First, the reporting. Then the analyzing. Then the stewing.
All within the last 24 hours or so, each of Jesse Rogers, Gordon Wittenmyer, and Sahadev Sharma/Patrick Mooney have suggested variations of the same thing: the Cubs are not willing to go super long-term to sign one of the top four free agent shortstops.
Rogers indicated on the radio that the Cubs would land one of the shortstops only if the market for a guy doesn’t develop and they get a surprise on their terms. Wittenmyer wrote that the Cubs don’t have the appetite for an eight-year deal (maybe more like five). And Sharma/Mooney put it this way:
Correa is five months younger than Seager and the youngest shortstop in this class. But even with Correa, going eight-plus years at an extremely high average annual salary doesn’t appear to be in the cards for Hoyer. Years concern Hoyer more than money — though there’s a limit there as well — as he wants to avoid being saddled with a bad contract that restricts his ability to improve the club in the future. Part of what made Hoyer’s partnership with Theo Epstein so successful was that Hoyer’s measured, analytical approach could sometimes balance out Epstein’s go-for-it instincts. Hoyer is now the chief executive in baseball operations and his voice carries even more weight ….
Ultimately, those near-decade-long deals are going to be avoided by Hoyer this winter. Does that mean it’s something he’d never do down the road? That can’t be ruled out. But the Cubs don’t see this as the time for such a move. It doesn’t rule out this group of players; it just limits how far Hoyer and company will go to get one right now.
In other words, maybe the Cubs would go super-long-term in the future, but not right now. So if they’re going to land one of these shortstops, it would have to be for fewer years than most are projecting.
None of the reporting suggested the Cubs wouldn’t be involved, mind you. Just that they aren’t interested in going to eight years. We have heard before that length, rather than annual value, is of greater concern to Jed Hoyer than past administrations. That the Cubs aren’t out there telling the world that they want to sign an eight-year deal for a shortstop shouldn’t really catch us off guard.
But it does leave open some questions.
- If the Cubs are unwilling to go to eight years (just using that number as a benchmark), can they realistically expect to compete in the market for the top shortstops? Sure, I think Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson will get fewer than eight years, but Trea Turner and Carlos Correa? I would think they can find suitors at eight years if that’s their priority. (Though I suppose Correa wasn’t finding the length he was hoping for last offseason, for what that’s worth.)
- If the Cubs are going to be involved in these markets, but won’t go very long term, does that mean they are planning to try short-term, super-high AAV offers?
- … or does it mean they are planning to be somebody’s backup plan, on a shorter-term, medium-er AAV offer?
- Does this approach make any sense at all for an organization whose top shortstop prospects are years away, whose attendance and ratings are cratering, whose payroll is bare bones, and whose roster seems a perfect fit for coordinating a top shortstop with Nico Hoerner in the middle infield? (I’ll answer that one: no! It doesn’t!)
- Is it just me, or is it interesting that these three Chicago-based reports came out so close together, and amidst the GM Meetings? I’m not saying it’s a smokescreen, because I *do* believe the Cubs don’t want to do super long-term deals, as a general rule. I trust the reporting. But I’m just saying, when you see three reports like this with similarly situated information, you at least have to ASK whether it’s because this is a message the Cubs want out there. Seems like they probably do.
- The follow-up question, of course, is whether that’s because the Cubs want to temper expectations among fans (possibly), or whether the Cubs want to let agents know that they are going to hold the line in any upcoming negotiations (also possibly – it can be both things)?
In the end, I think we can’t just ignore this reporting because we don’t like it. These are media members with sources, who’ve heard credible information. It’s coming from somewhere, and it passes the smell test: the Cubs may want one of these shortstops, but they don’t want to do a seven or eight or nine-year deal to make it happen. In a perfect world, the huge offers just wouldn’t be there for one of the four (a guy the Cubs really like anyway), and they decide a five-year, high-AAV offer is a great value for them. Intelligent spending, if you will.
Does that mean, when the rubber meets the road, that the Cubs absolutely wouldn’t offer Correa seven years and $240 million or whatever? I am not actually convinced on that just yet. But I do think it means they sure as heck don’t want to start any talks there.
Still, I’m a little bummed. I understand the gamesmanship here. I understand that there would no value in Cubs sources out there telling the media that they are IN LOVE WITH shortstop X or Y, and they will STOP AT NOTHING to sign him.
… But, as one of my questions up there indicates, the timing absolutely seems right to me for them to land one of these guys. I do think you have to draw lines in what you’re willing to do for a contract (the budget – and future budgets – are just a reality, whether we like it or not), but I hope the Cubs don’t artificially cut themselves off if they are CLOSE to being able to land one of these guys.