the story – Conforto injured his shoulder during a workout in January and needed surgery in April to sort it all out.
Now, we’re just one month away from the 2022 MLB Draft, after which Conforto can sign with any team without forcing them to lose a draft pick. That should open up his options (though it’s not yet clear if he’ll actually be able to play this season): “There is a possibility the swinging modality can be back to normal at a much earlier date than the throwing aspect,” agent Scott Boras said. “He had his surgery in April. There’s a chance depending on how he progresses that [hitting in the majors late in the season] is a possibility.”
Naturally, Boras is already spinning this as a huge advantage for clubs:
“He’s clearly going to have the ability to examine the situation [of signing before the offseason],” Boras said. “It’s kind of a unique thing. Because Michael Conforto is a free agent months before anyone else, he will be out there and clubs can calibrate on Michael Conforto before any other [free agents].”
According to Boras, “multiple” clubs have already called to inquire about his availability once the draft takes place and will attempt to sign him before the offseason. It seems pretty unlikely that a team would sign him in July if they know for certain he cannot contribute this year, though I suppose it’s at least fractionally possible that a team will want to jump the market on him, specifically.
(Brett: You could make the argument that the Cubs are in a sneaky position to optimize this thing, since they (1) have no use for Conforto this season anyway, and (2) might want to add an impact bat in the outfield this offseason anyway. For example, what if the Cubs traded Ian Happ for a significant return in July (to a team that REALLY wants an outfield upgrade ASAP), and then immediately signed Conforto to a multi-year deal. YOU COULD ARGUE that the Cubs would then be more or less in the same position for 2023 at that point, but would have brought in a really nice package of prospects in the process (Conforto + prospects > Happ). There are obvious issues with that plan, though, that would have to be considered: Happ is under control for next year already (so how many extra (pricey) years do you have to give Conforto?), and Conforto is coming off a major shoulder injury and a lost season (so how can you be sure he’d actually replace Happ’s expected production next year?). Not advocating this approach. Just saying it out loud.)
David Robertson Back to the Bronx?
The Yankees are the best team in baseball this season, and from the sound of it, plan on improving their position ahead of the 2022 MLB Trade Deadline. Among their areas of interest is a left-handed bat who can play center field to move Aaron Judge out of the position and into a corner.* And, of course, more relievers. You always need more relievers.
Any team barreling towards the postseason in the modern era loads up on as many sure-fire bullpen arms as possible, because they are particularly easy to add to the team without disruption and are nearly guaranteed to have an outsized impact in October.
Well, as we know, the Cubs have plenty of relievers to deal, but one guy is going to be of particular interest to the Yankees (New York Post):
“I recently asked a long-time Yankees official if they still had David Robertson’s old jersey around. It was a joke — kind of. The Cubs’ closer is near definite to get traded, is having a strong year and clearly can handle New York. If the Yankees ended up with Robertson … I would not be shocked.”
Robertson, of course, had his most dominant days many years ago with the Yankees, so I’m sure there is plenty of familiarity there in both directions.
Outside of Willson Contreras, Robertson is going to be the Cubs’ biggest trade chip this summer. And his previous experience pitching in New York is likely going to be a factor in the Yankees’ pursuit (Chris Martin also comes in for a passing mention, but Robertson is clearly the 1-A target).
*(Ian Happ hits left handed and can theoretically cover center field, but he’s started just one game in center this year and I just don’t think that’s going to be the play for New York. There are other names mentioned, however, including Bryan Reynolds (Pirates), Cedric Mulls (Orioles), Steven Dugger or Mike Yastrzemski (Giants), and Victor Robles (Nationals).)
Willson Contreras Suitor List?
So far, the Willson Contreras trade market has twice returned the same six potential teams of interest: Yankees, Mets, Giants, Padres, Rays, and Astros. Mike Petriello identified those six teams, and so did Ken Rosenthal.
Though it’s important to note that Rosenthal pretty explicitly shot down any potential interest from the Astros, who seem intent NOT to replace Martin Maldonado’s work behind the plate (and already have a great DH), and the Yankees, who do not want to mess with what has so far been the best pitching staff in MLB (by a wide margin).
To the latter point, Joel Sherman echoed the sentiment, pointing out the renewed emphasis on defense behind the plate and the fact that Brian Cashman, himself, noted how difficult it is to integrate a catcher mid-season.
So who will it be? Well, at MLB Trade Rumors, Steve Adams attempted to categorize the potential suitors, though he goes against the grain a bit, with respect to Houston (and I tend to agree, given just how horrible Maldonado has been offensively):
There’s no justification for a supposed World Series hopeful to trot out a pair of catchers that has combined to hit .141/.221/.241 this season. Houston has other needs, be they in center field or at first base where Yuli Gurriel’s bat has cratered, but Astros catchers have been 63% worse than league-average at the plate (by measure of wRC+). Whatever intangible value Maldonado may be providing with his game-planning, he’s giving a lot of it back at the dish. And, again, it’s eminently possible to keep Maldonado on the roster and still install Contreras as the everyday catcher.
There are full write-ups on each of these teams – so you should go check it out for yourself — but these are the categories.
Obvious Fits: Astros, Mets, Giants
Payroll Concerns: Rays, Padres, Guardians
Wait And See: Yankees, Mariners, Marlins
Longer Shots: White Sox, Twins, Red Sox
Adams believes the Rays are among the most obvious fits, but adds that they’d have to convince the Cubs to take on some salary to make it work, even if it meant a steeper prospect package. To which I say … uh, yeah. If you’re trading Contreras, that’d be ideal.
For whatever it’s worth, the Cubs made some major deals with the Mets (Javy Báez), Giants (Kris Bryant), Yankees (Anthony Rizzo), and White Sox (Craig Kimbrel) last season, and the Padres (Yu Darvish) before that, so there could be some fundamental groundwork/value understandings already laid there to facilitate a deal.
Odds and Ends:
- Although there are not many specific MLB rumors, Patrick Mooney did a nice job laying out the state of the Cubs trade efforts, mentioning who is likely to go (Willson Contreras, David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Chris Martin), who needs to shape up before a trade can be considered (Wade Miley, Drew Smyly), and for whom a trade would be counterproductive for 2023 (Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks, Ian Happ). There’s a good broader discussion on their plans, and it’s Mooney, so you should check it out.
- The Dodgers will be without Walker Buehler until at least August, so maybe they will be seeking a low-cost (to acquire) starter to help bolster their ranks in the near-term? Unfortunately, until Miley and Smyly get healthy and start pitching – or Alec Mills shows back up in the rotation – the Cubs can’t be of much obvious help.
- Maybe the Angels will be looking for some help? Who knows with them: