The Rundown: Bargain All-Stars, Cubs-Cardinals Rivalry May Hit London, Your Weekend Baseball Read and Flick

If you’ve been active on the internet since the panic surrounding free agency began, no doubt you’ve seen articles similar to Aaron Gleeman’s about how many games a team made up of unsigned free agents would win.

We get it. There are still about 100 unsigned free agents left and if you could afford a good $400-500 million in payroll, you could slap together a goshdarned good team. That’s the thing, though, free agency is ultimately the laziest way to build a sustainable, winning franchise. Perhaps that’s why front offices are focusing more on their minor league systems these days. It’s not just accumulating high draft choices that makes a franchise a perennial contender, it’s often player development. Some teams, like the Braves and the Rays, really excel at creating organizational depth.

What if we put together a roster comprised of players that are not yet eligible for free agency? How would that team fair against those free agents waiting on those fattened contracts? Here’s my roster, using last year’s salaries, since we do not know what the unemployed players will make in 2019.

  1. SP – Blake Snell 52nd Overall 2016 ($545,000)
  2. SP – Trevor Bauer 3rd Overall 2011 ($6.525M)
  3. SP – Aaron Nola 7th Overall 2014 ($573,000)
  4. SP – Louis Severino IFA 2011 ($604,975)
  5. SP – Mike Clevinger 4th Round 2011 ($558,500)
  6. RP – Kirby Yates 26th Round 2005 ($1.062M)
  7. RP – Edwin Diaz 3rd Round 2012 ($545,000)
  8. RP – Josh Hader 7th Round 2011 ($565,500)
  9. RP – Corey Knebel 39th Overall 2013 ($3.65M)
  10. RP – Jose Leclerc IFA 2010 ($545,000)
  11. RP – Jordan Hicks 3rd Round 2015 ($545,000)
  12. RP – AJ Minter 2nd Round 2015 ($555,000)
  13. C –Willson Conteras IFA 2009 ($604,500)
  14. C – Gary Sanchez IFA 2009 ($620,400)
  15. 1B – Rhys Hoskins 5th Round 2014 ($552,500)
  16. 2B – Ozzie Albies IFA 2013 ($555,000)
  17. SS – Javier Baez 9th Overall 2011 ($675,000)
  18. 3B – Alex Bregman 2nd Overall 2015 ($599,000)
  19. OF – Ronald Acuna Jr. IFA 2014 ($545,000)
  20. OF – Juan Soto IFA 2015 ($545,000)
  21. OF – Mitch Haniger 38th Overall 2012 ($528,000)
  22. OF – Mallex Smith 5th Round 2012 ($539,000)
  23. OF – Domingo Santana IFA 2009 ($572,400)
  24. DH/SP – Shohei Ohtani IFA 2017 ($545,000)
  25. INF –Daniel Descalso 3rd Round 2007 ($2M)

That’s a total payroll of $24.615 million, likely less than Bryce Harper will sign for. Is it realistic? No, but neither is the exercise conducted above.

And don’t think that front offices around the league aren’t thinking the same thing to an extent. It is better to put money into player development than it is to open the vaults for free agents. You get players on the cheap while their performance values are increasing at a greater rate than their annual costs. With free agency, it’s the opposite. You’re paying for past performance and diminishing returns.

NOTE: For those who will ask, I didn’t select Andrew Benintendi since my first round 2015 pick was Bregman.

Cubs News & Notes

Rundown Rewind

Weekend Baseball Read

Fall from Grace: The Truth and Tragedy of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson by Tim Hornbaker –  “While many have sympathized with Jackson’s ban from baseball (even though he hit .375 during the 1919 World Series), not much is truly known about this quiet slugger. Whether he participated in the throwing of the World Series or not, he is still considered one of the game’s best, and many have fought for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Weekend Baseball Flick

Field of Dreams – I’ll admit it, the final scene from this 1989 classic always brings a tear or two to my eyes. Okay, I bawl like a freaking baby. I lost my real father when I was barely a teenager and just about all of my memories surrounding Dad revolve around baseball since he worked with the Cubs for most of my childhood. He was always so busy we never got to play too much baseball together but I do have one great story for my Extra Innings section.

Extra Innings

My father was near the end of his life in mid-summer 1978, a year after he had undergone brain surgery in an unsuccessful attempt to remove a large malignant tumor. We had a family reunion that day at a Cook County forest preserve in the western suburbs, and, as we did every year, we had our annual grown-ups vs. kids softball game.

Well, my father was barely able to walk without help, let alone strong enough to hold a baseball bat, but he insisted on playing. The (formerly) big left-handed slugger pointed to my cousin Debbie in right field like it was coming her way. I started my windup, and underhand-pitched the 16″ softball to him as he sneakily squared to bunt. He perfectly placed the ball to my right as I fell (in faked slow-motion) off to the left of the mound. Dad hobbled down to first base and beat my throw by an eyelash. There wasn’t a dry eye in the park.

Later we took him fishing, and when he fell asleep on the rowboat we rented, we hooked a previously-captured but still living large mouth bass to his line, woke him up, and helped him reel it in so he could catch the last fish of his life. He passed away two months later on September 29.

