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10:56am: Jon Heyman of FanRag reports via Twitter that the Yankees will receive about $35MM from the Marlins in the deal, and confirms that they’ll send back Castro and prospects. Heyman also adds in a separate tweet that Stanton is on his way to NYC for a physical, making it clear that he is waiving his no-trade clause.
10:35am: A source close to Morosi confirms Rosenthal’s report that Stanton is expected to approve the trade.
9:56am: A last-ditch effort to acquire Stanton today by the Dodgers is unlikely, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports hears (Twitter link).
9:33am: The main prospects that would be headed back in the deal are down in the lower levels of the Yankees’ minor league system, Sherman adds.
9:20am: Sherman hears that Castro is the only veteran going back to the Marlins in the deal (Twitter link). The other players going to Miami are Yankees prospects, though not their “best.”
8:49am: The expectation is that Stanton will approve the trade, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Rosenthal also mentions that the deal is pending physicals, which seem to be the only real item standing in the way of the trade being considered complete.
7:14am: The Yankees and Marlins have a deal for Giancarlo Stanton, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The deal is still subject to Stanton’s approval, as the slugger has full no-trade rights. Several hours prior, Joel Sherman of the New York Post called the deal “virtually done,” noting the Marlins will receive second baseman Starlin Castro “plus good but not top prospects” if completed. Before that, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle had reported the deal as “close if not done.”
Yesterday, Stanton rejected trades to the Cardinals and Giants. Previous reporting has indicated that the Yankees are on the short list of teams to which Stanton would be willing to be traded, so his approval in this case may not be a major hurdle. Stanton will also need to pass a physical by the Yankees, as Sherman has noted.
The pairing of Giancarlo Stanton with Aaron Judge will be one for the ages. Stanton just took home the NL MVP award with an epic 59 home run season, a level that had not been reached since Barry Bonds in 2001. Meanwhile, Judge won the American League Rookie of the Year award and finished second in the AL MVP voting with 52 bombs, a rookie record. Throw in catcher Gary Sanchez, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman has assembled a Murderers’ Row of right-handed sluggers.
Earlier this year, the Marlins were purchased by a group led by former Yankees great Derek Jeter, as well as investor Bruce Sherman. The pair chose to keep alive the Marlins’ fire sale tradition, intent on moving Stanton because of the massive contract he signed under previous owner Jeffrey Loria three years ago. The Marlins’ leverage was clearly reduced after Stanton rejected trades to the Cardinals and Giants. Stanton, 28, is still owed $295MM over the next ten years. After the 2020 season, he has the right to opt out of the remaining seven years and $218MM, which will be a source of significant downside risk for the Yankees. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has expressed his commitment to getting the team’s payroll under the $197MM luxury tax threshold, which isn’t easy to do while adding Stanton’s contract. Sending Castro to the Marlins removes a two-year, $22MM commitment. However, as Sherman points out, the average annual value of Castro’s contract is what counts towards the tax; that figure is $8.6MM.
It’s certainly too early to say this for certain, but the impact of this trade could even reach next year’s free agent market, as Mark Zuckerman notes on Twitter. The Yankees have long been considered one of the best potential suitors for former NL MVP Bryce Harper, but may not have room for him in their outfield (or potentially their 2019 payroll) any longer. It would be hard to imagine them using one of Judge, Stanton or Harper exclusively as a designated hitter, and none of them are likely candidates to play anywhere on the field besides the outfield corners.
The deal will also come with significant risk for the Yankees. As Eno Sarris of Fangraphs pointed out back in November, it’s hard to know how the reigning NL MVP will age. Stanton also missed large portions of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with a broken hand and a groin strain, respectively. Add that injury history into the mix, and there’s a number of scenarios that end with Stanton’s contract becoming a significant albatross for the Yankees during the final years of the deal. This doesn’t necessarily detract from the fact that New York is in a much better position over the next few years due to the slugging outfielder’s presence, but it’s certainly a notable concern.
