The Rundown: Collusion Undertones, Maddon Lauds ‘Pen Signings, Cubs Seek One More SP, CubsCon ’18 Kicks Off Tonight

When a man becomes preeminent he is expected to have enthusiasms. I wonder if Joe Maddon’s 2018 buzzword reflects how he really feels about the way last season ended for the Cubs. Ouch.

Speaking of ouch, the word collusion officially made its way into the lexicon of this offseason. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic suggested there’s a real “lack of engagement” in a report that indicates that some agents believe there may be a budding case for collusion (subscription required/recommended). We’ve all thought it at some point recently. Teams seem to be willfully attempting to enforce a drop in asking prices and it is not unfathomable to believe that the strategy has spread to all front offices. Rosenthal phrased it as a “newfound strategy of slow-playing the market to force players into accepting lesser deals,” which is thought-provoking to see in print.

Taking a deeper dive, it does seem at least a little incredulous that teams have suddenly become smarter when it comes to weighing contractual dollars vs. player projections. Most front offices have been using analytics for years — it’s been 15 years since Michael Lewis released Moneyball — so it’s tough to acknowledge that the reality of not paying players for past performances happened overnight. Theo Epstein has said as much since the very day he joined the Cubs. A league-wide paradigm shift seems plausible if there is a league-wide adoption of a common policy. Difficult to prove, but there have been no new contracts of greater than three years this winter and none with a total value that exceeds $60 million.

Ben Diamond of Baseball Prospectus indicated that this is the most inactive start to an offseason in recent memory. It was only two years ago that Zack Greinke signed a six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks. David Price also agreed to a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox that winter. Jason Heyward got $184 million from the Cubs and Chris Davis got $161 million from the Orioles in 2015, too. By my math that’s $760 million on four players, or roughly the same that front offices have spent in total on about 40 players since last season ended.

It was reported that Yu Darvish turned down $160 million over seven years from the Yankees. If that’s true, and that’s doubtful considering the Yankees’ desire to avoid yet another competitive balance tax, there is more at work here than 30 front offices agreeing to suppress the market. But consider this: from 2003 through last season the Yankees have paid more than $350 million in penalties for going over enforced thresholds to sign players. Though the Yankees may be the poster child for poor money management, that doesn’t exonerate the 20-25 teams that have plenty of financial flexibility. A Darvish signing would nail them again this year unless subsequent moves were made to reduce salary, such as trading RP David Robertson.

Collusion doesn’t theoretically require an especially thrifty but widespread way of increasing profit and lowering spending unless we add the word conniving to the equation. But it is a simplified and circumstantial explanation that factors every conceivable reason for owners to exercise financial restraint.

Cubs News & Notes

CubsCon is here! I may be at Lizzie McNeill’s tonight to hobnob with my peers and fellow scribes. It’s a gametime decision for me; tuition bills are due next week so I may be grounded through end of March. We’ll see.

Some rival executives believe that the Cubs have remained miserly because they want to be all-in on Bryce Harper next season. It certainly seems that few teams will offer the benefits of a young, competitive roster combined with the flexibility to meet the outfielder’s expected contract demands. As I mentioned yesterday, it’ s the usual suspects: the Astros, Cubs, Twins, Dodgers, and Yankees. The Braves and Phillies will likely be positioned similarly, and the Padres and White Sox will be on the periphery.

Joe Maddon is comfortable with the Cubs’ bullpen as it currently sits, lauding the team’s acquisitions of Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek. It is somewhat of a minor miracle to hear Maddon say that, particularly with the lack of trust he has shown in his relief corps in the last two postseasons. The Cubs skipper also expects big things from lefty Justin Wilson, who was acquired from the Tigers at last year’s trade deadline.

Jessie Rogers thinks the Cubs are one pitcher short of completing their 2018 roster and feels the team is ready to pounce. A theory exists that if the team adds at least one more year to their conversations with any of Darvish, Arrieta or Cobb, they could be signed.

Thursday Stove

Bleacher Report looks at 10 moves that should have already been made this offseason. I am not sure I agree with any of them, but I’d certainly love to see the Nationals sign Greg Holland. Spend that money!

The Yankees are willing to eat half of the $68M they owe Jacoby Ellsbury over the next three seasons in order to trade him, but I believe they’d still have to include premium prospects. I am not sure during this market that the Yankees OF is worth $11M in AAV.

There is a good chance that J.D.Martinez may not sign with any team before Spring Training. That may be true for a lot of this year’s free agent class.

The Indians are catching heat from their fans for letting Bryan Shaw, Carlos Santana, and Jay Bruce walk away while picking up the option of oft-injured OF Michael Brantley.

Trevor Bauer hit 116.9 mph using a 3-oz baseball.

Chris Cwik looks at each season’s single worst free-agent signing from 2008-17.

Associated Press baseball writer Ronald Blum level-sets arbitration expectations for Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, and Anthony Rendon.

Due to investigations into alleged sexual assault, Twins OF Miguel Sano will not be attending TwinFest next weekend. MLB is currently investing those charges against the outfielder.

Bob Gibson suffered through peptic ulcers and believes he may have suffered a heart attack during his dominant 1968 season.

Rapper 50 Cent wants a chance to redeem himself for an absolutely atrocious ceremonial first pitch at City Field in 2014. Hard pass on that one.

Friday Walk Up Song

Go Cubs Go by Steve Goodman. Have fun at tonight’s festivities.

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