The Rundown: Deals Are Signed, The Hot Stove Heats Up, Rumors Galore Involving the Cubs and Others

Good morning. I’d like to start the day by saying thank you to Evan Altman for giving me the opportunity to man this column. I love baseball and feel truly inspired to report news to the Cubs Insider readers.

Top Of The First

The first major SP domino fell yesterday when Jordan Zimmermann inked a five year deal with the Detroit Tigers. Shortly thereafter, Chris Young agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox on a multi-year deal (pending physical). Both signings came on the heels of Johnny Cueto rejecting an offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the offseason rumor mill, which had been mild at best, quickly accelerated into overdrive. With the Winter Meetings one full week away, clubs considered to be potential buyers spent the day posturing and positioning themselves to upgrade their rosters. This will continue throughout the week. We should start to see a lot of movement as we get to the end of this week and the beginning of next week.

Zimmermann Signs With Detroit

Depending on whom you choose as your favorite baseball insider, Jordan Zimmermann either got a great deal from Detroit or he caved early and left dollars on the table. On the surface, an AAV of $22M seems just about right to me for this market. Last month I predicted Zimmermann would get a 6 year/$130M ($21.67 AAV) contract from the Red Sox. Detroit badly needed a starting pitcher, having lost Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and David Price all within the last year. Zimmermann may have signed early, but with all of the pitching available he at least avoided a potential collapse in the market had he waited for Zack Greinke, David Price and Johnny Cueto to sign. James Shields held out last season, a decision which limited his market and may have proved costly.

Is this is a good signing for Detroit? Or is there serious bust potential attached to this contract? Certainly Jordan Zimmerman is perfectly capable of leading the Detroit staff. But 2010 Tommy John surgery and signs of wear, including a drop in average fastball velocity, have to be concerns and may have scared some teams — including the Cubs — off at that price. The team that signs Wei-Yin Chen of the Baltimore Orioles may be getting a pitcher that is quite similar to Jordan Zimmerman at half the price. The headlines won’t be as sexy, but the savings will be exceptionally attractive.

Chris Young Signs With Boston

On the surface this seems like a head scratcher given Boston’s abundance of starting outfielders and designated hitter candidates, and may possibly indicate Boston is ready to trade from excess. For now, and at undisclosed terms, Young signed a two-year deal with Boston, joining a crowded outfield that includes Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Brock Holt.

At this point of his career, Chris Young is probably relegated to the corners and makes a perfect platoon in right or left field. In 2015, Young mashed while holding the platoon advantage, finishing with a robust slash line of .327/.397/.575 that included seven home runs and 15 doubles in 175 plate appearances vs. left-handed pitching. Young strengthens Boston’s outfield immediately and is a considerable upgrade offensively and defensively over current fourth-outfielder Brock Holt.

Hot Stove Heating Up

We are just six days away from the start of the 2015 Winter Meetings, and my Twitter baseball feed is starting to redline. Two of my favorite caption headings this time of year are “BREAKING” and “SOURCE,” neither of which will be in short supply over the next two weeks. This year’s meetings will be held in Nashville starting next Monday. Last year’s meetings were historic as far as player movement, with the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox making most of the headlines.

According to sources such as Cubs Den, CBS and FanGraphs, the Cubs have about $20-$30 million dollars in wiggle room for free agency this year, barring any moves. They could free up more money by trading guys like Chris Coghlan ($3.9M for 2016), Starlin Castro ($7.85M) Jason Hammel ($9M) or Miguel Montero ($14M).  Despite his late-season struggles, Hammel was a 2.9 WAR for the year. Jorge Soler ($3.67M) has been mentioned often as a trade candidate but I don’t like that idea personally. I’d rather the Cubs trade from strength, which is the middle infield.

As usual, there will be no lack of movement this year, though I don’t expect this year’s activity to surpass that of last December.

Hoyer Speaks

We have read thousands of times this offseason that the Cubs will prioritize pitching this winter and that they cannot afford more than one large-scale contract, if that, especially based on team needs. On transparency alone, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are great interviews. It is worth noting that starting as early as last November, the Cubs front office stated that the team would prioritize pitching in both the 2014 and 2015 offseason markets.

Speaking with Jesse Rodgers today, Jed Hoyer noted that the Cubs’ early offseason moves have not been without importance. “Depth is underrated, especially in the winter,” said Hoyer. “Everyone will write out lineups in the offseason and they don’t focus on bench, they don’t focus on the bullpen, they don’t focus on guys in Triple-A that are going up and down. Over the course of six months, those are the little moves that make a huge difference.”

But Hoyer made clear that more impactful transactions are coming in the near term, with the organization prepared to adapt as the market explodes. “You have to stay nimble and know things will come at you that you might not have expected,” he said. “Some team will throw an idea at us that we never thought about.”

Fact, Fiction, Truth, or Rumor

Jesse Rodgers also looks at other Cubs offseason options.

David Kaplan hears the Cubs are exploring a number of trade options but are not likely in on either David Price or Zack Greinke. His sources also indicated that the Cubs are in the mix for Ben Zobrist and that Jason Heyward is a speculative target.

MLB Trade Rumors provides a list of potential non-tender candidates. There is not a single Chicago Cubs player on that list except the recently signed Ryan Cook, though there is an interesting name or two that might fall into the Cubs laps, such as Peter Bourjos or Mike Minor.

The Jeff Samardzija + trade pieces strategy for the Cubs seems to have legs and viability. Of course, everyone says the Cubs are in on John Lackey as well.

The Atlanta Braves signed Jim Johnson to a one year, $2.5M contract.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed catcher Brayan Pena to a two-year, $5M contract.

A rumor was reported that the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers were discussing a Shelby Miller-for-Joc Pederson trade but Jon Heyman denied that.

Johnny Cueto has received interest from the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants and Red Sox. Mike Leake has drawn interest from the same teams. Let’s just say that “random starting pitcher” has drawn interest from the same teams going forward, shall we?

Joe Ross will likely take Jordan Zimmermann’s spot in the rotation, sliding into the number four or number five spot. Ross is one of the most sought after pitchers of the offseason.

I’ll throw this one out there: I think the Cubs and the Marlins potentially match on a Marcell Ozuna trade. Teams are foaming at the mouth to get at the Cubs’ minor league depth. With a loaded farm system, and a clear need for starting pitching and outfield depth, the Cubs can likely outbid any other team looking to trade for a controllable asset, even Boston after the Craig Kimbrel trade.

In most cases, there really is no Mystery Team, though a Mystery Team did sign a top free-agent in 2010.

Bottom Of The Ninth

It is often difficult this year to designate what is real from what is perceived or simply made up. Emotions run high as imminent deals seem to fade into obscurity almost immediately. A necessary evil, social networking is a catalyst for information and misinformation this time of year. Rumors spread and dissipate and analysts and Insiders often force headlines to be the first to report a news item. Credibility walks a fine line this time of year. It is important to take things with a grain of salt until a rumor is verified or a trade is consummated.

Thanks again, Evan, for allowing me to contribute. Thanks to all of you for reading as well.

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