On Sunday’s episode of the Baseball Show podcast, Keith Law and Derrick Van Riper got into an interesting discussion about the Padres’ plans this offseason with respect to first base. The short version is that with Josh Bell heading into free agency (and Wil Myers finally a free agent), they’re well-positioned to make a run at first baseman to extend this competitive window. I still think their financial picture is tighter than they’re leading everyone to believe, but that’s just a gut feeling based on some pre-deadline/last offseason rumors. And even if they do plan on scaling back sometime soon, 2023 certainly feels like another go-for-it season with their expiring contracts (Yu Darvish, Josh Hader, and Blake Snell) and clear core (Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, and Juan Soto).
And while Bell will rank higher than Jose Abreu in Law’s free agent rankings (coming this week), Law thinks Abreu makes more sense for the Padres this winter, because he’s more of a sure-thing for just one year. There’s also the fact that Bell slashed just .192/.316/.271 (79 wRC+) for the Padres down the stretch (how did I miss that?), which won’t help his case for a reunion.
In any case, this all has me thinking about two things: (1) Will Abreu find more aggressive suitors than the Cubs, who have been connected to him already, among the more obvious contenders next season? It sure seems plausible. It’s the Jacob deGrom or Justin Verlander argument, but for position players. And (2) could Josh Bell turn into something of a sneaky/under-the-radar good target for the Cubs? If his market is going to be impacted by a slow finish to the season, I could see a lot of ways to fit a 30-year-old switch hitter on a team that needs offense and has an opening at first base (with flexibility at DH). Much like with Abreu, there are definitely ways you could make Bell and Matt Mervis work together if Mervis forces the issue early in the year.
And for what it’s worth, Bell actually hit lefties better than righties last season (127 wRC+ vs. 121 wRC+) and in 2021 (126 wRC+ vs. 115 wRC+). Making the fit with Mervis a little easier to envision on a day-to-day basis. Anyway, just thinking out loud here. There haven’t been any direct Cubs-Bell rumors, and spending big on first base isn’t always the right move. But if the pieces fall just right and Bell becomes a relative bargain, I could see this making sense.
Here’s some other offseason chatter and rumors …
Judge, the Cubs, and the Shortstop Market
Although the prevailing wisdom is that Aaron Judge will eventually return to the Yankees, the conversation will not cease until he signs on the dotted line. And that includes speculation about his non-Yankee options, which sometimes include the Cubs.
The staff over at The Athletic put together a list of non-Yankee suitors and the Cubs once again find their name among the possibilities: Giants, Rangers, Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, and Cubs.
But as suggested by Patrick Mooney, who writes up the Cubs specific section in this post, and Jon Heyman, who also included the Cubs on his list of possible suitors, the Cubs feel like an extreme long-shot. Even in the wake of injuries to Alexander Canario and Brennen Davis, Judge just doesn’t seem like the way the Cubs intend to spend big this winter, if they do at all.
“As enormously talented as Judge is,” writes Mooney, “the Cubs are expected to be heavily involved in the shortstop market and more aggressive in adding pitching talent.”
That all tracks to me. But how does this relate to the shortstops, per the sub-heading? Well, it may have been a little off-the-cuff, but I didn’t love reading about the Yankees’ potential plans if they do whiff on Judge: “If Judge leaves, the Yankees could shift their focus to one of the elite shortstops on the market, like Carlos Correa ….” Uh. No thanks.
We already have the Dodgers sniffing around the top free agent shortstops, so the Yankees would not be a welcomed addition. The Cubs really need to get one of these guys, but the competition is getting stiff.
Twins Overlapping Targets
Speaking of stiff competition, I was not pleased to learn about the Twins “biggest offseason needs … ranked in order of priority,” because I think you’ll find them awfully familiar:
1. Starting shortstop
2. Front-line starting pitcher
3. Starting or job-share catcher
4. Right-handed-hitting outfielder
5. Right-handed relief pitcher
If you changed the handedness of Nos. 4 and 5, you have an exact mirror of what I think we all general expect the Cubs to target this offseason. Moreover, Carlos Correa is considered their best fit at shortstop, Carlos Rodon is considered their best fit at front-line starting pitcher, and Willson Contreras is considered their best fit at catcher.
And while the last one may not be the “best” fit in the eyes of the Cubs front office, the other two options — Omar Narvaez and Christian Vazquez — are both guys we think the Cubs probably will/should target this winter. It’s just a very similar to-do list and that’s not what you want, all things equal. More on all of that here.
Juan Soto Extension Talks Coming?
Padres President of Baseball Operations AJ Preller made a stray comment about Juan Soto being in San Diego for “years to come,” which naturally prompted a follow-up question for clarity. Here’s what he said, you can draw your own conclusions:
“I think we’ll have that conversation. Again, all this is pretty fresh,” Preller said. “I’m sure (Soto is) getting to know this city and getting to know the organization. When we made the deal, we made it knowing that we had him for three pennant races but also understanding that … he’s an incredibly talented player, he’s an impact player. We’ll have those conversations, I’m sure, here this offseason, just kind of taking the temperature and seeing where his head is at.”
As a reminder, Soto rejected a 14-year, $440M extension offer from the Nationals before he was traded to San Diego. He’s currently under control for 2023 (age-24 season) and 2024 (age-25 season).