Cubs Listed as Best Fits for Arrieta and Cobb, Darvish and Cain…Not so Much
Stop me if you’ve heard this already, but it’s been a slow winter when it comes to free agency. I don’t think I’ve used the word “stagnant” more often in any given stretch of my life, and that includes my extensive work for the now-defunct Swamps and Bogs Insider. As a testament to just how starved we’ve become for information, I’m turning to my old buddy Ralph, er, Jim Bowden for a look at what’s going on with the top players still on the market (subscription required/recommended*).
There are no revelations in Bowden’s piece, but it’s worth reviewing because he lays out some thoughts on where the best five position players and pitchers fit and what they might garner in a new contract. Given that the Cubs have been strongly connected to four of the 10 players, and have at least cursory interest in two others, this offers us another angle on where things might be heading.
I want to look first at the the lone position player to whom the cubs have been linked, followed by the pitchers in order of how strong the connections appear to be. Let’s get started, shall we?
Best fits (in order): Giants, Blue Jays, Brewers, Rangers, Royals
Contract (years/money): 4/$68M ($17M AAV)
The first thing that jumps out is that the Cubs are not listed among the best fits, which is something I’ve been shouting from the (very low) rooftops for the last few days. Cain is not demonstrably better than the Cubs’ in-house options, certainly not when he’s going to command that much money. The $17 million AAV over four years is a little lower than what he’d initially been looking for, but it’s significantly higher than the $13-15 million over three years that the Cubs reportedly offered him.
That offer feels like an early entry on a silent auction item that you’re thinking maybe no one else will match. Rather than an earnest effort to bring Cain into the fold, the Cubs figured they may as well put out a flyer and see what happens. The ramifications of such a whim are many and varied, but would be at least partially mitigated by the low offer.
Best fits: Cardinals, Brewers, Orioles, Twins, Mariners, Yankees
Contract: 5/$75M ($15M AAV)
As if the lack of reported interest wasn’t enough already, I’m going to slap a big fat nope-a-rino on this one. Lynn will turn 31 in May and he’s only pitched one season following Tommy John, but his overall performance is what really scares me. A 3.43 ERA lies like a rug about how poorly Lynn actually pitched in 2017, which we see from a 4.82 FIP and 4.75 xFIP.
You don’t need to be a stable genius to see that his strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed were all appreciably worse than his career averages and his .244 BABIP against was 53 points lower than his career average. [Cardinals and Brewers, please don’t read this next part] I hope that team that signs Lynn is fully aware that the regression monster has got his scent and is ready to pounce on him in a big way.
Best fits: Cardinals, Cubs, Astros, Nationals
Contract: 3/$47.75 ($15.25 AAV)
Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to reach into my bag of nopes once again on this one. Holland has been on the Cubs’ radar for a while, especially after Wade Davis did what Wade Davis does and supplanted Holland as closer in Colorado. But ain’t no way the Cubs go to that price on a closer, let alone one who’d also cost them a draft pick due to his qualifying offer.
Best fits: Astros, Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, Rangers, Twins, Brewers
Contract: 6/$147M ($24.5M AAV)
That’s actually not bad in terms of the average value, but the Cubs’ reluctance to go beyond four years on a deal will seriously hamper their chances here. We don’t know exactly how much they’ve offered Darvish, but it’s unlikely they’d be willing to go beyond five years even with incentives or vesting clauses. Given the number of suitors and other available options, this feels much less like a thing than it did a couple weeks ago.
Best fits: Cubs, Orioles, Brewers, Twins, Rangers
Contract: 4/$64M ($16M AAV)
This is almost exactly halfway between the reports we’ve gotten on what the Cubs reportedly offered Cobb (3/$42M, $14M AAV) and what he is seeking (4/$70M, $17.5M AAV). In fact, it’s only slightly higher than what he was projected to get heading into the offseason. So is there room to find middle ground? Maybe. The big sticking point is clearly that additional guaranteed year, an obstacle that could perhaps be overcome by a fairly reachable incentive.
Best fits: Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers, Twins, Brewers
Contract: 6/$135M ($22.5M AAV)
This is a significantly lower AAV than the $27 million Arrieta was said to be asking for and what the Cubs are reportedly willing to go to, but the big issue once again is the years. The Cubs offered Arrieta a four-year extension two years ago and they don’t appear willing to move off of that length now. It seems like a five-year deal could land Arrieta, though I’d imagine the shorter term would mean a higher AAV (maybe $25 million).
The amount projected above would still preserve a lot of the Cubs’ financial flexibility, though it would put them into a commitment that runs well into the extension period for their young players. Much has been made of the general reluctance throughout the game to offer long-term deals, but the Cubs are uniquely positioned when it comes to their high number of young players all contributing.
With a slate of arbitration-eligible players that figure to count as much as $110 million toward the payroll in 2021, there’s a definite need to look many years into the future when it comes to big free-agent contracts. If a team is willing to give Arrieta six guaranteed years, I’d say it’s a lock. That’s probably not going to be the Cubs, though.
All things considered, I still think Cobb makes the most sense for a variety of reasons. Maybe I’m on an island there, I just don’t know that the long-term juice from a deal for Darvish or Arrieta will be worth the squeeze. With that in mind, however, I’m taking Darvish six days a week and twice on Sunday for a deal that’s only $2 million more AAV than Arrieta.
*I’m sure some of you have thoughts about The Athletic’s model, but they’ve been bringing on some really great people in terms of local and national coverage. A membership gives you access to all their content across a growing number of individual cities and sports, so that’s a big plus. But since our readers are almost exclusively Cubs fans, that may not matter. What should matter, however, is that The Athletic recently hired Patrick Mooney for the Cubs beat.
Previously with NBC Sports Chicago (which you may remember as CSN Chicago), Mooney will join Sahadev Sharma to form the most potent combo the city has seen since Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomous. Sorry, kids, that was from an 80’s sitcom called Perfect Strangers. Anyway, Sahadrick Sharmooney is worth the cost of your subscription ($7.99/month if paid monthly or $4.24/month average for annual subscription).
And if that’s not enough, I’ve even written for The Athletic under the guise of this site.