Baseball

I wouldn’t pretend to know the ins and outs of a grievance arbitration or fancy lawyer talk (I leave that to Beverly Brewmaster and whenever he talks about it I just fall asleep), so maybe these kinds of things do need to take years to finish. That seems ridiculous, and even people who are at least adjacent to those in the know seemed flabbergasted by the whole Kris Bryant grievance taking this long. Especially when the outcome was pretty clear, because these are the rules of the CBA. And so it came to pass yesterday that Bryant lost the grievance, which we all knew he would. Which means that Bryant won’t be a free agent until 2021, which is when the Cubs have decided that the world will end because they want it to.

I don’t know that Bryant’s loss changes anything anywhere, other than these few things. One, no one else will try it now. Two, this will be changed in the next CBA. Three, it’s going to release a bunch of new trade rumors. This wasn’t about Bryant being bitter towards the Cubs, because exactly no one has said that, and Bryant has in fact said quite the opposite. This was just the time and place to try and draw a line in the sand for Scott Boras, because it was just so obvious what the Cubs were doing in 2015. Remember, this is a Hall of Fame caliber player the Cubs kept down for three weeks to “work on his defense.” You can’t get more clear. If there was ever a chance for Boras and other agents to open the floodgates early, this was it. They took their shot.

So now this mess. Already we’re hearing that the Cubs and Rockies have talked about a straight Bryant-for-Arenado swap. Some don’t seem to see what the Rockies would get out of that. At this rate, Arenado is not sticking around for more than the two years before his opt-out, and that’s even if they can make nice at spring training to smooth out their bullshit from the winter. So the Rockies would get the better player for cheaper for two years.

Don’t believe me that Bryant is better? Chuck your recency bias into an alley dumpster. Bryant has played two less seasons than Arenado and has been worth slightly less than four WAR. Arenado is the better defender for sure, but Bryant is the better overall player. Arenado has never produced a 6+ WAR season. Bryant has three. Shove it.

So if the Cubs were to do that…well it doesn’t make any goddamn sense unless they were sure Arenado would never use that opt-out (or bought it out) and they get a fixed cost on a player who’s still really damn good (though not exactly sure of what they’d get from him at sea level).

We still hear about the Braves, but I don’t know why the Braves would feel the need. They’re already clear favorites to win the division with the Nats losing Rendon and having no idea who their rotation will bounce back from going the route. There’s no lineup that can guarantee October success (ask the Dodgers and Astros about that one) and the Braves pitching is their problem in that they don’t have a clear, you’re-fucking-done ace. Maybe Soroka is that one day but not striking out less than a hitter an inning he’s not.

The Rangers don’t have anything the Cubs want. Neither do the Nats. Neither do the Phillies. The Dodgers probably do but they don’t need him either and they’re not going to give you what you really want from them (Lux, May, others) because they simply don’t have to. They’re going to walk to that division again and enter as overwhelming favorites again.

Which brings us to yesterday’s curiosity, which is the leak from Jesse Rogers and David Kaplan, organizational stooges if there ever were, that there was no mandate from ownership that the Cubs get under the luxury tax threshold to start the season. Which would seem pretty fucking weird considering the offseason the Cubs have had, the last two in fact, but they definitely have been told to be in range of it should the season go balls-up and they can start unloading everything.

Which is seemingly what the Cubs want. They’ve done their best to anger Anthony Rizzo, and Bryant, and maybe even Contreras. There’s still no extension for Baez. So maybe they’re hoping the team quits on ownership and the front office? This is something out of Major League.

I doubt it’ll happen. If nothing else, these players love playing together, or at least used to. They’ve just hired a manager they’re clearly all going to at least respond to, if not run through a wall for. And the division while maybe improved a touch, though that’s debatable, hasn’t gotten away from them.

If the Cubs go in as is, they have holes, but they also have a lineup that can ball-out for a few months at a time and has done, at least three good starters with a fourth (Lester) who can surprise, and a pen that can’t possibly be worse and has some candidates to surprise. Maybe the Ricketts are rooting for it, but there’s very little chance this team is going to be 10 games back come July 31st unless they are torn asunder by injuries.

And maybe one thing we can get behind, as disenchanting as these two offseasons have been, is the actual Cubs roster going on a FUCK YOU WORLD TOUR to spite their bosses. It’s still a very easy roster to root for.

-Right, couple signings to discuss, which are definitely the boom or bust kind. This one’s weird, because right after the season the Cubs couldn’t stop bleating about needing more contact and less strikeouts, two things Souza doesn’t provide even when he was healthy. He can barely patrol center field, which you wouldn’t want him doing more than as a support role. So that’s right field for Heyward against lefties you would think. And he’s struck out against lefties 30% of the time, though provided some pop as well. The last time he was healthy, three years ago now, he hit lefties well. But this is a flier, which is where the Cubs are.

-Jeremy Jeffress is the other signing, and the Cubs again are hoping health is the main issue here and not just natural decline. Jeffress lost nearly two MPH on his fastball last year, which saw his hard-contact rates ballon and lose the ground-ball rates too. He’s not the 10+ K/9 guy he was two seasons ago, as that’s something of an outlier, But if he’s not getting grounders to go along with his decent K-rate, he’s just this side of “bum.” He did have some injury issues last year and only made 48 appearances at the MLB level when he’d routinely been around 60 or more. Again, doesn’t cost you anything, could be a boom, but more likely a nothing. But again, this is the way of the Cubs now.

 

Baseball

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.