I’ve been binging the Punisher series on Netflix with the wife (spoiler: it’s pretty good) and also procrastinating on grading, which means this weekend is going to be a bit nuts for me, mostly of my own doing. It almost makes one want to be able to freeze time so all the zillions of things we need to get done can actually be completed, while also leaving time to relax like we really want to.
Of course, just like most people in the world and MLB clubs like the Chicago Cubs, the holidays are just a brief respite from all the activities we must undertake to prepare for what lies ahead. In this case, the Cubs have already set their roster before the Winter Meetings and the Rule 5 Draft, and look to fill a few holes to return to contention in 2018. The most immediate dates coming up will give us a good clue on what to expect in the week after Thanksgiving.
December 1 is the Friday after our holiday week, and the Cubs will have to make their tender decisions to their arbitration-eligible players. Players like Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber will be automatically renewed since they aren’t eligible for arbitration yet, but of the eight guys that qualify for salary arbitration, I think two of them are potential non-tender candidates. These are recently struggling relievers Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm, both of whom have been good in the past (they were very useful in 2016, and you know what happened that year) but were wildly inconsistent due to the yips or injury in 2017. I think their saving grace is that their projected salaries aren’t too exorbitant and there isn’t much depth in the minors for MLB-ready bullpen arms, so the Cubs may not be able to afford to cut them loose. But I’d keep an eye out here.
It is extremely rare that you have an elite two-way athlete in MLB, and we’re not talking about just a strong defender; we’re talking about a superb pitcher in Shohei Ohtani, a guy who also seems to know how to hit. This is far different than your run-of-the-mill #pitcherswhorake in the National League, as Ohtani actually is so dangerous at the plate that he is allowed to play the outfield or act as the designated hitter on non-pitching days.
The bad news for the Cubs is that they’re still in the penalty after their past spending spree on international free agents. The better news is that Ohtani doesn’t seem to care about money for now, as he just wants a challenge at the highest level of baseball and is willing to forgo a monster contract to prove his mettle in MLB. It sounds like Ohtani will be posted on December 2 and clubs will have until December 23 to get him signed per the newest negotiations. Ohtani and whoever else gets posted this offseason will be the last players under the old system before the newly negotiated system kicks in next offseason.
Although it seems like Japanese players would want to play on the West Coast due to proximity to their homeland and the fan demographic, I believe if the Cubs truly wanted him on their roster (and honestly, who wouldn’t?), they can make a solid case for Ohtani to come to Chicago. The question seems to address how good the bat actually is relative to the arm. With the National League having no DH, Ohtani’s bat would be relegated to the bench, or would force another bat to the bench if the Cubs were to stick him in the outfield. I’m not smart enough to know whether that bat is better than, say, Albert Almora‘s, so we will have to rely on the scouts here. I suppose we will find out by Christmas which team is serious about Ohtani, and whether the Cubs get the Mirror Ball.
The Atlanta Braves sure screwed up, didn’t they?
The Braves are slated to lose their rights to a dozen young prospects as punishment for international signing violations. Additionally, the Atlanta organization will face limitations on their amateur signing rights in the future.
The big prize that will hit the market is Kevin Maitan, whose star has dimmed a bit but is obviously still young and very talented. Because of the uniqueness of the Braves’ transgressions, MLB allowed a loophole where even clubs in the penalty (like the Cubs) can pay bonuses to whichever prospects they want to woo. The exemptions include the first $200K of bonuses paid to these prospects, as well as allowing the bonuses to count towards the following pool rather than the current pool, in which the Cubs remain in the penalty.
Of course, the size of the next pool depends on various factors, including the Cubs’ market, their position in the standings, potential free agent signings (which will remove some cap space), and trades of pool slots. The rules are much more stringent than in years past where a team could just blow through their cap with reckless abandon to sign someone they really want. And given what just happened to the Braves, it’s not in the Cubs’ best interests to be too creative when cooking the books. This would be a longer term investment and will occur over a longer time frame, as the prospects will probably have to consult with their agents and families to figure out their next landing spot and how much they can hit up MLB clubs for a second bonus.
Filling the Gaps
There are a few spots that are obvious for the Cubs to fill as we near the heart of the offseason:
- Backup catcher — Unless you’re confident in Victor Caratini, or that the Cubs will give more serious consideration to Kyle Schwarber, a defense-first backup catcher is most likely needed. My guess (which aligns with many others) is that they just bring back Rene Rivera, who showed that he could be very useful in small doses. Willson Contreras is a freak, but even he deserves a few days off here and there.
- Rotation — Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are most likely gone, and Mike Montgomery is likely to remain a swingman, so look for trades and/or free agent signings to fill those last two spots. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this can be fixed in-house.
- Bullpen — The Cubs have already been linked to a few names, and while they may bring Wade Davis back, I’m going to assume he is gone. Three relievers seems to be the prevailing thought as the Cubs hit free agency or the trade market. Justin Wilson remembering that he’s not supposed to suck will help a bit, and perhaps some of the Iowa contingent will take a step forward, but keep tabs on names such as Addison Reed and Brandon Morrow.
Back to Black Friday shopping and recovery from turkey poisoning.