I guess this is what we Cubs fans have been reduced to this winter. Considering whether or not something that would normally sound like galaxy-brained four-dimensional chess that everyone would laugh out of the room is actually a thing worth pursuing. Or even based in any kind of reality. But hey, the way things are going with the Cubs, maybe it’s better to just live in a fantasy world.
So here it is: A second report connecting the Cubs to Nolan Arenado. It seems utterly ludicrous, and the kind of thing you wouldn’t get away with in MLB The Show, but here we are. The Cubs won’t pay Kris Bryant but they will pay Arenado the $70M he has the next two years and then the ensuing $199M over the five years after that if he doesn’t opt out in 2021. Say, wouldn’t somewhere around $35M keep Bryant, the better player, around for a while? Well, this is where you have to start moving pieces around in dimensions and methods that don’t exist, so let’s look at the viability of everything suggested here by Brett, Passan, and others.
One, the big flashing light on Arenado. He plays in Coors Field, and if you take him away from that, you’re only getting an above-average offensive player. That has some legs. Arenado’s career slash-lines on the road: .265/.323/.476 for a 109 wRC+ or .336 wOBA. Not exactly Vegas-neon there, is it?
Let’s try and be a little more fair. Last year, Arenado ran a 118 wRC+ away from home. But the year before that it was 104. But in 2017 it was 126. So he’s not incapable away from Coors, it’s just hard to know exactly what you’d be getting, though you’d be sure it would be less than the sum of what you get with half a season amongst the thin air, weed, and every third person in attendance owning a brewery. I would also point out that when not at Coors, Arenado plays most of his road games in San Francisco, San Diego, or LA which are bad hitter’s parks. But that’s a bit of a stretch. Also, as Brett alludes to here, there is a school of thought that bouncing between altitude and not-altitude affects players negatively. Which is true.
Still, Arenado hits the ball really hard, with a 42% hard-contact rate and we’ve talked at length how the only Cub to manage that last year was Schwarber and Castellanos. You’d like to think that would play anywhere, but you can’t be sure. And Arenado doesn’t strike out much and makes much more contact than most of the hitters in the lineup, which the Cubs could certainly use.
Ok, now here is where it starts to get really nuts. The idea is that the Rockies would somehow be slaked by receiving Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward in return, which would free the Cubs up to trade Bryant for ready or near-ready pitching and players from another team. This seems a little backward, as most likely part of the bounty gained from trading Bryant would have to go to prying Arenado loose. Because simply getting Contreras back and Heyward’s contract doesn’t seem near enough for a team’s best player, especially for a team that would be signaling a complete tear-down by moving Arenado. They’d want young players, prospects and such.
Yes, the Rockies would get to save some $28M in real dollars between Arenado’s and Heyward’s salary the next two seasoins, but you’d have to subtract whatever Contreras gets in arbitration and also consider the fact that Contreras is just a year younger than Arenado. Also, the Rockies would be losing the production of, y’know, NOLAN ARENADO, and replacing some of it with the scarecrow production of Jason Heyward. And that’s assuming you get Heyward to agree to this, which is no gimme.
Then, and you’re going to have to stick with me here, the Cubs would take the money saved by not paying Bryant his arbitration award to sign Castellanos, which arguably would be about the same thing. So they’d lose something like $45M in luxury tax dollars but bring back $35M in Arenado, and then basically swallow that up and more by re-signing Castellanos. Which would still leave them over the luxury tax. Everyone got that?
Even if we ignore all that, would the Cubs be better? It’s not clear. Arenado is certainly an upgrade defensively, and the Cubs would have one of the best left sides of the infield of all-time between him and Baez. They’d lose a little in offense, which they would gain back by having Castellanos in right. Though that outfield defense might give all that advantage back. And we still have no idea what Victor Caratini is over a full season offensively and it almost certainly isn’t anywhere near what Willson gives you.
Basically this feels like a lot of running all the way out to come all the way back and pretty much end up where you were in the first place.
The whole thing would hinge on what the return is for Bryant, and how much that helps you starting in March and how far away the rest of it would be. Which we have no idea about, and the packages that have been whispered from DC or Atlanta get a big “FUCK OFF” from me.
What I will say to all of this on the positive side is it’s odd to me that Castellanos remains on the free agent market. Most every other big ticket item has signed, which if you wanted to convince yourself of it could mean he’s waiting for something. He’s not short on suitors, we know that. We know he loved it here, we know the Cubs loved having him here, but the hoops to jump through still seem far too small and far too numerous (other than Ricketts remembering he comes from one of the richest families in the world and not really sweating luxury tax and revenue sharing fees).
I will say that if by some acid-induced vision the Cubs pulled this off, and the return for Bryant was huge and its impact at least close to immediate (say no player ready later than 2021), then shuffling these chairs to remain stationary actually sets you up better for the future. Right now, other than Hoerner and Alzolay if you squint, what the Cubs will be in ’21 and ’22 (assuming they sign ANYONE) is on the field now (if you want to mention Amaya or Davis or Marquez here, fine, but I bet they would be part of anything for Arenado too). Which…is not ideal. You could swallow it, is what I’m saying.
But the amount of moving parts here, and the amount of things that could go wrong is just kind of mind-boggling. I’m going to go ahead and say this isn’t anything.