Saturday Walk Up Song

I Got a Name by Jim Croce. Dad’s favorite. Somebody get me a tissue. I think my Pops would be pretty damn proud that I write a daily Cubs column. Bonus: I get to spend the rest of my afternoon with my 90-year-old father-in-law, a man I love nearly as much. We will be blasting this song in my Civic all afternoon. Family is love. Please never forget that.


  1. Such a touching story. Thank you for sharing!

    P.S.– In the first draft, that final scene originally was written like this: In the gloaming, a single player remained on the field with Ray. He rose from behind the plate and removed his mask to reveal a oddly familiar young man’s face. “Is this heaven?” “No, it’s Triple A Iowa, and you’re blocked by Wilson Contreras and Victor Caratini.” Not a dry eye in the place.

  2. Great stories Michael! No doubt, Family is what its all about. Theyll always be there for you too. Now Im looking for a Puffs plus! Enjoy time with your father in law. Both my parents died too soon. My advice is spend any time you can with an elderly relative. When they’re gone, you may feel remorseful that you didnt spend enough time with them!
    Moving on to the Cubs, that is the live wire question if this offseason. Are you concerned they will be starting the new season with essentially the same roster? YES especially knowing the rest of the division has attempted to improve , mightily.

    1. Thanks Double T! I am so on the fence right now but you are right. The Cubs roster, as it sits, will be a polarizing topic all spring. If Harper signs with the Giants and Machado goes back to the NL, I think the Cubs are still the dominant team in the NL. I really believe that. But if Harper goes to LA, STL, or back to WAS, the Cubs pitchers will need to be lights out down the stretch and into the playoffs. That’s where I worry.

      I think Iopace is going to help a great deal. I am looking forward to a breakout season from Happ and I believe we will see Heyward’s best offensive season as a Cub. Baez, Bryant, and Rizzo will do what they do. And Contreras should bounce back.

      If we remove Epstein’s “our offense broke” statement from the offseason narrative, you cannot tell me we’d all be as ridiculously excited as Jed and Theo are to start the season. I’d bet Epstein wishes he could remove that single, in-the-moment statement.

      Flipping all of that 180 degrees…if the Cubs young hitters don’t mature or further develop its time for Maddon to go.

      The two things that I hope change this season:
      1. A static daily lineup
      2. No more short leashes on pitchers

      And you heard it here first: Darvish is going to be a beast this summer and will be the Cubs’ best starter.

      1. Thanks for sharing, Michael. A treasured memory for sure.

        You raise a good point about the “our offense broke” comment. In hindsight, did we Cubs fans just wrongly assume it was going to be an off-season of change mainly because of that comment, which has led to this frustrating disappointment of inactivity?

        1. I know. I think – as much as Epstein likes to be transparent – I imagine he wishes he could have that one moment back. Everybody, and not just Cubs fans, is forgetting that this was the NL’s best offense at the all-star break. A big part of the implosion was Bryant being out, but also the disconnect with Chili Davis. The Cubs have a blueprint – the Cubs Way – and all of those younger hitters were brought up through the system taught to embrace launch angles. I don’t think they were ready, or mature enough, for a semi-about face.

          I don’t care though. I like being the underdogs this year. PECOTA says 82 wins. This was a 95-win team that *underperformed* most of the second half. Sure, the division got slightly stronger, but if your projection model factors the Cardinals addition of Goldschmidt as 13 less Cubs wins, particularly when it predicts Milwaukee to have a significant drop-off as well, I have to question it. The Reds are better, but they are still a 4th/5th place team in this division and St. Louis just still feels more like the .500 team that they played as except for a 30-game stretch after firing Matheny.

          1. Well, PEE-cota also had the Cubs at 87 wins for 2018 (I believe) – so they were way off last year too. I do find it illogical and a bit humorous, that the PEE-cota model has practically the whole Cubs roster either regressing or simply not bouncing back from a down 2018.

            The entire NL Central has a lot of pitching “ifs”. However if you looked at the starting 5 across the division, it’s not even close – the Cubs have by far the best SP. Heck, Montgomery would be a #2-3 starter for the rest of the division.

          2. How do the Cubs and Brewers collectively get 29 games worse just because the Reds picked up three players the Dodgers didn’t want? If Goldschmidt and the Reds moves are worth a 29-game divisional shift I’ll spend the entire offseason next winter in Cardinals gear and I’ll tweet a picture every damn day.

          3. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s frustrating that most don’t recall that the offense wasn’t “broke” until after the All-Star break. I attribute most of that to Bryant being out/hurt/ineffective, and Contreras wearing down from overwork due to lack off days, both on the schedule and by manager decision. Morrow getting hurt and the bullpen wearing out also due to overwork and no off days in Sept didn’t help either. It’s also important to keep in mind that only Baez vastly improved on his previous year’s performance, with Zobrist & Heyward doing so somewhat. At some point you have to figure that some of these young position players will take the next step with their performance. If they can avoid major injuries and have their core healthy most of the season, I see no reason why they shouldn’t finish right around that 93-95 win range once again, despite what the Reds & Cardinals are doing.

        2. It’s a good point. I think we definitely felt (after those comments by Epstein) that something massive was coming, and that it would include both a significant FA signing AND a shake-up of the core.

          1. I think we all interpreted it wrong. But the Cubs keep hiring analytics-forward execoabd coaches so Epstein certainly believes that a turn or two of the ratchet is better the dropping the hammer.

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