Even if you don’t care about the annual media genuflection before the altar of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the Super Bowl means an end to the sometimes-worthy distraction of the football season. And that means baseball is right around the corner. I mean, it’s alarmingly close given the absurd number of free agents still floating around.
Like a tickle in your nose that builds to a sneeze at a maddeningly slow pace, only to dissipate into a low-grade annoyance, this offseason has hitched forward in a frustrating series of fits and false starts that offer no real payoff. By whatever terms you choose to label the source of the inactivity, it’s become quite evident that a lack of urgency is largely to blame. There just aren’t that many teams out there shopping, and the ones that are don’t seem to care whether they buy or not.
It appeared for a time that the Brewers were ready to kill that trend with fire, swinging a big trade for Christian Yelich and then agreeing to the largest contract of the winter with Lorenzo Cain. Their previous spendthrift ways and a collection of cheap, young talent meant that they still had more money to spend, which pointed toward further moves for a big-time pitching addition or two.
But as Brewers GM David Stearns told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt, they may not be as dogged in their pursuit of pitching as has been indicated.
“We continue to have discussions on a variety of fronts,” Stearns explained. “But at this point I anticipate going (to spring training) with our current group.
“If the right opportunity presents itself, we are open to acting. But we have a high level of confidence in our current group, so it needs to be the right opportunity.”
That could be good news for the Cubs, who are also engaged in ongoing discussions with several different pitchers as they look to bolster a rotation that seems a little flat for a playoff run. Not that they’re betraying anything even approaching panic, despite pitchers and catchers reporting in 10 days.
“On the pitching side, I like the additions, but we’re still looking to add depth,” Jed Hoyer told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. “That’s an annual thing you think about. You prepare for injuries even if some years you go unscathed.”
You could take that statement a number of different ways, but it sounds to me that the Cubs GM is hedging ever so slightly toward a lower-tier addition. Not that he’s going to come out and tell everyone that they’re still targeting Yu Darvish, mind you, but the talk of adding depth and preparing for injuries sounds more like getting a No. 5 than a staff ace.
It might not even mean falling back to Alex Cobb, who had once seemed like a no-brainer to join his old manager and pitching coach in Chicago. The Cubs could choose to turn from the top of the market and go after a low-cost addition like Jaime Garcia, a pitcher whose impressive arsenal of secondary pitches could make him a tremendous value with some minor tweaks.
There’s also the matter of the Cubs’ pitching development, which has been almost non-existent under the current regime. If, however, they’ve got confidence in guys like Adbert Alzolay and Thomas Hatch, they might see shorter, smaller investments in the rotation as a better option. After all, the four locks for the rotation right now are in place for three more years. Adding Darvish or Cobb would mean having all five spots tied up for at least that long, which means little to no room to promote starters.
You can’t bank on pitching prospects, though, not when you’re a World Series contender. As such, I can’t imagine the Cubs will be leaning on those young arms too heavily when it comes to making the call on how big they want to go on the free agent market.
So how big will they go? I can’t answer that with any degree of certainty, though I can say for sure that the Cubs aren’t in a hurry to make a move. The longer this drags out, the more evident it becomes that they’re more than willing to wait till the very end. And that may mean a team like the Twins — who are reportedly willing to go to five years while the Cubs stick at four — getting more aggressive and landing Darvish.
This has been the most perplexing offseason I can recall and I think it could actually get even more so before all’s said and done. It would not surprise me in the least to be sitting here after Valentine’s Day continuing to hash out the same topics. I really believe several of these players are going to sign after camps have opened, some of them maybe much later.
In the meantime, I’m going to crack a beer and watch some commercials with the hope that a little football will be played in between. Who knows, maybe Brady’s annual coronation will provide the heat that finally thaws this frozen dam. Or not.