“When my fist clenches, crack it open.
Before I use it and lose my cool.
When I smile, tell me some bad news.
Before I laugh and act like a fool.”
Let’s try this again…
I was attempting to carry my previous article into the various trade scenarios being bantered about in the media. Click-bait articles abound, with KB teamed with either Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, Willson joining his brother in Atlanta, even the unthinkable notion of the new “Mr. Cub” Anthony Rizzo in a different uniform. It may all seem absurd, but I double-checked and it actually may be reality. Our organization has made several missteps and it’s time to pay the piper. I even heard about this one rumor where we trade El Mago, and then I placed my fingertips into my ears while screaming “La la la la la la la la la…”.
It wasn’t that last trade proposal that shut me down, it was the cloud. I had an article all planned out, taking us through the various trade scenarios that are all too real, hence the article title and featured image, the infamous “dead-man’s hand”. It seems as though dealing from the core will be a thing this offseason. I had it all laid out, with values and returns and options, and then all of a sudden, much like our visions of a large-market dynasty with competent management and superior talent, POOF! All gone. Lost to the interwebs gods, along with our hopes of multiple titles within this window. Arrrgh!
The Winter Meetings are upon us. Baseball’s top wares will be open for bidding, with all the shiney new models on full display, but our team will not be shopping at the high end. We can probably peruse the bargain racks with our hands clenched tightly around our available currency. That’s what happens when dad gets frustrated seeing you blow your allowance and cuts off the spigot. You gotta get creative.
So, we’ll be the ones with the lemonade stand outside MLB’s Winter Meetings. It will be an impressive stand, no doubt. It will have plump and juicy lemons ready to refresh eager consumers. But the lemons we squeeze will still be sour, and the sign will still say “For Sale”.
Here we are. I fully expect a step back in 2020. We’re not going full-on rebuild, that’s just not happening. There are reasons to hope for it, if nothing else than to relive the nostalgia of the last euphoric path. We have already spent that “patient” currency with the fanbase, and now there are expectations. Not to mention the ratings of a new TV deal. Never underestimate the power of the dollar. No, we will re-tool, which isn’t a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with this core, it is the cast around them that is lacking. In the magical 2016 season we had 11 quality players for 8 starting positions, and fretted daily over how to evenly broadcast the playing time. Now we do the fingertip-in-the-ears trick when Anthony has a sore back or Javy jams a thumb. We need to turn the roster, and we will.
This is a point that can be a discussion in itself, but I’ll just do the quick highlights: what we do this offseason will depend immensely on where our 2020 payroll is set to be. I’ve talked to people I trust who have very divergent opinions on where they expect our payroll to be. Most expect us to stay about the same, in the $230M range, just below the highest tier of tax penalties. If that’s the case, we can tinker around the edges and pick our spots. We’ll pay the penalties and re-shuffle the deck. The one we’ve already stacked against ourselves.
I also hear some voices, loud and proud but in the minority, that there is a real desire within the organization to get below the $208M minimum threshold, and thereby reset our penalties heading into 2021. The reasoning is to let new manager Ross and a completely re-made FO structure have a year to establish a foot hold. Compete in 2020 (anything is possible) but be prepared to shop for big free agents again next offseason. Remember, going over the tax thresholds costs money, which we have. The real sting comes when you are over the threshold *AND* sign a free agent with a QO attached. That costs draft picks. The more years you are over, and by how much, compounds the loss of picks. With our new (?!?!) focus on drafting and development, we can’t lose picks. There is a possibility that we get our 2020 payroll under $208M, and I mention this because it could affect the deals we make. Kris Bryant will bring a return, but also salary relief. Willson may bring a bigger player/prospect return, but not so much in salary relief. Just something to keep in mind when pondering the possibilities. If we do go the “salary dump” route, don’t be too discouraged. That almost certainly means we are setting up for a monster 2021.
I’ll focus here on position players, because that’s where the excess value lies. The rotation is nearly set but aging, the bullpen is a bullpen (or about half of one, currently) and the bench players come and go. All of those areas are where Championship clubs separate themselves, but we’re not a Championship club tweaking the edges. We have to deal a core player; the lack of development and vision has left us no other choice.
So, with a heavy heart, here are the players who are on the block. I suppose every player is on the block, but there is no reason to list them all. We are trying to cash in on excess value to plug other holes in our roster and potentially extend this window. There are only five players with enough excess value to make a significant impact, and I expect one or more to be dealt. In my best Kelly/Bud Bundy voice: “Thanks, Theo!”:
KRIS BRYANT: KB is all the rage in the headlines, and for good reason: his name gets clicks. Keep that in mind. I’ve seen countless takes that we need to trade him to obtain value with the two* remaining years of control, as if trading him is the only way to get value. I disagree, reminding people that having a former and potentially future MVP adds tremendous value to a team in the midst of a competitive window. His case checks all the boxes for media hyperbole: superstar player, potentially massive contract, and an agent whose name alone brings views.
