Click here to read the transcript of today’s chat with Tim Dierkes.
Click here to read the transcript of today’s chat with Tim Dierkes.
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This is the latest post of MLBTR’s annual Offseason in Review series, in which we take stock of every team’s winter dealings.
Faced with a lack of payroll flexibility, the Cubs were only able to tinker around the edges after picking up Cole Hamels’ option.
Major League Signings
- Daniel Descalso, 2B/3B: two years, $5MM
- Brad Brach, RP: one year, $3MM (includes $5MM club option for 2020 with $100K buyout, or $1.35MM player option)
- Xavier Cedeno, RP: one year, $900K
- Tony Barnette, RP: one year, $750K (includes $3MM club option for 2020)
- Kendall Graveman, SP: one year, $575K (includes $3MM club option for 2020)
- Kyle Ryan, RP: one year, $555K
- Total spend: $10.78MM
- Cole Hamels, SP: one year, $20MM
- Jose Quintana, SP: one year, $10.5MM
- Pedro Strop, RP: one year, $6.25M
- Brandon Kintzler, RP: one year, $5MM (player option)
Trades and Claims
- Claimed RP Jerry Vasto off waivers from Royals; later assigned outright to Triple-A
- Claimed OF Johnny Field off waivers from Twins; later assigned outright to Triple-A
- Acquired player to be named later from Rangers for SP Drew Smyly and a player to be named later
- Claimed IF Jack Reinheimer from Mets; later lost to waiver claim from Rangers
- Claimed P Ian Clarkin off waivers from White Sox; then claimed back by White Sox; then claimed back by Cubs and later assigned outright to Triple-A
- Acquired RP Rowan Wick from Padres for IF Jason Vosler
- Acquired IF Ronald Torreyes from Yankees for cash or a player to be named later; later non-tendered
- Acquired a player to be named later from Angels that would eventually become RP Conor Lillis-White for IF Tommy La Stella
- Acquired OF Donnie Dewees from Royals for RP Stephen Ridings
Notable Minor League Signings
- Tim Collins (split contract paying $850K in Majors), Danny Hultzen, Mike Zagurski, Jim Adduci, Phillip Evans, Francisco Arcia, Colin Rea, George Kontos, Junichi Tazawa, Allen Webster, Carlos Ramirez, Dixon Machado
- Daniel Murphy, Drew Smyly, Justin Wilson, Jesse Chavez, Tommy La Stella, Luke Farrell, Jorge de la Rosa
After Cubs president Theo Epstein said on October 3rd that the front office would “spend all our energy trying to fix” an offense that “broke” in the second half of the 2018 season, most observers did not think the team’s most notable new offseason bat would be utility infielder Daniel Descalso. Whether we read too much into Epstein’s raw comments or gave too much credence to his previous free agent spending, the fact is that the Ricketts family set a hard player payroll budget, and the team had very little maneuverability within it to make outside additions.
The Ricketts family drew a line: Epstein’s past free agent missteps would not be papered over with further spending in the 2018-19 offseason. Bryce Harper’s free agency came at an inopportune time for the Cubs. As Epstein put it in a January conversation on ESPN’s Waddle & Silvy show, “After I’ve had a big steak dinner and had chocolate cake, I want ice cream too, but it doesn’t mean I can have it.” Ownership clearly wasn’t interested in pulling out the wallet to fund a treat; when asked in mid-February about the team’s remaining funds for baseball ops, chairman Tom Ricketts replied: “We don’t have any more.”
A major shakeup was not in order. Manager Joe Maddon enters the final year of his contract in what seems like a “prove yourself” season, after various Epstein comments have laid implied blame at his skipper’s feet. For example, Epstein said in January that there’s been too much complacency since the team won the World Series. The Cubs did have a lot of coaching turnover, with newcomers including hitting coach Anthony Iopace and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.
An easy win could have come in the form of adding a veteran backup known for leadership qualities, after GM Jed Hoyer said there was “a bit of a void” of that type of player on the roster in 2018. Perhaps that could be the 32-year-old Descalso, but the more obvious choice would have been a veteran backup catcher. The Cubs reportedly made a better offer to Brian McCann than the one he accepted from the Braves, and weren’t able to land Martin Maldonado due to a lack of available playing time. The Cubs certainly had alternatives. Russell Martin, who the Cubs once attempted to sign, was traded to the Dodgers with that team picking up $3.6MM of his salary. Quite a few other backstops were available as well, but the Cubs will stick with 25-year-old Victor Caratini as the backup to 26-year-old Willson Contreras.
