If GM Carter Hawkins caught flak from his wife for talking too much about processes, Jed Hoyer may soon be asked to dial down his “nimble” rhetoric. Speaking to reporters from the site of the GM Meetings in Southern California this week, he repeated that particular word several times to describe the Cubs’ strategy this offseason.
“You try to be prepared and opportunistic as much as possible,” Hoyer told recent birthday boy Sahadev Sharma and others. “Some team could come up today with an idea we haven’t thought about and we have to be able to be nimble [ding], not stuck in our ideas and think through things quickly. The real benefit of a really good front office staff from top to bottom is that constant state of preparedness where you can be nimble [ding] and move quickly.
“There’s also the benefit of the two forms of currency. When you’re able to be more nimble [ding] in prospects and financially, it allows you to do those things more quickly. When you’re less nimble [ding], you can’t do that.”
Okay, but what does that really mean? As Hoyer indicated earlier in the week, it probably doesn’t mean making a big splash with a megadeal for someone like Carlos Correa or Corey Seager. At the same time, he didn’t completely rule out the notion that they could be suitors for one of those top free agents.
“As you layer on years, obviously, you’re layering on a lot of risk to any transaction,” Hoyer explained. “By definition, projecting a player’s performance gets harder and harder as you get away from their last year and their last couple years. Any time you do that, you’re introducing risk.
“Listen, I’ve been a part of long deals that worked exceptionally well. And I’ve been a part of long deals that didn’t. You just accept that going into them, by definition, you’re introducing more risk into the transaction when you layer on years.”
The presence of qualifying offer penalties makes the pursuit of either Seager or Correa that much less likely, though it’s a little easier to imagine the Cubs sacrificing money and picks for a true cornerstone player. When it comes to someone like Michael Conforto, the QO hit is a complete non-starter. The same may even be true for Nick Castellanos, a personality dynamo who hinted coyly at a possible desire to return to Chicago.
There’s no way in hell the Cubs would accept those penalties to sign a big pitcher on a short-term deal, not that the pitchers in question — Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard, Robbie Ray, Eduardo Rodriguez — are looking to rebuild on the North Side anyway. As an aside, I can’t see how any team would be willing to pony up more than $18.4 million in addition to the loss of a draft pick and $500K in international pool money for a guy who will turn 39 in February and hasn’t pitched since Opening Day of 2020.
Back to being nimble, the Cubs could be just that by using some of their financial flexibility to buy prospects through trades for “bad” contracts. We have mentioned this more than once in connection to the Padres, who are surely going to be wheeling and dealing this winter to clear room and build up for another run in 2022. Sharma reports that the Cubs did indeed talk to the Pads about an Eric Hosmer/Anthony Rizzo deadlin deal that would have also brought a prospect to Chicago.
There are several similar scenarios across the league, with many mentioning Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays as one such target. I’m not sure whether Tampa would be willing to part with Tyler Glasnow just to get Kiermaier’s $12 million (plus a $2.5 million buyout on a $13 million club option for ’23) off the books, but the idea of paying nearly $6 million for a pitcher who’ll be out all year following Tommy John might grease the wheels.
The Wade Miley pickup is another example of pouncing on an opportunity they hadn’t anticipated. The Cubs had a higher waiver claim than they’d have liked as a result of their poor finish, so they were able to add to the pitching staff at what might otherwise have seemed like a higher cost than expected.
Then you’ve got the situation in Oakland, where rumors have the A’s looking to slash payroll to as low as $50 million. Cutting to such a disgustingly low mark should be roundly shamed, if not completely outlawed, but it could mean the team will have to jettison top players this winter. Matt Olson is the most coveted of those players, but lefty starter Sean Manea is projected to earn around $10 million in his final year of arbitration and will have his share of interested parties.
For my money, righty Frankie Montas would be an even better fit for the Cubs. His 97 mph fastball checks the box for power arms, but he’s still a strike-thrower who has typically done a good job of keeping the ball in the yard. He’s also getting solid strikeout numbers with an inconsistent slider that might benefit from a trip to the pitch lab. What’s more, he’s only projected to earn about $5 million and still has another year of club control through arbitration in 2023.
While there’s likely to be a hefty acquisition cost in the form of prospects for any of those established players, the A’s don’t seem like a team that’s trying to compete in the next two years. That means they’re likely looking for the type of low-level talent the Cubs have in spades, so Hoyer might yet be able to deal from a position of strength.
And that’s really what it comes down to for this reconfigured front office. They need to find little wrinkles and try to leverage the overlaps between their own situation and those of other teams. If baseball actually gets started again in the spring, we’ll get to see just how nimble those processes were.