*The grievance Bryant filed against the Cubs regarding service-time manipulation is pending, and won’t be resolved for a couple more weeks at least. While there is near-unanimous consensus he will lose, the uncertainty of whether he can become a free agent in one year or two certainly affects his trade value. For that reason, I don’t expect a deal until this issue is resolved, although I’m certain all trade negotiations are based on two more years of arbitration eligibility.
KB is projected to receive $18.5M in salary arbitration in 2020, and an estimated $25-28M in 2021. Team control, yes; cheap control, no. This fact must be taken into account when contemplating return packages in any trade. Following a staggering and historic run of achievements and accolades through college, the minors, and his initial years of MLB, Bryant has dealt with injuries the past two seasons. These injury concerns, along with the aforementioned grievance questions, put his exact trade value in doubt. I have confidence that modern executives see him as I do, a future HOF’er, and will value him as such. Whether that value comes as a 3B, his current position, or a future 1B/CO remains to be seen, but could actually increase the number of potential suitors inquiring about his services.
I’ve always been loathe to propose “this player(s) for that player(s)” trade scenarios. There is too much I don’t know about internal evaluations and valuations for me to act like I know anything, and I’ll avoid specific proposals here as well. I’m sure we’ll discuss in the comments, and maybe I’ll even let my hair down a bit. Yet there are general expectations and comparable trades and returns to reference. If we are to deal Bryant, I would expect one MLB-ready impact player, a top-10-ish prospect, and at least another top-100 prospect.
Nearly every team wanting to compete in 2020 will be interested in Bryant (does that include us? Serious question.), and they should be. The FA market at the hot corner has a couple big dogs at the top with Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. I’d be surprised if Rendon leaves Washington (note: Just prior to publishing, Washington has re-signed Strasburg to a 7yr/$245M deal. About $80M of that total is said to be deferred, so I’m curious how this affects their attempts to retain Rendon), and I don’t see Donaldson returning to Atlanta. That makes the Braves a prime candidate with which to do business, and I Know the Pieces Fit. Nearly half of the teams in baseball will have legitimate interest, so this will be interesting. I would keep an eye on Washington (if Rendon leaves), Atlanta, Philadelphia, Texas, San Diego, and whatever that team in that other league that resides somewhere in Southern California in the vicinity of Anaheim/Los Angeles/California is calling themselves these days.
My personal prediction is that KB will be dealt, but not until the resolution of his grievance. In a sick twist of irony, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the very day it is resolved, much like his call-up. I think this has as much to do with salary relief as the return package, and now my fist begins to clench again.
WILLSON CONTRERAS: Willson!!! I find myself screaming and crying like Tom Hanks at the thought of Contreras drifting away to another franchise. I would gladly release the tether of my suspect vessel to retrieve my wayward muse. Whether it is for future inspiration or the comforting cradle of past memories, I hold Willson dear. Perhaps I was led in that direction by a writer and blogger I truly admired, and don’t want to let go.
Contreras is a valuable commodity, in great demand, and possibly nets a larger return than Bryant. Willson is arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball, and is just entering his first of three years of arbitration eligibility. He is projected at $4.5M in 2020. Grandal, d’Arnaud, Narvaez, and other available options have already been taken off the board, likely increasing the interest and value we would receive in a potential deal.
A comparable package to envision in dealing Willson would be the Realmuto deal to Philly, and possibly larger. Contreras is a rare commodity in terms of talent, cost control, and positional impact. We should be compensated accordingly.
Potential suitors should include the Tampa Rays (I refuse to call them Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is a body of water, not the location of a land-based sports franchise. We are not the Lake Michigan Cubs), Toronto, perhaps the prickly partners in Cincinnati or the South Side, and of course the Team Formally Known as the California Angels.
My belief is that Willson is gone. My sadistic dream is that he is dealt to the DirtyBirds to replace Yadi and laugh in his face, but this is also a nightmare. This is a classic example of dealing from a position of strength to address weakness. We have some strength in Caratini, and more in Amaya. We have weakness everywhere else. This stinks, I disapprove, and this leads me to the next trade target…
JAVIER BAEZ: “La,la,la,la,la,la,la,la,la,la,la,la,la.
