Cubs Reportedly ‘Cultivating Information’ About Elite Free Agent Shortstops, Considered ‘Wild Card’ in Market
While the most popular translation of “spending intelligently” seems to be “going cheap,” there are those who believe the Cubs are willing to throw a lot of money at the right player(s). Whether that’s veteran pitching at higher average annual value for short periods or an elite shortstop who will still be in his prime five years from now, we could very well see a bigger splash than Jon Jay or Daniel Descalso.
And just for the sake of clarity, I didn’t use those two for comedic effect. Jay ($8M for 2017) still has the largest contract given to a position player since Jason Heyward got $184 million in 2016, and Descalso (two years, $5M in 2019) is the only position player since Heyward to be guaranteed multiple years. No matter how many times I bring that up, it is still hard for me to believe.
That five-year window isn’t random either, it’s based on Jed Hoyer’s comments during the introductory press conference for new GM Carter Hawkins.
“Ultimately, that’ll be the key to this next wave of success,” Hoyer explained. “We have to do a great job of player development over the next three to five years. Obviously, that was a huge part of my focus in this hire.”
Though Hoyer also cautioned against paying big money for downslope years of production, the idea here would be that the latter portion of a deal could be mitigated by more young stars coming through the system. And since many of the Cubs’ current crop of promising prospects are shortstops, there’s always the possibility of moving a former elite defender to third, second, or DH during the twilight of his deal.
Now that we’ve established context and credence for why the Cubs should be interested in Carlos Correa or another member of the best shortstop class in history, let’s talk about the potential that they really could pursue one such player ($). According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, “the Cubs are seen as a wild card in the shortstop market” and “have been cultivating information about the elite shortstops.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve been told the latter part of that statement is accurate.
Olney polled 11 evaluators to get a sense of how these players are viewed around the league and which teams will be most active this winter in pursuing them. Corey Seager actually edged Correa out for the top spot, after which they ranked Marcus Semien (who would presumably move back to SS), Trevor Story, and Javier Báez in that order. Cubs fans are obviously familiar with Báez, whose list of possible landing spots was the shortest of the bunch at just two.
The Cubs were one of them and he’s the only player for whom they made an appearance, but the other team was the Mets. A recent report out of New York said Javy and the Mets were mutually amenable to an extension, which could happen quickly this offseason, though it seemed like more of a hypothetical than anything solid at this point.
Speaking of New York, the consensus is that the Yankees will go heavy after either Seager or Correa after cutting back on their spending this past season. Gee, that sounds sort of familiar. I found it funny that Olney noted the “animus of their fan base to Houston players linked to the sign-stealing scandal” as a reason the Yankees might not pursue Correa, but whatever.
The Tigers are also viewed as a team that will make a splash in the market by signing one of these five shortstops, so this isn’t just a matter of current contenders getting better. Unlike their aging counterparts populating the top of the pitching market, almost all of these shortstops are on the right side of 30 and don’t necessarily need to limit their suitors to win-now clubs.
This is all a moot point if Hoyer and Hawkins are forced to flex their mental muscles due to a baseball budget that falls woefully short of $150 million, or if other bidders simply push the prices too high for all of these shortstops. But if a combination of available cash and mutual fit really makes the Cubs a legit destination this winter, it would be smart to land a new cornerstone player around whom the remodeled front office can build.