Acquiring Stanton should help soften the blow for the Yankees of seeing Shohei Ohtani agree to terms with the Angels. Last week, the Bombers were considered strong suitors for the services of the two-way Japanese phenom, and didn’t seem like serious contenders to land Stanton in a trade. While the Yanks will still want to make a big improvement to their pitching staff, Stanton adds similar value to their roster overall, and perhaps allows them to be more aggressive in shopping outfielder Clint Frazier for cost-controlled starting pitchers (hat tip to Joel Sherman).
The Miami Marlins originally took Stanton with the 76th overall pick in the 2007 draft (second round). After a hot start with the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate three years later, the team decided to promote him straight to the majors, skipping Triple-A entirely. Stanton stuck in the majors and has been a power monster ever since; he’s already socked 267 home runs over the course of his career to go with a .268/.360/.554 career slash line. While he’s dealt with a plethora of injuries that have caused him to miss time in four of his seven full seasons, the Sherman Oaks, California high school product has averaged roughly 4.5 WAR during that time. 2017 was Stanton’s best season yet; not only did he mash a career-high 59 homers, but he cut his strikeout rate down to a career-low 23.6%. Ultimately, he was rewarded with the National League’s MVP honors for his tremendous year.
If Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani signs with an MLB team, perhaps in the new year, he’ll be limited to a minor league deal. The most Ohtani could receive is $3.535MM from the Rangers, according to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press. The Yankees and Twins are able to offer similar amounts. The Pirates, Marlins, and Mariners can offer $1.5MM or more. Everyone else is capped below $1MM, all the way down to the Indians and Rockies at $10K each.
The assumption is that these differences will not matter much to Ohtani, who might be leaving $200MM on the table by attempting to come to MLB now instead of in two years. He’s already banked millions of dollars from his NPB career, and he would earn the MLB minimum of $545K as a rookie.
It is also true that if Ohtani wants to lock down life-changing money, he would be able to do so with little or no MLB experience. Ohtani’s team can sign him to an extension at any time, as long as the extension wasn’t discussed as an inducement to sign him in the first place. Three players have signed extensions with fewer than 30 days of big league service time:
- The Rays signed Evan Longoria in April 2008 to a six-year, $17.5MM deal that included three club options, two of which covered potential free agent years. Longoria had six days of MLB service.
- The Rays signed Matt Moore in December 2011 to a five-year, $14MM deal that included three club options, two of which covered potential free agent years. Moore had 17 days of big league service.
- The Astros signed Jonathan Singleton in June 2014 to a five-year, $10MM deal that included three club options, one of which covered a potential free agent year. Singleton’s extension coincided with his big league promotion, meaning he signed with no big league service.
Ohtani’s NPB experience could stand in for the extensive minor league experience that justified these contract extensions. I think a team could offer $20-25MM to Ohtani in April without sounding alarm bells at MLB’s offices. Ohtani’s team would already control him for six years, or even close to seven years if they’re willing to keep him in the minors for a few weeks as the Cubs did with Kris Bryant. So the incentive for a team to offer an extension would be gaining control over some of Ohtani’s potential free agent years. One can imagine that the player’s agent would advise against this, but it is a way Ohtani could guarantee himself good money right out of the gate. It is possible, too, that the agent could attempt to play with the structure established by Longoria, Moore, and Singleton. For example, Singleton’s contract covered only one potential free agent year, with a club option for $13MM. What if Ohtani made the same concession, but with an option price of $20MM or more?
Other players, such as Salvador Perez, Chris Archer, and Tim Anderson, signed extensions with service time ranging from 50 to 156 days. Those deals topped out at Anderson’s $25MM, signed last March. If Ohtani waits until he has one year of Major League service time, the ceiling on a reasonable extension increases quite a bit. Four such players — Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich, and Andrelton Simmons — signed for $40MM or more guaranteed. Simmons is tops in the one-plus service class, with a seven-year, $58MM deal. After one decent year in MLB, Ohtani should be able to sign an extension worth $60MM or more.
