More Aggressive Free Agency, Cold Reality Could Keep Young Saint Nick from Delivering to Cubs

It may not have felt like winter in Arizona, but super-agent Scott Boras arrived carrying armfuls of gifts in the form of Christmas-themed puns and one-liners. And though he missed an opportunity to refer to one of his big clients as Kris Kringle, Boras made up for it when talking about one Bryant’s former (and future?) teammates.

“Old Saint Nick delivers once a year,” Boras said, teeing up the zinger to come. “Young Saint Nick delivers all season. So you’ve got a pretty good market for that kind of player.”

While I’ll award points for the unadulterated dad-jokiness of the whole thing, he might be overselling his client’s delivery range just a bit. For instance, would heading to South Beach allow Nicholas Castellanos to maintain his appointed rounds of the bases with proper frequency? What about moving to the South Side? It may be the baddest part of town, but it’s probably not goodest for the Artist’s game.

There’s reportedly mutual interest between Castellanos and the Cubs, which there damn well ought to be given the way things unfolded after the trade from Detroit, but Sahadev Sharma writes that reality will likely conspire against them ($). Castellanos is limited defensively, so bringing him back would likely necessitate trading Kyle Schwarber for a discounted return.

Though it’s too easy to view it as a simple matter of Castellanos vs. Schwarber, the Cubs’ decision can be distilled to something like that. We’ve chronicled Schwarber’s production in great detail here at CI, particularly the way his approach changes yielded a tremendous offensive output down the stretch. For the cost-conscious Cubs, keeping Schwarber at a projected $8 million salary makes him a near lock to return over his more expensive (former) teammate.

Early projections have Castellanos at around $56-58 million over four years, with the White Sox standing out as a strong possibility among what figures to be several interested teams. He’s also believed to be drawing interest from the Marlins, with the Reds emerging as a possible suitor as they look to make some splashes. Both teams know a little something about employing a defensive butcher in a corner outfield spot, though Adam Dunn had a slightly different offensive profile from Nicky Two Bags.

The moral of the story is that Boras is right about there being a robust market for his client’s services, something that should be the case for the rest of his broad stable of free agents. That could result in a little more movement earlier in the winter as teams approach the offseason more aggressively than in the past. Whether that’s of their own volition or at the behest of Commissioner Rob Manfred, who’s jealous of the action in NBA and NFL free agency, the results should be better for players and fans alike.

“Clubs are wanting meetings and wanting to get in front of the players,” Boras said Wednesday. “They’re all telling me they want to make much earlier decisions. I did not hear any of that last year.

Boras expressed optimism that his top free agents would sign much earlier than last year, even though he’s got the market more or less cornered. Or maybe it’s because he’s got it cornered and will have so many different negotiations taking place at once that things could get moving at a quicker pace that what we’ve grown used to.

“If this were major-league Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that clearly wanted a lump of (Gerrit) Cole,” Boras quipped. “I think starting pitching has become back in vogue. It’s an aggressive market.”

Though only a handful of teams will actually pursue Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon, the top-heavy nature of the market could have those organizations beyond the top tier of spenders looking to snatch up better values. Don’t expect Castellanos to come off the board right away, though, as he may still choose to hang around and see what the Cubs are willing and able to do with other offseason additions.

On the whole, it does sound like things are going be a little more active over the next two months or so. And now that I’ve said that out loud, it means we’ll be waiting until the second week of spring training to see where these guys all end up.

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