The Cubs also missed out on another potential veteran leader, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who instead chose the Yankees. The Cubs’ plan was reportedly to have Tulo serve as the team’s starting shortstop until Addison Russell returns from his domestic violence suspension on May 3rd. Back in October, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic wrote, “The sense around the team is that Russell has already played his final game in a Cubs uniform.” Mooney’s colleague Ken Rosenthal wrote a few months later that “a couple of unidentified clubs at least contemplated adding Russell, and one even discussed the matter with ownership,” but further details from Russell’s ex-wife Melisa Reidy on December 19th seem to have killed trade interest. So the Cubs decided to take the PR hit of retaining Russell, with Epstein outlining his reasons for the player’s “conditional second chance.”
In hindsight, the events of November 2nd served as an omen for the remainder of the Cubs’ offseason. An early morning tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney proved prescient: “Other teams’ read on the Cubs’ situation this winter: They have very little payroll flexibility, and will have to spend very carefully to affect upgrades for the 2019 season.” Later that day the team picked up Cole Hamels’ $20MM club option, shipping Drew Smyly and his $7MM salary to the Rangers in a cost-saving move that also tied up a few loose ends on the trade earlier that year that brought Hamels to Chicago. This was less than a month after Epstein had said, “We’re set up to have some depth in the starting staff next year. We’re not looking to get rid of starting pitchers. We’re looking to have as much depth as possible so we can withstand multiple injuries.” The Cubs thought enough of Smyly’s post-Tommy John potential to pay $10MM to stash him for 2019, only to compromise their depth in the face of a tight budget.
The bullpen would not be spared the Cubs’ penny-pinching mandate. The only new face on the current roster is Brad Brach. The Cubs return an uninspiring group of veterans, with the oft-injured Brandon Morrow heading up the group once he returns from November elbow surgery. The club did sign Xavier Cedeno and Tony Barnette to bargain basement Major League deals, finding a few pennies under their couch cushions by chopping $1.35MM off Brach’s deal due to what the pitcher called “a little bit of a viral infection.” That is one expensive case of mono.
The bright spot of the Cubs’ offseason came last week, with Kyle Hendricks’ four-year extension. Hendricks would have been eligible for free agency after the 2020 season, which was misaligned with the team’s core in that Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber are under control through 2021 and Willson Contreras is controlled through ’22. The soft-tossing Hendricks has had nothing but success through 4.5 big league seasons, and now he’ll anchor the team’s rotation potentially through 2024.
The team’s contention window is what gets me about this offseason. The Cubs have been good since 2015 and project to be good through 2021. That is a potential seven-year window of success. I don’t think fans would have objected if the team felt it needed to take a step back at that point, which naturally involves a lower payroll. The time to push the pedal to the floor is now, even if a third of the payroll is a graveyard of bad Epstein contracts. The internal improvements Epstein pushed all winter can and should happen, but this club had a major need for key outside additions and just about nothing was done.
2019 Season Outlook
At the time of this writing, the Cubs project at FanGraphs as an 85 win team with a 56% chance of reaching the playoffs. On paper, it’s the worst team the Cubs have opened the season with in several years, and it comes at a time when the other four NL Central teams all look competitive. Winning the division seems like the Cubs’ most likely path to the playoffs, and every win will be crucial if they’re to pull it off.
How would you rate the Cubs’ offseason? (Link to poll for Trade Rumors app users.)
Click here to read a transcript of today’s chat.
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In Andrew Zimbalist’s 2006 book In The Best Interests Of Baseball?, he wrote:
“[Commissioner Bud] Selig had a pet phrase that makes considerable sense: the fans of each team need to have ’faith and hope’ that their team has a chance to win at the beginning of each season. Without this faith and hope, fans will eventually lose interest, and the game will suffer.”
After reading that recently, I was inspired to create an annual Faith And Hope Report here at MLB Trade Rumors, so we can put a number on how many teams are competitive and track it over time. I’ll be combining FanGraphs’ projected playoff odds with my own common sense, and there is some subjectivity involved on the borderline teams. I’ll elaborate on those later in this post.
Teams that enter the 2019 season with faith and hope: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Indians, Twins, Astros, Athletics, Angels, Nationals, Phillies, Mets, Braves, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Pirates, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres, Diamondbacks
Teams that enter 2019 without faith and hope: Blue Jays, Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Rangers, Mariners, Marlins, Giants
Conclusion: 70% of MLB teams have faith and hope of contending in 2019.
