Lukewarm Stove: Would Rizzo Tell Judge to Pass on the Cubs? Competition on Free Agent Shortstops? Contreras’ Future? More

The Cubs are nearing the end of the 2022 season, and between a strong finish in the second half, some money coming off the books (both this and next winter), and the progress made by a number of top prospects percolating through the system … this offseason figures to be a BIG one.

The playoffs haven’t even begun, but the rumors are already flying. Let’s check out the latest.

Cubs Free Agent Competition

Although there seems to be some uncertainty on exactly whom the Cubs would target in the free agent pitching market, no such uncertainty exists on the positional side.

Pretty much every reporter — local, national, and most recently, local to other markets — believes the Cubs are going to be involved in the highest tier of the free agent shortstop market, which includes Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson. Jon Heyman confirms their interest once again, while also listing the other potentially interested parties: Cardinals, Giants, Phillies, Red Sox, Dodgers, Braves, and Twins.

Now let’s talk about some of those teams.

It’s no surprise to see the Dodgers (Turner), Red Sox (Bogaerts), Braves (Swanson), and Twins (Correa) included in this list, since those are the teams theoretically losing these free agents in the first place. But they’re also losing these players precisely because they haven’t been able to come to terms on an extension yet. So including them now sort of feels like a necessary step as opposed to a particular rumor or expectation.

To put that differently, I’m more interested to learn about interest from the Cardinals, Giants, and Phillies. Those are the teams entering this market, alongside the Cubs, that were not already there. That’s good to know. For what it’s worth, I have a hard time seeing the Cardinals opening up the checkbook for another pricey infielder, when they’re already paying Paul Goldschmidt $35M per year and may have to increase Nolan Arenado’s price tag if/when he opts out this winter. Perhaps adding a shortstop is an either/or thing, with respect to Arenado. Not an “and” thing.

Notably, Heyman says that the Yankees expect to stand pat at shortstop this offseason, leaing on Isiah Kiner-Falefa until top prospect Anthony Volpe is ready.

Don’t Judge the Cubs?

We already know the chances of the Cubs landing Aaron Judge this offseason are extremely long, even if they’re theoretically included in that race. For however nice it would be to add Judge, there are reasons why spending on him, specifically, might not be the best use of resources. HOWEVER, this comment from Jon Heyman simply does not track for me, even if we end at the same conclusion:

Of all the speculated landing spots for Aaron Judge, the Cubs would be a surprise. He and Anthony Rizzo are very close, and while Rizzo surely loves Cubs fans, things didn’t end well there with the front office.

I’m pretty sure the relationship between the Cubs and Rizzo is just fine. The issue is going to be the Cubs unwillingness to spend what it takes to get Judge, specifically. If they were willing, I’m *quite* sure he’d be a Cub, even he wasn’t dead-set on returning to the Yankees or wherever. Money talks.

So Where Is Aaron Judge Going? And How Much?

Speaking of which, my bet is still on a return to the Yankees, but more than half of the nine industry experts in this ESPN piece expect Judge will leave, with the Giants (2 votes), Mets (2 votes), and Giants or Dodgers (1 vote) leading the pack. That still leaves four experts who think he’ll stay with the Yankees, but I thought it would be far more certain than that.

If he does leave the Yankees, Kiley McDaniel starts wondering what they may do with the money, and fortunately, he agrees that splurging on one of the big four shortstops just doesn’t make a lot of sense. HOWEVER, that kind of excludes Xander Bogaerts, who could move off the position immediately.

And since we don’t want another team entering the shortstop sweepstakes, even if Bogaerts isn’t yours (or the Cubs’) first option, I’d say your rooting interest is Judge remaining with the Yankees.

And, hey, it doesn’t hurt that the Mets already have Francisco Lindor locked down at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Though that’s a total aside.

If the Yankees do use that Judge money elsewhere, it’s likely to be on starting pitching, and that’s another area that might not cross too many lines with the Cubs. At least, if the Yankees go to high-priced, ring-chasing veteran route: Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom.

Koudai Senga and Carlos Rodon are both mentioned, however, and I think both/either would be great Cubs targets this winter. So again, just hope the Yankees re-sign Judge for a billion dollars.

Speaking of which, McDaniel got into the expected cost of Judge’s next contract with 14 MLB insiders, and it ranges from seven years and $259M ($37M AAV) to 10 years and $375M ($37.5M AAV). Frankly, I think a ten year deal for Judge is going to be a bad idea, even if it’ll likely pay off in the short term. You have to pay big bucks to get big talent, but that doesn’t mean you should be indiscriminate about it.

Much, much more at ESPN. Really good analysis of where that story stands.

Willson Contreras’ Future

For the second time this season, we’re playing the maybe-goodbye game with Willson Contreras, who is a free agent at the end of the season, but could be in a position to accept a qualifying offer.

So if the Cubs do extend the qualifying offer (somewhere in the one-year, $18-19M range), what is Contreras going to do? Well, no clear answer on that just yet:

“I’m not gonna get offended,” he said via Marquee Sports Network. “I already talked to my agent about it and we’re gonna think about it.

“At this point, I’m not gonna give you an answer (about whether or not he’d accept the QO). I’m gonna wait and see what’s next. We have to consider it.”

Contreras continued: “For me, [what’s most important is] feeling that I’m wanted,” Contreras said. “I’m going to be somewhere that I’m wanted and I feel like they’re gonna appreciate what I do on the field and off the field. A place that appreciates what I bring to the clubhouse and what I can do.”

Brett got into a lot of this the other day, landing on a pretty salient point:

Contreras and his agent have to be open to all informational inputs, and move as thoughtfully through the market as possible. If he says that he definitely would accept a Qualifying Offer – in an attempt, for example, to get the Cubs not to offer it? – then what does that communicate to the market about how low he’s valuing himself? And if he says he definitely would not accept a Qualifying Offer, maybe that inadvertently sends an overly aggressive message to the market, and hurts him in the other direction? Or maybe he winds up later wanting to accept the Qualifying Offer, and then it just looks really bad and awkward to come back for another year with the Cubs?

If you missed it, you can check out a much deeper conversation on these (and some other) comments, as well as the global qualifying offer decision in the first place, right here.

Clayton Kershaw Coming Back

Somehow, Clayton Kershaw is only 34-years-old. That kinda blows my mind, given that he’s been around for 15 seasons already. If you’re out of the loop, Kershaw hit free agency last offseason, as well, as speculation of his retirement began to spread.

Instead of retiring, Kershaw signed a one-year, $17M deal with the Dodgers and put up a 2.42 ERA over 20-starts in 2022. That’s a pretty good return. One year later, the same questions exist, but once again, Kershaw thinks he’s got more left in the tank:

“As of now, I haven’t really thought a whole lot about next year,” he said. “But I do think I’m leaning towards playing over not, for sure …. I hold the right to change my mind, but as of today, I think that I’ve got at least one more run,” he said via The LA Times.

Obviously, that could open up a return to Los Angeles, or finally making that move to Texas, or maybe the Yankees ball out on a deal after whiffing on Judge. But one way or another, it seems like Kershaw is coming back one more time.

written by

Michael Cerami began covering the Chicago Cubs for Bleacher Nation as a part-time contributor in 2015. One year later, he joined Bleacher Nation full-time, covering the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball. Today, Michael runs Bleacher Nation, contributing as a writer (Cubs, MLB) and an editor for all sections of the site, including the Chicago Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks, as well as MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL. In 2019, Michael was the co-host of NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs Post-Game Show Outside the Ivy. You can find him on Twitter/X @Michael_Cerami

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