Cubs As Most-Improved, Increasing Prevalence of Opt-Outs, Stroman's Year, Bullpen Combos, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Cubs As Most-Improved, Increasing Prevalence of Opt-Outs, Stroman’s Year, Bullpen Combos, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Anyone else ever go on Google Maps and just follow a random river to see where it goes/where it came from? It’s really interesting!

Mike Axisa: I think it’s the Cubs. Now, that doesn’t mean I think they’re going to win the NL Central, but just in terms of the players they have now compared to the players they had last year, yeah, I think they’re the most improved. Dansby Swanson was the big addition, but others like Jameson Taillon and Trey Mancini will add a few wins, and Cody Bellinger doesn’t need to get back to his MVP form to be an upgrade. Chicago’s first basemen hit .223/.288/.339 with minus-0.6 WAR last year, and their center fielders hit .214/.293/.361 with 1.5 WAR. They’re not asking Mancini and Bellinger to clear a high bar here. All these additions up and hey, maybe the Cubs can make a run an expanded postseason spot. Why not?

  • That’s the right take, in my opinion, *if you’re going to select the Cubs.* The Cubs are the most-improved? OK, sure, I can make that argument, but it’s largely because they had such obvious spots available in which to make those improvements, and didn’t necessarily lose as much as some other teams in free agency. (Which is not a criticism of the offseason, mind you. Just saying it’s not quite the same as if, for example, the Rays had also had an enormous offseason.)
  • Oh, also? The Cubs should still be adding at least one more notable piece – likely a high-quality reliever – from here. It’s going to have been a very good offseason, overall.
  • An article about the San Francisco Giants’ offseason has me thinking about the increasing prevalence of opt-outs around baseball (or the increasing inclusion of player options and a difference in the way we describe those contracts). The NBC Sports article about the Giants notes that all four of their multi-year signings in free agency included opt-outs (pitchers Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea got it after year one of two, outfielder Michael Conforto got it after year one of two, and outfielder Mitch Haniger got it after year two of three). Giants President Farhan Zaidi says that was just a coincidence this year because of the particular situations of the players involved, and maybe that’s true for them. But then I thought about how the Cubs gave opt outs to both Drew Smyly ($8M in year one, $11M in year two if he stays) and Trey Mancini ($7M in year one, $7M in year two (opt out triggers if he reaches 350 PAs in year one)), and also gave one to Marcus Stroman last year ($25M in years one and two, $21M in opt-out year three ($23M if he reaches 160 IP this year)).
  • I’m not sure we’ve seen THAT MANY opt outs for Cubs free agents in the last ten years, and now there have been three in two offseasons. I tend to think we’re seeing a modest shift in the market for guys who are the types who can’t get huge money at the start of free agency, and then have to angle for some other value along the way. It is a copycat league, even among agents, after all. (Don’t be surprised if the final reliever signing for the Cubs this offseason also comes with an opt-out.)
  • Speaking of Stroman, just some housekeeping: if he has a typical-for-him year in 2023 (age 32 season), you can safely assume he will be opting out of his deal with the Cubs and heading back into free agency. Because he has already received a Qualifying Offer in his career, the Cubs will not be able to make him an offer and recoup any compensation for his departure.
  • Having Stroman for one year and $21 million in 2024 would undoubtedly be a valuable thing, so it’s not like you’ll be ROOTING for him to opt out. But I am just dealing in reality, as the Cubs must, so they should be thinking about him as an outgoing free agent this year – during which time you hope another couple young starting pitchers really establish themselves, so there’s all the more coverage for the rotation (and funds available to spend elsewhere) if Stroman does leave. You at least want to have internal options for coverage so that it’s not another year of HAVING to spend big in free agency in the rotation. In other words, losing a quality starter like Stroman is the kind of things the new pitching development infrastructure is supposed to protect against, and as soon as post-2023, the fruits should be there.
  • We should get a resolution on the Mark Leiter Jr. outright either today or tomorrow. The 31-year-old reliever cleared waivers last week after being DFA’d, and then the Cubs outrighted him to Triple-A Iowa, hoping to keep him on a minor league deal for 2023. But, because he’s been outrighted before in his career, he doesn’t have to accept the outright – he can, within three days, instead choose to head to free agency.
  • This is fun for me to think about, because I really could come up with tons of different combinations:
  • What I know is that, when healthy, Alzolay has shown he can be an incredibly good reliever. And when Thompson has pitched in dedicated relief, he’s also been incredible. So those are my guys. But it’s not like I don’t see the upside in Brandon Hughes, Codi Heuer, Jeremiah Estrada, and Ethan Roberts (who were the other most common names offered).
  • An interesting read from Zach Crizer at Yahoo about how offensive the second base position has become over the last 25 years, and whether that’s about to change because of shift restrictions. The idea is that you might have to have more athletically-inclined second basemen, and not as many teams will be able to park a slow-footed thumper there, hiding him with extreme shifts. If it does play out that way, the Cubs will be all the better for having Nico Hoerner there, not only because he can be a Gold-Glove-caliber second baseman (which we focus on the most), but also because he could be an above-average bat while doing it.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.