Like the melted mozzarella on a deep dish pizza or the best binge-able Netflix offerings, Bruce Levine has been doing a phenomenal job of stretching out his reports and keeping us hanging on each new revelation. After writing about the Cubs’ “renewed interest” in Jake Arrieta, he joined 670 The Score’s Spiegel and Parkins to dive deeper on the pitcher’s market.
Levine also got into the possibility of the Cubs pursuing a closer like Greg Holland or Addison Reed or a center fielder like Christian Yelich or Lorenzo Cain, speaking with conviction about the team’s need to acquire one of the latter two. That point was front and center during the scribe’s Thursday conversation with Bernstein and Goff, with more details on which direction(s) the Cubs might choose to take.
In my earlier look at the three pitchers at the top of the market, I had concluded that pursuing Alex Cobb would be desirable because it would give the Cubs room to add another free agent. They’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of $36.6 million remaining under the $197 million competitive balance tax limit, so getting Cobb at, say, $18 million would leave another $18-19 million. That’s enough to score a serious pitcher, maybe two.
On Cubs: "If they're able to sign Cobb for something less than 20 mil a year then they very well might pursue Lorenzo Cain. If they sign an Arrieta or Darvish then they'd be open to a trade for Yelich." –@MLBBruceLevine just now with us. https://t.co/t7x173VxNa
— Bernstein & Goff (@Bernstein_Goff) January 4, 2018
But Levine suggested that the Cubs could use that surplus to lure former Royals center fielder Cain to Chicago. That’s crazy, right? Well, maybe not so much. He’ll be 32 in April, so Cain isn’t in line for a massive deal in terms of either length or AAV. Most projections have him in the $16-18 million AAV range over four or five years, so he’d fit right in there with the payroll estimates.
Such a pairing of Cobb and Cain would be pretty simple because it wouldn’t cost the Cubs any of their current players and it would fill out the rotation while also giving them the leadoff hitter they’ve been lacking since Dexter Fowler left. There is, however, another wrinkle to this combo that could give the Cubs pause: Both Cobb and Cain turned down qualifying offers from their old teams.
Signing them would cost the Cubs $500,000 in international bonus pool money (about 10 percent of their total, so not horrible) and both their second- and third-highest picks in the following draft (that’s bad). However, they’d be able to offset those losses to an extent with the picks they’d receive for the losses of Arrieta and Wade Davis. Those selections would take place following Competitive Balance Round B, which comes between the second and third rounds.
Since the Cubs are picking later in the draft, the two picks they’d gain might actually be slightly better than those they’d lose to sign the aforementioned players. So, you know, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.
But speaking of Arrieta and picks and whatnot, Levine posed an alternate scenario in which the Cubs would re-sign their former ace and then make a trade for Yelich to handle center and leadoff duties. Arrieta’s higher cost (~$27M AAV) sucks most of the air out of the remaining payroll, hence the trade rather than another free agent acquisition.
At an AAV of under $7.1 million over the next four years, Yelich is an insanely good bargain given his talent and youth. And even if the team exercises his $15 million option in 2022, it’d be because he’s performed well enough to merit the move. The down side of this, of course, is that he ain’t coming cheap. Having already achieved their primary payroll-slashing goals, the Marlins are looking to extract some real value for Yelich and also catcher JT Realmuto.
And with at least the Nationals and Braves interested in both young hitters, Derek Jeter isn’t worried about limited options. For the Cubs to pull something like this off would require a very hefty return, maybe one of their middle infielders, plus Albert Almora Jr. (who would be expendable if Yelich was acquired), plus a pitching prospect or two (which the Cubs have precious few of). I’m bad at trade scenarios and avoid them in most cases, but necessary evil and all that.
In addition to the high monetary cost they’d have to sink into Arrieta, there’d be a great deal of human capital tied up in landing Yelich. All things considered, I just can’t see how such a move makes sense at all for the Cubs. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Yelich brings to the table. But when you factor in what Arrieta does to the payroll in 2018 and beyond, I’m not sold at all on how this improves the team in a meaningful way.
When Theo Epstein calls me to ask my opinion on these options, I’ll have to tell him I prefer the Cobb/Cain combo to Arrielich. Either one seems really far-fetched to me, though, so I’m not staring at the phone waiting for it to ring. But I guess we can’t rule out anything in what has been a really weird offseason