Scott Boras and his “Boras Four” have taken all of the fun out of Hot Stove Season, and baseball needs to do something about it. I’ve never been a proponent of creating a hard deadline because I believe implementing one would take leverage away from free-agent ballplayers. That said, Boras is hurting the sport by deliberately icing the offseason.
I think we can all agree that Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Blake Snell, and Jordan Montgomery aren’t worth the money their agent believes they are. Yet, with pitchers and catchers starting to report this week, none are close to signing. I don’t doubt that there is a unified front by team executives to not give in, but the real issue is a lack of viable options. Snell has one offer from the Yankees, but the other three are hanging in limbo on the periphery.
I’m about to switch gears on Bellinger and I hope Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins will do the same. If the Cubs and Bellinger can’t reach an agreement by Friday, I’d rather see the front office pivot to the roster in hand. Pete Crow-Armstrong, Michael Busch, and Matt Mervis will all be impacted if the reigning NL Comeback Player of the Year returns. Carrying any uncertainty into the start of camp won’t be helpful, and changing tack once players report and start playing in Cactus League games could be worse. Christopher Morel will be affected to a lesser extent, and Matt Shaw is also waiting in the wings.
That brings me to Craig Counsell, who’s probably starting to wonder what his final roster will look like. We all assumed the Cubs would be big spenders after replacing David Ross with Counsell, but assumptions are rarely factual. Chicago’s new skipper doesn’t strike me as the type of manager who wants his lineup decisions forced by salary largesse. Bellinger indeed provides a lot of flexibility, but so do the others at a fraction of the cost.
I’ve talked to some people here in Milwaukee and they believe the only promise Hoyer made to Counsell was that the front office would pursue Shohei Ohtani. Failing that, the think goes, the Cubs would be less likely to overspend on the remaining pool of players. That aligns with what EIC Evan Altman has been saying all winter. The money for Ohtani didn’t become a reserve fund for other free agents once the two-way superstar signed with the Dodgers.
That doesn’t mean Hoyer is done making moves, nor does it mean Bellinger won’t return. The Cubs are open to opportunistically improving the roster — if the cost is palatable — independent of the start of camp, and Hawkins recently said as much. What is known is always better than speculation, however, and that seems to be the leverage Boras is clinging to. With a limited market for the four stars, the super agent has little else to force the issue. Rob Manfred could fix all of that by placing a hard deadline on free agency.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Bellinger watch is beyond excruciating for most fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseballers.
- Crow-Armstrong is “here to win” whether the Cubs sign Bellinger or not, though the rookie hopes the veteran returns.
- It sounds like Drew Smyly is becoming the Q of Chicago’s pitching staff, with apologies to those who have never seen a James Bond flick.
- Horton should force his way into Chicago’s rotation before the end of the season, much like Wicks did last year.
- Counsell’s focus this season will be mainly on the development of Chicago’s top prospects as they matriculate to the majors.
- Five Cubs were named to Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospect List ($) for The Athletic, including Kevin Alcántara at No. 28. Cade Horton was surprisingly low at 49th overall.
- There are no Cubs players on the All-Underrated Team as conceptualized by Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, but I’d add Seiya Suzuki and Adbert Alzolay over Max Kepler and Brusdar Graterol.
Odds & Sods
Take the Cubs largest contract, add the White Sox largest contract and they combine to be less than the Royals… that's right… THE ROYALS… largest contract. https://t.co/iDPynS1iku
— Brad Robinson (@bradrobinson8) February 5, 2024
Climbing the Ladder
Which of these top four free agents would I like to see join the Cubs? Here is my list, from first to last.
- Chapman – The Cubs have a need, period. I prefer Morel’s stick, but I’d also prefer opposing teams avoid hitting the ball to third base in 2024 if Morel, um, sticks. Postscript: If I told you at this time last year that Nick Madrigal would be the team’s best third base option going into 2024 you’d have run me out of town.
- Bellinger – Most statistical analysts project a 50-point drop in BA, which is concerning. That said, most base that on the previous three years, and Bellinger was a bottom-feeder for the first two. He came to Chicago with a barely visible glimmer of hope he could return to his best years offensively. Belli did that, though he gets bashed for his poor hard-hit rate. Is the offense sustainable? Probably. The bigger question is this: Is it worth $200 million to find out? I love Bellinger, but I’m out at anything that exceeds $27.5 million AAV and/or six years.
- Snell – His FIP is the definition of volatility over the last five seasons and varies greatly from his ERA, especially last year: 3.32, 4.35, 3.82, 2.88 and 3.44. Snell’s also had just two seasons where he’s posted more than 129.1 innings. The two Cy Young Awards are nice, but one is undeserved. I’d rather give the slot to Horton or Jordan Wicks.
- Montgomery – Last year, Montgomery sported a SIERA one full point higher than his ERA, with the worst K/9 of his career. His xERA has consistently hovered around 4.00 for his career, while his actual ERA seems to outperform. I like the grit he brings, something that’s been missing since the heady days of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, but Montgomery looks like a dumpster fire to me. Save the money and sign Corbin Burnes next winter.
- Milwaukee: Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are gone, and now the Brewers’ rotation looks rather pedestrian.
- Cincinnati: The Reds are the first MLB team to join Martin Luther King III’s “Realizing the Dream” initiative.
- Pittsburgh: The Pirates are reportedly interested in free agent catcher Gary Sánchez, who unbelievably has not been signed by the catching-rich Cubs.
- St. Louis: Cardinals fans on social media believe that the acquisition of free agent reliever Keynan Middleton “drops the hammer” on the rest of the NL Central. That’s cute. St. Louis had the 23rd-rated bullpen in 2023. Middleton moves the needle, but not that much.
A goosebumps-inducing moment every year. The truck arrived today, and we are 18 days from 2024 Cactus League action!
Packed and ready to go.
Next stop: Mesa 🌵 pic.twitter.com/eoE5a3ul6T
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 2, 2024
Apropos of Nothing
What goes into a good BLT? My go-to includes crispy bacon, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise, and avocado on Texas Toast. I also enjoy my sandwich with pickles or a fried egg, and I’ve enjoyed sourdough bread as well. Give me your favorite twist on this great American classic.
Sliding into Home
This video of Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs singing “Fast Car” at last night’s Grammy Awards is fire.
They Said It
- “I’ve been frustrated by [Counsell] across the field for a long time. He was always good with the matchup stuff. They always had a good bullpen, but he always ran the bullpen efficiently. [Counsell] was always making frustrating moves [to me] as an opposing hitter. It felt like it was always the guy you didn’t want to face.” – Ian Happ
- “I can’t control when I’m gonna get called up. The only way I can do that is by going out there and performing. That’s really all that matters at the end of the day and so it’s just trusting in that.” – Horton
Monday Walk-Up Song
I’d forgotten how much I love this song, and I can’t believe it’s nearly 20 years old already.