As for that monster deal that would have been a lock if Ohtani waited until he was a true free agent? That probably becomes an option if he logs two successful years in the Majors. Mike Trout signed for $144.5MM over six years, while Buster Posey inked a deal worth $159MM over eight years. It is entirely conceivable that Ohtani could come to the Majors now and sign a $200MM extension in March of 2020. Granted, he would need to play like an MLB superstar over the 2018-19 seasons to make that possible. But to reach those heights in a true MLB free agent bidding war in the 2019-20 offseason, he would have needed to continue at a very high level in NPB anyway. Viewed in that light, Ohtani’s decision to jump to MLB this winter at perhaps his peak ability doesn’t seem so crazy.
As the 2017-18 offseason gets underway, we’ve heard a lot about teams anticipating the 2018-19 class. Some clubs could even curb current spending to prepare for that group. That’s reasonable enough, given potential franchise-altering free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. In addition to those two abnormally young superstars, the position players include many excellent players who will be 30 or older in 2019: Charlie Blackmon, Josh Donaldson, Brian Dozier, Daniel Murphy, Elvis Andrus, Marwin Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, and A.J. Pollock, for example. While it would be risky for a team to let this group of potential free agents affect their 2017-18 offseason spending, you can at least make a case. However, the list of starting pitchers who project to be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season is less impressive.
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and after the 2018 season he has the ability to opt out of the two years and $65MM left on his contract with the Dodgers. Kershaw will turn 31 in March of 2019. One way or another, he’s going to get a new monster contract between now and then. It might just be another record-setting extension, as the Dodgers have almost a year to attempt to lock him up. Given that very real possibility, the only team that should take Kershaw into account this winter is the Dodgers.
After Kershaw, the 2018-19 free agent class for starting pitchers doesn’t look all that special. David Price could opt out of his remaining four years and $127MM, but that looks unlikely at present. The lefty will turn 33 next August and was limited to 11 starts this year due to an elbow injury. Aside from Kershaw, the biggest 2018-19 free agent starting pitcher contracts may go to Dallas Keuchel and Drew Pomeranz. They will 31 and 30 years old, respectively, and posted solid 2017 seasons. Still, these aren’t pitchers you plan for a year in advance.
Further down the list, question marks pile up. Garrett Richards could be interesting, but only if his partially torn UCL holds up in 2018. Similarly, perhaps Matt Harvey and Nathan Eovaldi can re-establish themselves next season. Gio Gonzalez and Charlie Morton are quality pitchers who will be 33 and 35 years old, respectively, in 2019, though Morton has indicated that he may retire once his current contract expires. Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, and Cole Hamels may remain useful pieces a year from now.
While the position players potentially available could make the 2018-19 offseason one for the ages, the starting pitching in this class does not measure up. We actually saw a group far more impressive in the 2015-16 offseason, when Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Ian Kennedy, and Scott Kazmir signed for over a billion dollars combined. It’s unclear whether Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta will incite bidding wars this winter, but if they don’t, it won’t be because of the 2018-19 free agent starting pitchers.
Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Lance Lynn, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland, and Carlos Santana received one-year, $17.4MM qualifying offers from their teams earlier this week. If those players sign elsewhere, here’s a look at the draft picks the signing team would lose.
Competitive Balance Tax Payors: Tigers, Dodgers, Yankees, Giants, Nationals
If one of these teams signs a qualified free agent, it must forfeit its second-highest and fifth-highest pick in the 2018 draft. The team will also have its international signing bonus pool reduced by $1MM. The Tigers are highly unlikely to sign one of the nine players listed above, but the other four teams might. The Giants’ second-highest pick will fall somewhere in the 30s overall, so they stand to lose the most if they sign a qualified free agent.
