There were happenings today in Major League Baseball that made me think of the beginning of this clip from The Princess Bride:
The insanity has something to do with the Toronto Blue Jays inking Russell Martin, a top Chicago Cubs target for five years and $82MM. This is a bit less than what the New York Yankees paid Brian McCann last offseason (that signing isn’t looking too hot early on, but McCann has some bounce back potential) and a bit more than what the St. Louis Cardinals gave Yadier Molina when they extended his contract. Anno isn’t too chapped about losing out on Martin’s services at that price, and I tend to agree. I won’t go so far to say that Toronto’s offer was unreasonable, but it was certainly an overpay:
Jays getting ripped for $ in Russell Martin deal but Jays have to overpay to get a big name free agent.
— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) November 17, 2014
I think Toronto had a few issues to worry about, many of which stemmed from their blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins to grab guys like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, and another trade of some top prospects to get R.A. Dickey. It just so happens that Russell Martin is Canadian, and Toronto is in Canada, so maybe there’s some marketing gamesmanship in there. And being in Canada, where the taxes are much more, um, taxing, Martin really isn’t going to take home as much as if he had stayed south of the border, but $82MM does sound nicer than the $64MM contract the Cubs were rumored to have offered. The Blue Jays are also about to see a lot of money come off the books after 2015, so they can afford an overpay here. I’m guessing it has something to do also with the fact that the window of opportunity is about to close, given that the money coming off the books is associated with Dickey, Buehrle, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The farm system isn’t terrible, but this past spring Jason Parks ranked them 13th overall, and Keith Law gave Toronto a #24 ranking the previous month. So the organization isn’t doomed, but they have a bit of work to do to replace their stars once the contracts expire and they have to pony up some extra cash to either keep them around, or make some trades to restock the farm. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
Now I’m slightly disappointed that Russell Martin won’t be a Cub, but given the price tag and the relevant details (aging catcher, coming off potentially aberrant career year, defensive value still a bit mysterious in terms of importance) I am going to let this one slide. I think that there are other options that could be had within the next two offseasons and that the Cubs can afford to ride Welington Castillo as their starter for now, poor pitch framing and all. So losing out on Martin wasn’t a sign of the Apocalypse (plus the Cubs saved their second round draft pick, for now).
I do, however, need to remind everyone that the Cubs only have $61MM in guaranteed salary for 2015 after arbitration raises are taken into account, and that means they can spend anywhere between $30-$60MM without breaking a sweat this offseason. Which brings us to the other rumored top target, Jon Lester.
The Cubs have a glaring need for starting pitching, and while my previous Cubs calculus suggests that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer can wait for some other very intriguing names to become available in free agency next offseason, they should be able to splurge a bit now on a Jon Lester. That does not mean that their only free agent target should be Lester; obviously they can still take a shot at a Brandon McCarthy or some buy-low guys like Brandon Morrow or Brett Anderson. However, signing Lester would go a long way towards a few things that would make Cubs fans happy:
- Satisfy the need for a top of the rotation starter;
- Establish veteran leadership for the team and a mentor for younger pitchers on the rise;
- Positive public relations win for marketing to sell more tickets;
- Positive spin as the first domino to drop to attract more free agents to Chicago.
So this one is fairly important. I don’t think losing on a Jon Lester will doom the franchise either, but while losing out on Russell Martin didn’t really hurt, losing Jon Lester would very clearly sting a hopeful fan base. Given Lester’s track record and durability, this is actually a gamble that makes sense (not to mention not having to forfeit the draft pick, for now), so if the Cubs have to blow $130MM on him, that might be a worthwhile gamble where $82MM on Martin was not. Of course, Lester is but one body; Kenta Maeda may yet become available via the posting system, and other players (Cole Hamels?) may still be had via trade. At this point, though, if the money is there and the desire is there, the Cubs might as well spend it (within reason) on Jon Lester. It wouldn’t be insanity.