“Dead ground” is a term I recently came across while reading the book “Roots, Radicals, and Rockets” by Billy Bragg. It refers to an area that is hidden from the observer due to undulations in the terrain ahead. You can see what is in the distance, but between here and there, things that are in plain sight are obscured by the prominence of nearer objects, drowned in the contours of the landscape. This is also the concept behind sleight of hand, a trick magicians use to hide their tell from their marks.
Free agency works much the same way. You’d think by now the Cubs would be linked to at least a couple of free agents but, unlike his predecessor, Jed Hoyer keeps things much closer to the vest. There have been whispers regarding Jon Gray and Michael Conforto, though the pursuit of either would seem contradictory to Hoyer’s mantra to spend intelligently. Gray overvalues himself, at least so far, and Conforto is a qualified free agent, which comes with penalties assigned to signing such a player.
Jon Heyman predicted Kris Bryant to the Mets, wouldn’t rule out Báez or Correa either
But he thinks Báez goes back to the Cubs. Based off Báez’s comments and awareness of their rebuild in Chicago, I don’t see that happening. Would say there’s a stronger chance he stays with NYM
— Pat Ragazzo (@ragazzoreport) October 22, 2021
Jon Heyman has mentioned on more than one occasion that Javier Báez and the Cubs could come to an agreement, which makes a lot more sense. I understand Báez likes the idea of staying in New York with his pal Francisco Lindor, but given the opportunity to come back, my gut tells me the shortstop would love to be the face of Chicago’s quick turnaround into
tournament playoff contention. Báez needs to be universally loved to play at his best, and Wrigley Field is probably the closest he can get to that.
It has also been reported that the Cubs were in on Andrew Heaney, who was the first free agent to sign this winter. Heaney inked a one-year $8.5 million deal with the Dodgers before many executives had a chance to check their inboxes. Patrick Mooney of The Athletic reported that he was indeed an early target of Chicago’s front office (subscription required).
It’s doubtful Hoyer and Carter Hawkins are going to be able to buy an elite starter this winter. Justin Verlander looks like he never intended to leave the Astros, even after rejecting their qualifying offer, and it’s unlikely the Cubs will be players for the likes of Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, or Robbie Ray. On the flip side, signing a starter such as Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, or Kevin Gausman might be considered a coup of sorts.
It’s possible Hoyer is looking into mid-rotation guys like Anthony DeSclafani and Yusei Kikuchi or reclamation starters like Mike Foltynewicz, Dylan Bundy, Corey Kluber, and Danny Duffy. All come with risks and noticeable blemishes, but Hawkins may see something he likes or that is correctable with each of those veterans, particularly Kluber based on their history. All except possibly Kikuchi should be available on one- or two-year deals. If the new GM and the team’s pitching coaches feel they can squeeze a successful season or two out of any of them, it will go a long way toward getting the Cubs back into the “tournament.”
Cubs News & Notes
- Rising minor league hurler Caleb Kilian pitched six perfect innings in Saturday’s AFL championship game, notching eight strikeouts in leading the Mesa Solar Sox to a league championship. He looked big league-ready, but he’ll need to work on his secondaries a little more before being a viable option in 2022.
- Kilian was the star of the game, relying on his four-seamer that hit 98 mph, a two-seamer that averaged just over 94 mph, and a particularly effective cutter. If he develops a changeup he’ll have top-of-rotation potential.
- Nelson Velazquez was named the AFL MVP on Friday and was subsequently added to Chicago’s 40-man roster.
- Dead-ground acquisitions might include more players like Frank Schwindel, which could mean trades for guys with above-average metrics who are stuck in the minor leagues, or potential Rule 5 acquisitions once a labor agreement is reached. Ostensibly, that may signal that Hoyer will be more comfortable spending next winter.
- Outfielder Clint Frazier, designated for assignment by the Yankees on Friday, could be a player who fits that description, though I’d prefer Tyler Wade.
- Wade’s DFA was a surprise because in 2021 he was New York’s most versatile player, their fastest player, and he led the team with 17 steals despite getting just 145 plate appearances. Sounds like a perfect utility player, and he’s only 26 years old.
- The Cubs continue to be among the top suitors for shortstop Corey Seager.
- I missed this last month but Paul Sporer of FanGraphs provided a Cubs’ roster review that mentions metrics-based hot takes for ’22, including a strong season by Schwindel, pitchers Adbert Alzolay and Codi Heuer making big strides, and new life for David Bote, who could provide exceptional values as Chicago’s DH, as indicated by a strikingly low BABIP.
- The U.S. Tax Court recently resolved a multiyear and multifaceted dispute between Tribune Media and the Internal Revenue Service over a tax return filed more than a decade ago. Of note in the article, which is heavy on debt restructure and revenue offsets, is that the Cubs are now worth $4.14 billion, the league’s fourth-most valuable franchise behind the Yankees ($6.75 billion), Red Sox ($4.8 billion), and Dodgers ($4.62 billion).
From the Front Office
“We still need a bunch more innings. That’s something we’ll be really focused on as we go through the rest of this offseason.” – Hoyer
Odds & Sods
The Yankees offered Verlander $25 million before the veteran re-upped with the Astros, per reports.
Gausman is apparently drawing heavy interest from the Blue Jays.
The Red Sox are reportedly interested in Matz and Ray.
New Mets’ GM Billy Eppler doesn’t expect to be active in the trade market this winter.
If Hot Stove season is for dreaming about the future, Kilian sure made us all feel just a little warmer on Saturday night.
Six. Perfect. Innings.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 21, 2021
They Said It
- “I think that’s the goal, to be there in time and get back to that place we were in ’15, ’16, ’17. But as far as how we construct this team and as we look at free agency, certainly the goal is to construct a team that has a chance to make the playoffs. And that’s what we’re going to do.” – Hoyer
- “I’ll outlast and be healthier than all the high-velocity guys. Also, once they start fatiguing and their velocity dips…will they be as effective? Doubtful. My game will never rely on velocity for outs. My repertoire is elite and everything moves all over the place!” – Stroman
Monday Walk-Up Song
Copperhead Road by Steve Earle – Just beyond the terrain, immune to nostalgia, and surrounded by a blue haze of uncertainty lies the Cubs’ next great tournament team.