Non-Disqualified Revenue Sharing Payees: Diamondbacks, Braves, Orioles, Reds, Indians, Rockies, Astros, Royals, Marlins, Brewers, Twins, Athletics, Pirates, Padres, Mariners, Rays
These 16 teams received revenue sharing and did not exceed the competitive balance tax. If one of these teams signs a qualified free agent, it forfeits its third-highest pick. These teams face the smallest draft pick penalty.
All Other Clubs: Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox, Angels, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Rangers, Blue Jays
These nine remaining teams would forfeit their second-highest pick and and have their international signing bonus pool reduced by $500K. The penalty is something of a middle ground, but it would sting for a team like the Phillies to sacrifice a pick in the 30s.
What happens if a team signs two of these nine free agents? The CBA calls for forfeiture of the next highest available draft pick. For example, if a team has already lost its second and fifth-highest picks and it signs a second qualified free agent, it would lose its third and sixth-highest picks. So as in the past, if you’ve already signed one qualified free agent, the draft pick cost to sign another is reduced.
Six different teams made qualifying offers to free agents this winter. Assuming the nine players turn down the one-year, $17.4MM offer, here’s what each of those teams stands to gain in draft pick compensation.
The Cubs made qualifying offers to right-handers Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis. The Cubs were neither a revenue sharing recipient nor a competitive balance tax payor. Therefore, regardless of the size of the contracts Arrieta and Davis sign, the Cubs will receive draft pick compensation after Competitive Balance Round B, which takes place after the second round.
The Cardinals made a qualifying offer to starter Lance Lynn. Like the Cubs, they were neither a revenue sharing recipient nor a competitive balance tax payor. Regardless of the amount Lynn signs for, the Cardinals will receive draft pick compensation after Competitive Balance Round B.
The Royals made qualifying offers to center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and third baseman Mike Moustakas. The Royals were a revenue sharing recipient. If any of their three free agents sign for a guarantee of $50MM or more, the Royals get draft pick compensation after the first round. For any of the three that signs for less than $50MM, the Royals get draft pick compensation after Comp Round B. MLBTR projects all three players to sign for well over $50MM, so the Royals should have a very favorable draft pool in 2018, potentially adding three picks in the top 35 or so if all three sign elsewhere.
The Rays made a qualifying offer to right-hander Alex Cobb. They were a revenue sharing recipient and are subject to the same rules as the Royals, Rockies, and Indians. However, Cobb is a borderline free agent when it comes to a $50MM contract, in our estimation. The team will be rooting for him to reach that threshold, as the Rays would then net a compensatory pick after the first round. If Cobb falls shy of that total guarantee, the Rays will receive an extra pick after Comp Round B.
The Rockies made a qualifying offer to closer Greg Holland. They were a revenue sharing recipient and are subject to the same rules as the Royals, Rays, and Indians. Holland, too, is a borderline $50MM free agent, though he certainly figures to aim higher than that in the early stages of free agency. If he reaches $50MM+, the Rox will get a pick after the first round. If not, they’ll receive a pick after Comp Round B.
The Indians made a qualifying offer to first baseman Carlos Santana. They were a revenue sharing recipient and are subject to the same rules as the Royals, Rays, and Rockies. Santana is another borderline $50MM free agent in our estimation, but it’s certainly possible he clears that threshold and nets Cleveland a pick after the first round.
So, the Cubs and Cardinals already know where their draft-pick compensation will land if their qualified free agents sign elsewhere: after Competitive Balance Round B, which currently starts with pick No. 76. The Royals, Rays, Rockies, and Indians will all be rooting for their free agents to sign for at least $50MM, granting them compensation after the first round, which begins with pick No. 31.
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A World Series hangover led to a surprising 43-45 record from the Cubs in the first half of the season. The club rallied to 49-25 in the second half and just barely pulled off an NLDS win over the Nationals. The Dodgers then dispatched the Cubs fairly easily in the NLCS, marking Chicago’s third straight appearance in the second round of the playoffs. The Cubs are poised for an active winter, with an outfield logjam and major needs in the rotation and bullpen.
