When he said that the Cubs were still working on some things as of Saturday morning, Jed Hoyer suggested that it COULD be about adding another bat and about adding in the bullpen.
Well, not 12 hours later, word broke that the Cubs were signing bat-user Trey Mancini, and now it’s fair to wonder whether a bullpen move is coming soon.
To that end, Sahadev Sharma reports that the Cubs are interested in two of the best lefty relievers remaining on the market: Matt Moore and Andrew Chafin.
Moore, 33, exploded last year with the Rangers after a full-time move to the bullpen (fastball popped, way more curveball usage), and he looks like a mighty attractive target. Chafin, 32, is well-known to Cubs fans, and he was again very good in 2022, pitching for the Tigers.
I am very happy to hear that the Cubs are interested in these two guys, who might be the best two relievers left on the free agent market. Each would be a big boost to a bullpen that already has the potential to be deep and strong.
The problem is that the price tags on those guys figure to be pretty high, at least as far as setup relievers go. Sharma mentions lefty Matt Strahm, who signed with the Phillies for two years and $15 million, as a reference point. That is a price level the Cubs may not be able or willing to go to for Moore or Chafin (each of whom I’d MUUUUUCH rather have than Strahm).
Moreover, here’s a couple other things Sharma has written over his last two pieces:
- (From before the Mancini deal was reported) “The decision right now appears to be choosing between that bat and a veteran relief pitcher.”
- (From after the Mancini deal was reported) “(The Cubs would) love to add a trustworthy lefty to pair with youngster Brandon Hughes, but the cost may end up forcing them to a lower end of the market. There is some flexibility left financially, but the emphasis should firmly be placed on ‘some.'”
After the Mancini addition, the Cubs are just past the $221 million mark for luxury tax purposes, leaving them around $12 million below the first luxury tax tier. This weekend, owner Tom Ricketts indicated that the Cubs are not absolutely opposed to going back over the luxury tax – they have before – but he did talk a lot about being “strategic” in relation to the tax, because of the possible consequences for amateur talent acquisition (i.e., the possible draft and IFA implications), and because the tax rates go up every year you’re over the tax.
So, I’m going to speculate that the Cubs really don’t want to go over the tax this year. Given that the Cubs will also want some room to work with under the tax for midseason trades and accumulated bonuses, it seems like adding one of Moore or Chafin could be a stretch. I can make the math work, though probably not if they get a lot more than Strahm got, and not without the Cubs somehow otherwise moving out salary.
As you already know, and Sharma points out, the Cubs have been very good at finding guys like Moore and Chafin *before* they have big seasons and command big free agent dollars. It may be the case that they simply prefer to keep going that route (and could be just as successful as if they signed one of these two).
Then again, these guys are still unsigned here in mid-January, and a lot of other teams have their budgets all full up. Any chance the Cubs do want/intend to land one of these guys, but they’re trying to hold down the price as much as possible, knowing that the markets may be drying up? Trying to sign one of them and still have $5+ million left under the luxury tax? In other words, is it that the Cubs can’t land one of these guys, or are they just doing some protracted negotiating?
We may see soon enough.