I’ve been somewhat preoccupied over the past couple days, so apologies for not adequately satiating your undying hunger for rumors. That meant neither Jesse Rogers’ report that the Cubs and Rockies have discussed a one-for-one swap of Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado nor Jeff Passan telling David Kaplan that Arenado would love to play for the Cubs got any play here on Wednesday. Between the news cycle turning over and Brett Taylor hitting on both really well at Bleacher Nation already, I had initially decided to pass on any belated coverage.
However, some more recent reporting out of Colorado and my choice to actually listen to Passan’s interview got me thinking otherwise. You can check the pod via the link above, but I’ll provide a brief sketch for the purposes of our conversation. Passan was skeptical that the Cubs would “blow things up” at this late stage of the offseason, though he did lay out some potential scenarios in which they could get something done with the Rockies.
Though he scoffed at Kap’s proposal of Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, and a prospect in exchange for Arenado, Passan did say that replacing Heyward with Tyler Chatwood might get it done. This is all hypothetical, of course, and it’s also predicated on the notion that Bryant had already been dealt in a separate move. As such, it’s really just a redux of what we’d initially heard from Jon Morosi a few weeks ago.
But even with all its moving parts and an almost conspiratorial vibe, the idea of making two huge moves is more likely than making just one involving both stars. That’s because the disparity in salary is simply too great for an even swap to make any sense. The Rockies would have a eat quite a bit of Arenado’s contract, an amount Rogers put at $7-8 million in annual value, and there’d have to be some kind of assurance that the incumbent third baseman would waive his right to opt out after 2021.
See, that’s the big thing right there. Should that option remain in play, there’s a possibility that Arenado would be gone just like Bryant, except at a much higher cost over the same two-year span. Even with the Rockies footing some of the bill, the Cubs would still be taking on an additional $6-7 million in payroll in this situation. That number would presumably be even higher if they were to kick in more guaranteed money to have Arenado forfeit the opt-out.
And no matter how much Passan says Arenado would loooove to play for the Cubs, he’s not giving that flexibility away for free. To be sure, Passan reiterated Arenado’s affection — “I mean, he would love it” — and Rogers confirmed that later in the day. Even so, the union would not take kindly to a player breaking with precedent and not requiring financial compensation in exchange for amending his contract in this manner. Plus, as Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post wrote in his recent mailbag column, “Arenado will take the opt-out, unless something dramatic happens.”
While a blockbuster trade probably qualifies as dramatic, Saunders further cited sources indicating that a trade before spring training is “highly unlikely.” Those odds would increase markedly, however, should the Rockies stumble in the first half. Between Arenado’s strained relationship with GM Jeff Bridich and the near certainty that he’ll opt out otherwise, the team could look to move him to a contender at the deadline. With the Cubs possibly in the same boat as far as Bryant is concerned, there’s serious potential for these rumors to remain viable for several more months.
Speaking of which, Saunders wrote that “many of the rumors floating out on the web are unfounded or inflated.” He didn’t address any specific rumors, though it would certainly seem as though a straight-up swap is among those. No offense to Rogers, though I probably don’t need to soften my stance because it’s not like he’ll ever read this, but there just isn’t anything about that possibility that really makes sense.
The Cubs are clearly trying to limit spending, at least for this season, so taking on more money would fly directly in the face of their endeavors to this point. Even if you believe Arenado’s glove and contact profile make him better than Bryant, it’s not by the 33-50% factor indicated by his increased salary. When you throw in the luxury tax penalties and forfeiture of potentially tens of millions in revenue-sharing credits, Arenado’s acquisition cost is actually higher than what the spreadsheet shows.
Those more obvious tax penalties are always presented as a boogeyman to scare fans into believing their teams are being responsible by limiting spending, but that’s not actually the deterrent in this case. I mean, it’s not a non-factor, but $10 million or so spread over the entire baseball operations budget should be nothing for a team like the Cubs. Add in another $20-30 or so that they could miss out on receiving and/or getting back as a repeat CBT offender, however, and now you’re talking about some big penalties.
Those bigger losses come into play whether the Cubs are over by $1 or several million, which is why it would be incredibly dumb to just barely sneak into overage territory. Does anyone else see what I’m getting at here? Let’s run it back. Swapping Arenado for Bryant puts the Cubs over unless they make other moves, but those other moves would almost certainly require parting with Contreras as the key piece, either to get a team to eat some of Heyward’s contract or to move Chatwood.
While such a plan would get the Cubs under, it’d be at such a heavy toll on the roster that it would really only be worthwhile as a straight salary dump. So what if they just make the move to trade Contreras — sorry, folks, I’m just using Passan’s logic — and Chatwood, plus a solid prospect, for Arenado while still keeping Bryant. Again, if they’re going to be over the threshold at all, they may as well be over by a lot. And in that scenario, they move Bryant to center or right and have the best defensive left side in the game by a wide margin.
Now that I’ve gone off the deep end, it’s probably time to step away from the computer and do some real work. Should make for some fun conversation by the time I check back in.