- Jason Heyward, RF: $147.5MM through 2023. Heyward can opt out of contract after 2018 season or after 2019 season with 550 plate appearances in 2019.
- Jon Lester, SP: $85MM through 2020. Includes $25MM mutual option for 2021 with a $10MM buyout. 2021 option becomes guaranteed with 200 innings in 2020 or 400 innings in 2019-20.
- Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF: $28MM through 2019.
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B: $21MM through 2019. Includes $16.5MM club option with a $2MM buyout for 2020 and an identical club option for 2021. 2019 salaries can increase based on MVP finishes. Rizzo can void 2021 option with top two finish in 2017-19 MVP voting and subsequent trade.
- Jose Quintana, SP: $9.85MM through 2018. Includes $10.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout for 2019 and an identical club option for 2020.
- Pedro Strop, RP: $6.35MM through 2018. Includes $6.25MM club option with a $500K buyout for 2019.
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Justin Wilson (5.035) – $4.3MM
- Hector Rondon (5.000) – $6.2MM
- Justin Grimm (4.162) – $2.4MM
- Kyle Hendricks (3.081) – $4.9MM
- Tommy La Stella (3.072) – $1.0MM
- Kris Bryant (2.171) – $8.9MM
- Addison Russell (2.167) – $2.3MM
- Non-tender candidates: Rondon, Grimm
- Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, John Lackey, Jon Jay, Koji Uehara, Alex Avila, Brian Duensing, Rene Rivera
The Cubs swung a huge, surprising trade with their crosstown rivals in July, sending four prospects to the White Sox for lefty starter Jose Quintana. Since the Cubs control Quintana through 2020, this deal was as much about the future as the present. Quintana adds innings and stability to a rotation that also includes Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Lester and Hendricks are controlled through 2020 as well. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey combined for 60 regular season starts for the Cubs this year, and both are now free agents. Quintana helped prepare for the possible departure of Arrieta, but the Cubs still need to replace 40% of their rotation.
Signing Arrieta is certainly an option. The righty, 32 in March, famously resurrected his career after a 2013 trade to the Cubs. Back in March, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports wrote that “the belief is that [the Cubs] wouldn’t go more than four years [on a new contract for Arrieta], if that.” Around that time, the idea was floated by Arrieta and his agent Scott Boras that a six or seven-year deal would be appropriate. Even then I found five years much more likely. Arrieta went on to post a decent season, but we’ve perhaps become the low man on him, projecting a four-year contract. If we’re right, then maybe the Cubs and Arrieta can match up after all. However, I wouldn’t expect Arrieta to sign a four-year deal in November or December. Given where Boras was at earlier this year, four years seems possible only if Arrieta’s market disappoints, and he signs in January or February. The Cubs may not be able to keep enough powder dry into the new year to pay Arrieta $25MM a year, even if the term comes down to four years.
Free agency offers an alternative in Yu Darvish. Darvish is only 163 days younger than Arrieta, and he has Tommy John surgery on his résumé. We’re projecting a six-year, $160MM deal for Darvish, a contract similar to the one the Cubs gave Lester three years ago. I think the Cubs could look past Darvish’s pair of World Series bombs, but president Theo Epstein was noncommittal, saying regarding high-priced free agent pitching, “I wouldn’t rule it out completely, and I wouldn’t rule it in. I would just say it’s not our preferred method.” Of course, paying baseball players $25MM+ per year is not the preferred method of any team. Would the Cubs prefer the devil they know with Arrieta, or would they prefer a megadeal for Darvish?
Quite possibly, it’s neither. The Cubs seem likely to pursue one front-rotation arm and one lesser starting pitcher, and they are expected to explore the trade market. The only established top of the rotation starting pitcher who projects to be available this winter is Chris Archer of the Rays. Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry deftly acquired Archer from the Indians in the 2008 Mark DeRosa trade, only to ship him to Tampa Bay two years later in the Matt Garza deal. Archer, 29, has made 32 starts in each of the last four seasons, displaying a dominant strikeout rate and earning two All-Star nods in that time. The hard-throwing righty is on a team-friendly contract through 2021, so the Rays have no reason to force a trade this offseason. The Cubs already spent their best remaining prospects in the Quintana deal, and would have to subtract from the Major League roster to have a shot at Archer. It remains to be seen how willing the Cubs are to deal from their starting middle infield to acquire someone like Archer, which would lead to a defensive downgrade at second base for Chicago with some combination of Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist.
