Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Among "Likely Landing Spots" for One of the Shortstops, Orioles Ready to Spend, Could-Be Free Agents, Conforto, Contreras, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Among “Likely Landing Spots” for One of the Shortstops, Orioles Ready to Spend, Could-Be Free Agents, Conforto, Contreras, More

Chicago Cubs

A Cubs rumor post?! In September?! Hey, why not? Let’s do it.

Yeah, Carlos Correa Is Opting Out

Over the offseason, Carlos Correa signed a three-year, $105.3 million deal with the Minnesota Twins, featuring an opt-out after Years 1 and 2. Generally speaking, thanks to him still being young and without draft pick compensation attached this time, I would have expected him to opt out of this deal so long as he was mostly healthy, which he has been, almost regardless of the performance. But we’re way past that. Correa has had another great year at the plate, slashing .271/.351/.445 (130 wRC+) with a 20.7% strikeout rate and above average defense at shortstop. He’s opting out. Full stop. He can and will do much, much better than a two-year, $70 million deal in free agency.

And it doesn’t take much to read between these lines:

“I’ve always understood from the moment that I got signed and I started getting older, I always understood how the business worked and how you build a team and how you build a winning culture for a long time,” Correa said. “So the biggest thing I’ve learned is, don’t get too attached and don’t let your feelings get involved.”

The Twins, for their part, are still holding onto hope. That is to say, just because Correa is opting out doesn’t mean he can’t re-sign in Minnesota, where he has seemed to enjoy his time. But he’ll be courted by many more teams this winter than he was last offseason, when the uncertainty of the lockout (and, again, the qualifying offer, plus some speculation about a back injury) limited his market significantly.

With all of that said, I highly encourage you to check out this article at Yahoo Sports about how much of a preparation and information nerd Correa is. I already really wanted Correa for the Cubs, but now I’m even more certain he’s the right guy to build around. He sounds like a leader and all-around hard worker that elevates the play around him. Stacking him in the middle infield next to Nico Hoerner – also a leader and hard-worker – is just such a no-brainer for the Cubs.

But is it likely to happen? Well, that’s our next stop.

The Cubs Are Totally Getting a Shortstop Probably

At The New York Post, Jon Heyman reiterates the expectation that Correa is opting out and adds that Dansby Swanson (Atlanta) and Xander Bogaerts (Boston) are longshots to stay with their current teams, as well — at least not before testing the market. Meanwhile, Trea Turner is also free agent, and while the Dodgers have had some preliminary talks (last spring), he’s going to hit the market.

So who’s lining up as possible suitors? “The Cubs and Phillies are among the likely landing spots for the shortstops,” writes Heyman, as the bajillionth reporter to connect at least the Cubs to one of the four. Though he adds the Yankees as a possibility for Bogaerts (I’ve always seen Bogaerts as a good option for the Cubs if he’s willing to move to third base, if not immediately, then eventually).

So, listen, the Cubs will still have to put the money where their mouth is, but it seems very likely that they will try to land one of these four guys. And my bet is that Correa is their No. 1 target, followed by Bogaerts and Turner in tier two, with Dansby Swanson the least likely option (though he could be the most affordable and does elevate better than the field, which is something Hoyer has stressed as an area of targeted improvement multiple times this season).

Remember: the point isn’t just about adding “a shortstop.” Instead, it’s that some of the best position players on the market this year happen to be shortstops, who can pretty easily be folded into the Cubs’ infield alignment one way or another, thanks in large part to Nico Hoerner’s flexibility.

Other Opt-Out and Player Options

At MLB Trade Rumors, Anthony Franco runs down the list of players who COULD join the free agent market this offseason by either opting out of their current deal or declining their player options. Among the obvious ones are Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts. But don’t forget about Nolan Arenado, 31, who would need to beat five years and $144 million in free agency to top the rest of his current deal.

Given that Arenado is currently having the best season of his career (156 wRC+, 6.9 WAR) as the likely NL MVP runner up (and outside of Coors, no less), I’m guessing he will opt out. Which might just mean the Cardinals tacking on another year or whatever, but I’m not yet entirely convinced the Cardinals will pony up to keep him. The Cubs have had interest in Arenado in the past and have an opening at third base, but I think they’ll prefer to add one of the shortstops with any other big expenditure on a starting pitcher. Still, putting some pressure on the Cardinals with a pursuit of Arenado wouldn’t be the worst idea anyway.

There are other free agent starters available in the “opt out” world, from Justin Verlander to Carlos Rodon (both of whom they’ve shown interest in the past). Signing Rodon, unfortunately, would cost the Cubs draft pick compensation, and given their record, it would likely be more costly than any other team that might want him. That’s not a reason to NOT get him, mind you, but it will necessarily inform (and likely reduce) their potential offer. There’s also Jacob deGrom, but he’s going to be EXTREMELY expensive. And I think both he and Verlander will seek out a more certain contender, given their age.

Anthony Rizzo is also likely to opt-out (assuming he returns to health), but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t just use the opportunity to get a little more money out of the Yankees.

Orioles Will Spend

The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the biggest surprises of the season and by all accounts their ready to supplement their internal growth with big spending in the offseason: “Last month, in an appearance on MLB Network Radio, Elias said the Orioles’ plan this offseason was to ‘significantly escalate the payroll’ and ‘explore free agency much more aggressively.'”

Among their reported targets: a top-of-the-rotation starter, a quality backup catcher, and an infielder, preferably someone who can play second base. The bad news is that they could provide some competition for the Cubs on the free agent market (from a team that doesn’t usually spend), but the good news is that they don’t seem to be involved on any of the free agent shortstops.

Odds and Ends:

  • From that Heyman article above, the Cubs “will likely” extend the qualifying offer to Willson Contreras, which I think we all expect absent any unforeseen injury news the rest of the way.
  • Also per Heyman, Michael Conforto is likely to sign a multi-year deal this offseason, for at least 2023-2024, though I suspect the Cubs are not going to be involved with their glut of outfielders already at or near the big league level. Especially with Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki playing well. Remember, Brennen Davis and Alexander Canario will start next year at at least Triple-A and Pete Crow-Armstrong should be at Tennessee.


Author: Michael Cerami

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