- The Blue Jays carry a 76 win projection and a 3.9% chance of reaching the playoffs. If a team has a high-70s win projection, we look at its offseason to determine its interest in winning. The Jays’ offseason was clearly that of a club that is not pushing to win in 2019.
- It feels like the White Sox tried to pull out of their rebuild in the 2018-19 offseason, but their pursuit of Manny Machado and other big names fell short. Looking at the veterans they did acquire, plus a 72 win projection and 1.1% chance of making the playoffs, and the Sox deserve to be lumped in with the Tigers and Royals in baseball’s least competitive division.
- The Rangers’ preseason projections are about the same as the White Sox. Texas spent a fair bit of money stocking their rotation with post-Tommy John pitchers, most notably Lance Lynn. But so many things would have to go right for this team to sniff the playoffs that we have to classify them as a team without faith and hope this year.
- The Mariners have already snagged a couple of wins in Tokyo, pushing their projection to 76 and playoff odds to 3.6%. GM Jerry Dipoto authored a complicated offseason that involved shipping off Jean Segura, Mike Zunino, Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, and James Pazos. In some cases, Dipoto acquired big leaguers in return, and he also signed Yusei Kikuchi, but it’s clear the Mariners are prepared to take a step back in 2019 even if they have not committed to a multiyear rebuild.
- The Reds have a 79 win projection, but the relative parity of the NL Central means they have a 15.7% shot at the playoffs. Plus, the Reds were clearly in go-for-it mode during the winter, bringing in Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, and Alex Wood to lead a retooled rotation. They also added Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. An extension from the Reds will prevent Gray from reaching free agency after the winter, but all the other key acquisitions will be eligible. Give the Reds credit: they’re trying.
- The Pirates aren’t much better than a team like the Mariners, but the Bucs carry an 11.4% shot at the playoffs given their division. The club had an extremely low-key offseason, missing an opportunity to more clearly position themselves as contenders. The team did little to earn the designation of a team trying to win, but it’s still true that their fans have faith and hope entering the 2019 campaign.
- The Diamondbacks are a lot like the Pirates: they have a 77 win projection and a 9.7% chance at the playoffs. The team made bargain acquisitions and shipped off longtime star Paul Goldschmidt. Still, the D’Backs focused on Major League players in return for Goldy, who was in the final year of his contract. They are the most borderline of the borderline cases, but there’s enough chance of a long shot playoff run to put them in the “faith and hope” category.
- I can’t say the same for the Giants, who finished second in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes and own a 73 win projection and 3.5% chance at the playoffs. Like many of the teams listed here, I wouldn’t call the Giants a rebuilding team at present. However, their biggest offseason move was re-signing Derek Holland, their outfield may be the game’s worst, and it’s a club without a real chance of contending. Contrast that with the Padres, who might only be 4-5 wins better than the Giants but added a superstar player in Manny Machado and will conceivably look to add this summer rather than subtract.
Click here to read the transcript of today’s chat with Tim Dierkes.
The following players are projected to reach free agency after the 2020 MLB season (two full seasons from now). Numbers in parentheses represent the age at which the player will play the 2021 season. Click here to view our list of players projected to reach free agency after the 2019 season.
If you see any notable errors or omissions, please contact us.