From the Rays’ point of view, would Addison Russell or Javier Baez be enough to lead a package for Archer? Both players have four years of control remaining, same as Archer, and Russell is already eligible for arbitration. The Rays might prefer a headliner with six years of control remaining, like Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade. Russell took a step backward in performance this year, also facing a divorce and a domestic abuse allegation. Baez seems the more valuable asset, a player with star potential if he can rein in some of the swing-and-miss. However, the Rays already have Willy Adames, a shortstop who is big league ready and is rated #15 among all prospects by MLB.com. Russell or Baez might not be enough, and might not be the right fit for the Rays either. The Cubs have run out of Top 100 prospects to deal, but could complement a trade with 50-grade prospects, including a few with big league experience in Victor Caratini and Mark Zagunis. While some kind of position player for pitcher swap between the Cubs and Rays has been discussed by fans and executives for years, the Cubs will face stiff competition from other teams if the Rays listen on Archer.
The Cubs also have left fielder Kyle Schwarber as a primary trade chip, whether for a mid-level starting pitcher or a reliever. Schwarber, 25 in March, is a player the Cubs have always liked more than most since they drafted him fourth overall in 2014. Finally given a full season in the Majors after last year’s ACL tear, Schwarber was used as a platoon bat after a rough April, and even his big league success after a June Triple-A demotion (131 wRC+) has to take into account that he only faced southpaws 16.4% of the time. With donning catching gear seemingly in the rearview for Schwarber, the pessimistic view is that he’s a platoon bat without a position. Certainly, to trade Schwarber now would be selling low, though opening up left field for Happ full-time would alleviate the logjam and may improve the outfield defense. Schwarber would be a better fit in the American League, where he could learn first base and spend time at designated hitter. Danny Salazar, Kendall Graveman, Matt Andriese, Collin McHugh, and Jake Odorizzi are a few speculative trade targets. These names are not nearly as exciting as they would have been a year ago had the Cubs shopped Schwarber. The Cubs may well set a price on Schwarber higher than Odorizzi or McHugh, who are only under control for two more years.
The Cubs could also consider putting their faith in Schwarber and trading Happ, who they drafted ninth overall in 2015. The 23-year-old switch-hitter would be a very valuable trade chip after a promising rookie debut; he’s still under team control for six more years. The Cubs have yet to settle on a position for Happ, who appeared at all three outfield positions as well as second base in 2017. He seems less likely to be moved than Schwarber. Albert Almora Jr. also seems unlikely to be traded. While Epstein won’t quite pencil Almora in as next year’s starting center fielder, he has at least pledged an increased role.
Free agency offers the Cubs a slew of mid-level or worse options if they don’t want to pony up for Darvish. Alex Cobb is a name to consider, especially since he played under Cubs manager Joe Maddon and his new pitching coach, Jim Hickey. The Cubs are also intimately familiar with Lance Lynn, who started against them 18 times in his career as a member of the Cardinals. Last year, the Cubs made a run at Tyson Ross before settling for Brett Anderson as their fifth starter, and they could look to fill out the fifth starter spot again with a one-year bounceback guy like Chris Tillman, Clay Buchholz, or Jeremy Hellickson.
The ideal candidate for the Cubs’ rotation, of course, is 23-year-old righty Shohei Otani. If MLB, the players’ union, Nippon Professional Baseball, and the Nippon Ham Fighters are able to reach an agreement, Otani may make the leap to MLB despite being subject to international bonus pool restrictions. While Cubs fans are surely dreaming of Otani pitching every fifth day and patrolling the Wrigley outfield on some of his off days, the Cubs are one of a dozen teams capped at $300K in the potential bidding. Many other teams are able to bid more than ten times as much (the theoretical maximum is about $10MM), although Otani would be leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table either way. Like every team, the Cubs will have to do a hell of a marketing job to win Otani’s heart if he’s posted, and they can’t build their offseason around him to any degree.
