As the Cubs continue to emulate that “C’mon, do something” meme in real life this offseason, there was a charge of excitement, I don’t know why, when the non-tender list came out. Some of that was from Addison Russell being told to do one, which is understandable. Most of it though is from wannabe GMs who see no problem with the raft of pretty good players being cut simply because they were do a lot of money and want to do everything with the first aim being saving money and looking economical. Welcome to baseball before the 2020 season. Isn’t it grand?
But that’s life these days, so it’s probably a good idea to sift through a couple names that are making the rounds in greater Cubdom that could be help not so expensively.
Blake Treinen – The appeal of getting to make a lot of “Les Weinen” Sideshow Bob jokes is a big one, but that doesn’t really help the Cubs on the field. And Treinen might not either. What gets people’s pants to tighten is that Treinen is only one year removed from being the most dominant closer in the game, with the theory being he can’t completely have lost that. Oh, but he could have!
It’s vital to understand that Treinen’s 2018 had some clearly unsustainable numbers. Namely a .230 BABIP and a 4.4% HR/FB ratio. These are things that are simply not going to happen again. 2019 saw a violent market correction (BABIP is violence, Perry Farrell), with those numbers rebounding to .306 and 16.4%. And Treinen’s ERA went with it, to nearly five with a FIP that was over five.
More worryingly, Treinen’s strikeouts shrank from 31% to 22% while his walks more than doubled. That’s not just bad luck, that’s bad stuff. And that is born out by his fastball losing nearly a mile an hour of velocity and his slider losing both vertical and horizontal movement. It led Treinen to go away from it to a cutter that didn’t do all that much except make his outfielders run a lot.
The hope with Treinen would be that you could rediscover how he could regain some of the movement he lost in his slider or cutter, as well as maybe rediscovering the ways his sinker can turn into grounders again (51.2% ground-ball rate in 2018). And maybe that’s what the pitching lab is for, but it doesn’t appear that his arm angle or release point changed all that much. Remember, 2018 is really the outlier in his career, and though 2019 was excessively bad it more accurately reflects what he had been in DC. If he can find more ground-balls he can be effective again, but he maxes out at a Brandon Kintzler and you already have a Brandon Kintzler. Or you did. Could again.
Kevin Pillar – Oh goodie, an older Albert Almora. Just what I always wanted.
Charlie Culberson – You see how people got here, as he also is only a year removed from a 108 wRC+. But he strikes out a ton without providing much pop, and his infield defense grades out as “Haunted House Prop in May.” The Cubs don’t need him in the outfield, so this is going to be another hard pass.
Cesar Hernandez – Probably still expensive even after getting non-tendered, and his offense has been trending the wrong way for a couple seasons. Hernandez used to be able to get buy a little bit with speed, but was down to nine stolen bases last year which dropped his BABIP to .317 from the heights of the .330s before. He does make a ton of contact, though not much of it is hard. Both his walks and strikeout fell off a cliff last year, which is just weird, but he never struck out much before and you can expect that to continue. Still, he can only play second, and the Cubs at the moment have Bote and Happ who can do that and likely Hoerner at some point. Move along.
Steven Souza Jr. – Intriguing, given that he’ll be dirt cheap after missing all of last year with knee problems and having 2018 basically ruined by a couple injuries. In 2017 he hit 30 homers for the Rays, though that’s getting a bit in the rearview now. He couldn’t buy a bucket in 2018, and might as well put the glove on his head when in right field. He also saw a quarter of his fly-balls leave the park in ’17, which isn’t sustainable. Though his career-rate is 19.6%, so it’s not as outlandish as it might normally be. On the plus side, even in his ravaged ’18 season he managed a 44% hard-contact rate, before it became de rigeur. You have no idea what you’d be getting after a year out, but the dream scenario is he’s Castellanos on the cheap. But if you want that…just sign Castellanos because I know and you know and they know they have the money to do that.
Jimmy Nelson – It would help if he weren’t made of boogers and wish fulfillment. Still, you remember him being utterly dominant in 2017 until his shoulder turned to cheese. Nelson missed all of 2018 and might as well have missed all of last year, starting just three games. He might not be able to even pick up a baseball. Still, he was hesitant to use his fastball last year which had lost some steam, but that could be simply because of the time off. Could be worth a spring training invite just to see if you can regain his downward tilt on pitches, but you wouldn’t be counting on anything here.