Chris Herrmann (33)
Bryan Holaday (33)
Caleb Joseph (35)
Erik Kratz (41)
Sandy Leon (32)
Jeff Mathis (38)
James McCann (31)
Yadier Molina (38)
Roberto Perez (32) – $5.5MM club option with a $450K buyout
Josh Phegley (33)
Wilson Ramos (33) – $10MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout
J.T. Realmuto (30)
Jesus Sucre (33)
Kurt Suzuki (37)
Mike Zunino (30)
Justin Bour (33)
C.J. Cron (31)
Yulieski Gurriel (37)
Daniel Murphy (36) – $12MM mutual option with a $6MM buyout
Carlos Santana (35) – $17.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Daniel Descalso (34) – $3.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Ryan Goins (33)
Dee Gordon (33) – $14MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Cesar Hernandez (31)
Ian Kinsler (39) – $3.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
D.J. LeMahieu (32)
Jed Lowrie (37)
Joe Panik (30)
Hernan Perez (30)
Jurickson Profar (28)
Cory Spangenberg (30)
Jonathan Villar (30)
Kolten Wong (30) – $12.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Ehire Adrianza (31)
Nick Ahmed (31)
Tim Beckham (31)
Miguel Rojas (32)
Marcus Semien (30)
Andrelton Simmons (31)
Zack Cozart (35)
Matt Duffy (30)
Tommy La Stella (32)
Jake Lamb (30)
Jace Peterson (31)
Justin Turner (36)
Michael Brantley (34)
Ryan Braun (36) — $15MM mutual option with a $4MM buyout
Yoenis Cespedes (35)
Derek Dietrich (31)
Leury Garcia (30)
Marwin Gonzalez (32)
Joc Pederson (29)
David Peralta (33)
Jackie Bradley Jr. (31)
Jacoby Ellsbury (36) – $21MM club option with a $5MM buyout
Enrique Hernandez (29)
Jake Marisnick (30)
Kevin Pillar (32)
George Springer (31)
Michael A. Taylor (30)
Mookie Betts (28)
Jay Bruce (34)
Robbie Grossman (31)
Josh Reddick (34)
Steven Souza Jr. (32)
Giancarlo Stanton (31) – can opt out of remaining seven years, $218MM
Shin-Soo Choo (38)
Chase Anderson (33) – $9.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Jake Arrieta (35)
Trevor Bauer (30)
Chad Bettis (32)
Tyler Chatwood (31)
Anthony DeSclafani (31)
Robbie Erlin (30)
Michael Fiers (36)
Kevin Gausman (30)
J.A. Happ (38) – $17MM vesting option
Nate Karns (32)
Merrill Kelly (32) – $4.25MM club option with a $500K buyout
Mike Leake (33) – $18MM mutual option with a $5MM buyout
Jon Lester (37) – $25MM mutual/vesting option with a $10MM buyout
Mike Minor (33)
Charlie Morton (37) – $15MM vesting option
Jimmy Nelson (31)
James Paxton (32)
Robbie Ray (29)
Garrett Richards (33)
Jeff Samardzija (36)
Aaron Sanchez (28)
Anibal Sanchez (37) – $12MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Matt Shoemaker (34)
Tyler Skaggs (29)
Dan Straily (32)
Stephen Strasburg (32) – can opt out of remaining three years, $75MM
Marcus Stroman (30)
Masahiro Tanaka (32)
Taijuan Walker (28)
Steven Wright (36)
Jordan Zimmermann (35)
Pedro Baez (33)
Jesse Chavez (37)
Louis Coleman (35)
Alex Colome (32)
Wade Davis (35) – $15MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout (becomes $15M player option if Davis finishes 30 games in 2020)
Sam Dyson (33)
Luis Garcia (34)
Ken Giles (30)
Shane Greene (32)
Liam Hendriks (32)
Kelvin Herrera (31) – $10MM club/vesting option with a $1MM buyout
Drew Hutchison (30)
Keone Kela (28)
Trevor May (31)
Mark Melancon (36)
Blake Parker (36)
Brad Peacock (33)
Jake Petricka (33)
Neil Ramirez (32)
David Robertson (36) – $12MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Bruce Rondon (30)
Danny Salazar (30)
Bryan Shaw (33) – $9MM club/vesting option with a $2MM buyout
Carson Smith (31)
Joakim Soria (37)
Blake Treinen (33)
Dan Winkler (31)
Brandon Workman (32)
Kirby Yates (34)
Jose Alvarez (32)
Brett Cecil (34)
Andrew Chafin (31)
Sam Freeman (34)
Brad Hand (31) – $10MM club option with a $1MM buyout
T.J. McFarland (32)
Jake McGee (34) – $9MM club/vesting option with a $2MM buyout
Andrew Miller (36) – $12MM club/vesting option with a $2.5MM buyout
Vidal Nuno (33)
Chris Rusin (34)
Justin Wilson (33)
The following players have an option on their 2020 season. If this option vests or is picked up, and the player does not have a subsequent 2021 option that is also picked up, these players will be free agents after the 2020 season:
Matt Adams – mutual option
Chase Anderson – also option on ’21
Chris Archer – also option on ’21
Jacob Diekman – mutual option
Adam Eaton – also option on ’21
Yan Gomes – also option on ’21
Alex Gordon – mutual option
Yasmani Grandal – mutual option
Billy Hamilton – mutual option
Corey Kluber – also option on ’21
Wade LeBlanc – also has subsequent options
Starling Marte – also option on ’21
Mike Moustakas – mutual option
Wily Peralta – mutual option
Anthony Rizzo – also option on ’21
Trevor Rosenthal – mutual/conditional player option
Tony Watson – player option