The Cubs will surely cast a wide net for starting pitching, but they also have ample work to do on their bullpen. By the end of the postseason, it seemed that Maddon only trusted closer Wade Davis. The Cubs may make a run at Davis, which would involve holding their noses and giving him a four-year deal. Having shown no interest in past free agent closers such as Kenley Jansen and David Robertson, I’m guessing this is again not Epstein’s “preferred method.” Rather than give Davis or Greg Holland $15MM a year, the Cubs could get two very good relievers for a similar price, in a free agent market featuring Addison Reed, Mike Minor, Brandon Morrow, Jake McGee, and other quality names. If the Cubs hit the trade market for a late inning reliever, they could pursue Alex Colome, Raisel Iglesias, Brad Hand, Zach Britton, Dellin Betances, Joakim Soria, or Kelvin Herrera. Aside from Davis, the Cubs could also consider retaining free agent lefty Brian Duensing, who had a resurgent year for them on a $2MM contract and will be seeking a raise.
The holdovers in the Cubs’ bullpen include righties Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop and lefties Mike Montgomery and Justin Wilson. The Cubs have Hector Rondon and his projected $6.2MM salary as well, but he’s fallen far enough out of favor that I expect them to move him in a salary dump trade. Justin Grimm, with a $2.4MM projection, could also get the boot. Like Quintana, Wilson was acquired in a summer trade with a partial eye on the future. The 30-year-old southpaw has a $4.3MM salary projection, and was expected to play a key role in the Cubs’ 2018 bullpen at the time of his acquisition. Wilson was hammered in 17 2/3 innings with the Cubs, allowing 38 baserunners in that span with horrible control. The Cubs will try to get him back into form, but can hardly count on him. This bullpen probably needs three or more outside additions this winter.
On the position player side, the Cubs’ needs are minimal. A veteran backup catcher behind Willson Contreras would be helpful, filling the shoes of free agent Alex Avila. The Cubs already have 24-year-old Victor Caratini as an option for that role, though some teams prefer a veteran presence. Outfielder Jon Jay is also a free agent. If Schwarber is dealt, the Cubs can still fill out their outfield with Ian Happ, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist. Since Happ and Zobrist will likely play some second base, a veteran backup outfielder could be added to replace Jay.
How much can the Cubs spend to fill these needs? Assuming Rondon and Grimm are gone, the Cubs will be paying about $106MM to 18 players, eight of whom are pre-arbitration. The Cubs’ biggest pain points are Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, a pair that provided 1.2 wins above replacement in 2017 and will be paid $37.5MM in 2018. There is little to be done with those two, who both have full no-trade protection for 2018 and negative trade value anyway. Heyward and Zobrist were generally treated as starting players this year, and both should enter 2018 with reduced playing time expectations. The Cubs seem capable of a $180MM payroll, and despite the large salaries of Jon Lester, Heyward, and Zobrist, might be able to spend as much as $70MM on new 2018 player salaries.
The Cubs remain an immensely talented team. They’ve got affordable star position players in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras, none of whom will earn a $10MM salary in 2018. That core is complemented by some combination of Baez, Russell, Happ, Almora, and Schwarber, depending on who is traded this winter. While the rotation needs serious work, Hendricks proved his 2016 season was no fluke, Lester continues to provide value, and Quintana is a younger, cheaper version of Lester. Still, there is significant work to be done this winter, much more than last winter. “We knew that the 2017-2018 offseason would be one of our most challenging,” Epstein told reporters in an October press conference. For the first time under Epstein, the Cubs enter an offseason with both significant holes to fill and sky-high expectations.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.