ANTHONY RIZZO: Yes, given our current predicament and future needs, even this cornerstone may be dangled. Save your angst, shock, and disillusionment. I didn’t do it.
The new “Mr. Cub” steadily puts up MVP-worthy offensive numbers and GG defense, and is a fine fellow to boot. The Cubs exercised a $16.5M club option for 2020, and hold the same for 2021. I would assume he, like every other member of the “core”, is actively involved in extension negotiations and the feelings coming out of those talks, from both sides, are influencing the intensity of trade interest.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and not because I want to. I think I have made quite clear my disapproval and displeasure of this entire situation. Anthony Rizzo should be “my” first-baseman for as long as he wants to be. He has certainly earned that, from the time he beat cancer to the time he offered to fight the entire Reds’ bench. The times he has scaled the Wrigley tarps and enriched the lives of stricken children have certainly earned the respect of any conscionable baseball fan. But he shouldn’t be untouchable.
Rizzo is first-baseman, first of all. He is lumbering and non-versatile. Unlike KB, or Willson, or (laughs) Javy, he has no position to go to as his skills and health deteriorate. Until and unless we have confirmation that the NL is adopting fake baseball and instituting the DH, I don’t know that I give Rizzo a long-term deal on my team, even if it is a feel-good measure.
Of course my prediction is Rizzo remains on the roster, as he should. But this entire exercise in self-reflection shouldn’t preclude a realization of reality. Do the right thing?
KYLE SCHWARBER: Aside from El Mago, who is my favorite player for baseball-fandom reasons, Schwarber is my favorite for personal reasons. This dude is grit, he is patriotic, and he is TALANTED. I love him and would hate to see him go.
Schwarber enters the 2020 season in the second of three years of arbitration eligibility, due an estimated $8M. As an aside, I just want to say something is screwed up with these numbers. Javy and Kyle are both entering their second year of arbitration. Schwarber is estimated at $8M; Javy at $9.3M. Really? I love Kyle, but something is wrong with this system. I take Javy at that salary over Schwarber at his every. single. day.
Kyle Schwarber epitomizes everything we should love about baseball players: confidence, humility, and work ethic. At every point of contention in his professional life he has overcome. A few salty words nailed his job interview, his indifference to catastrophic injury is legendary, and his awareness of his own flaws and hunger to correct them are inspirational.
What can you say about this developing bat except “I want”? Unfortunately so does nearly every other team in baseball. Kyle has worked hard to dispell the DH moniker, and has done so in my eyes. But there is that other league, and he is a prime target with that additional option. His big left-handed bat would complement any contending team, from the East Coast to the West Coast, and anywhere in between. His value is debatable depending on how his skill-set is viewed, and there’s the rub. He could return a moderate package, but I have to pull rank here. I don’t think we get enough value to consider dealing him. He is more valuable to us than to them.
My guess is he stays, but as strictly a fan of Kyle Schwarber, I’d love to see him play pepper in Yankee Stadium.
So that’s a wrap on this topic, right? I know, I know. Please allow me to dislodge my fingers and pop my jaw. This is difficult…
EDNEL JAVIER BAEZ: El Mago. The magician, or the wizard, depending on the dialect and interpretation. My interpretation? “Bringer of many fans to new TV deal”, and “lone star of fading franchise”.
Javy is projected to make $9.3M in 2020. I’ll get that out of the way, along with the fact that every single team in MLB would want him at that price. With another year of arbitration in 2021, he is a hot commodity.
Blast me if you want, and I can think of a few Denizens who already have and will continue to do so now, but I see no possible way we even entertain dealing Javy. From a financial standpoint to competitiveness, from ratings to rumblings, I see no way we do this.
Javy’s reps are meeting with the Cubs’ brass at the Winter Meetings this week. Champagne, caviar, and extension talks. I don’t know if Javy wants to settle. Part of me wants to think so, but then I remember Javy’s confidence (cockiness?). I don’t doubt he brings that into contract negotiations.
My thoughts, or hopes, here is that we get an extension done. 5,6,7 years, $120-$150M. Of course this year’s salary remains the same due to AAV reasons, because we are broke and stuck.
What do you think? I’m basically tied to this reality. We are selling at the lemonade stand outside the trade show. It sucks, but this is where we’re at. We’ve watched this dynasty crumble before our eyes and offer our own sympathies, but feel a profound betrayal. At least I do. It shouldn’t be this way. We should not be riding this rollercoaster with our market advantages. We deserve a stable franchise. We deserve something better than what we have been given the past couple of years.
“No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man.
To be the sad man.
Behind blue eyes.”