The Rundown: Retooling with Free Agent Bargains, Virtual Winter Meetings Start Today, MLB Files Lawsuit Against Insurance Providers

“It’s clearly a budget. It’s got lots of numbers in it.” – George W. Bush

I usually don’t do the Sunday columns until after football season, but the only trainwreck bigger than the Cubs right now is the Bears, so at least baseball gives us something fun to discuss. In fact, the North Side professional baseballers are giving us plenty these days, which serves as great fodder for wholesome debate. And, what the heck, tonight is the official kickoff of this year’s virtual Winter Meetings.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but we should know by the end of the week which teams are spending and which are slashing baseball budgets. Rob Manfred will probably provide an ownership-skewed synopsis of the league’s overall financial health on Monday or Tuesday. We’ll hear from Scott Boras, rules changes will be discussed, and there will be plenty of posturing between the 30 franchise owners and the MLBPA as baseball enters the final year of its current collective bargaining agreement.

Based on the first few weeks of the Jed Hoyer era, I believe the Cubs are going to be one of the teams that is hell-bent on reducing overhead. In other words, if Hoyer can find someone to take Kris Bryant and most or all of his salary, don’t expect him to use that money on shiny new player expenditures.

In fact, it is my opinion that Hoyer has started a two-phase razing of the team, one that might net some new players and prospects as soon as this week via trades and low-impact signings, followed by a second wave of moves at the mid-season trade deadline. If that is indeed his plan, it’s important for his team to be good enough to compete game-to-game without the carry to make the playoffs, similar to 2013-14. That way they can hold a fire sale come July 31.

I don’t truly know Hoyer’s strategy, so I am going to steer clear of potential trades in this exercise. I’ll focus instead on filling the team’s current holes as inexpensively as possible, with players who could theoretically be flipped before August, while also trying to keep the team somewhat competitive. The Cubs need a left fielder and backup outfielder, a fifth starter, rotation depth, and some bullpen reinforcements. Depending on how Hoyer feels about Nico Hoerner and David Bote as his second basemen, he may need a starter at the keystone or just a utility infielder.

Assuming Jon Lester will get $5 million or more in free agency and will probably be too expensive for ownership’s balance sheet, I’d say the Cubs’ best shot at finding a dependable back of rotation starter on the cheap is Chase Anderson. His career 4.60 FIP screams fifth starter, he doesn’t walk a lot of guys, eats innings, and can get a punchout when he needs one.

The veteran right-hander struggled in 2020 with a 7.22 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and 38:10 K:BB over 33.2 innings after beginning the season with an injury, so it’s no surprise the Blue Jays opted to decline his $9.5 million option. He did have a better-than-respectable 3.63 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 82 starts from 2017-19 with the Brewers and he’s familiar with most of the NL Central hitters. He should also come cheaper than Chris Archer, who MLBTR believes the Cubs will target. I’d give Anderson a one-year deal for $2.5-3.5 million, which should be enough.

In case you forgot, Anderson was pitching against the Cubs in 2019 when Nick Castellanos punctuated an epic, mid-September 1st inning home run against the then-Brewers starter with an infamous bat slam.

My backup choices for a cheap fifth starter, in no particular order, include Garrett Richards, Mike LeakeMichael Wacha, Carlos Rodón, Alex Wood, and Cole Hamels. Some of the more intriguing names that could serve as depth options include Jimmy Nelson, Kohl Stewart, and Foster Griffin. I like Jake Arrieta too, but I’m assuming he will be in the same price range as Lester.

Finding an everyday left fielder to replace Kyle Schwarber with limited financial resources is a daunting exercise, and a platoon might be a better option because it would also give the team a backup in center and right. The first three names that jump out at me are Robbie Grossman, Shin-Soo Choo and Brian Goodwin, all serviceable stopgaps until Brennen Davis arrives sometime in 2022. Grossman, by the way, has a .350 OBP over 2,700+ career plate appearances.

My short list also includes David Dahl, who was profiled here last week, and Adam Eaton. Dodgers free agent Joc Pederson is intriguing, as is Yasiel Puig, but each would probably cost between $8-10 million per season, if not more.

Hoyer also indicated last week that the Cubs have not closed the door on bringing Schwarber back, though it seems unlikely.

Assuming the Cubs are fine with Hoerner and Bote, they can save some money by finding a second baseman who will be little more than a backup and pinch hitter. I’m looking at Howie Kendrick first and then Jason Kipnis, both of whom should be available on minor league-invite deals. Ha-Seong Kim really intrigues a lot of baseball insiders and Cubs fans, but he’s probably too costly for Hoyer’s checkbook. The Cubs are stacked at middle infield in the minors anyway, so they probably wouldn’t pursue Kim.

I’ll talk a little more about bullpen options after the Winter Meetings because I just don’t have a feel for that market yet, and I’m still trying to get a read on Hoyer after Tuesday’s signings and non-tenders. The Cubs could also take a flyer on a Rule 5 reliever this Thursday.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

This is an intriguing poll courtesy of Bleacher Nation’s Michael Cerami. Thinking three years ahead, would you rather have Brailyn Márquez and Davis or Dylan Cease and Eloy Jiménez?

Sunday Stove

Major League Baseball has filed a lawsuit against its insurance providers in the hopes of recouping losses the 30 franchises incurred in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Thad Levine, who looked like a strong candidate for the Phillies’ top baseball job, is no longer in the mix after stating he prefers to stay with the Twins.

The Mariners have agreed to terms with outfielder Mitch Haniger on a one-year deal, avoiding arbitration.

Lester, Brandon Workman, and Kevin Pillar are potential fits for the Red Sox in free agency. All three have previously played for Boston.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post believes the White Sox will sign Cincinnati free agent starter Trevor Bauer.

The Rangers have hired Chris Young to be their new GM, and will promote Jon Daniels to president of baseball operations.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman would like to keep manager Aaron Boone around for at least another 10 years.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Blake Snell doesn’t want to leave the Rays.

When compared to the 67 players who have had at least 1,000 plate appearances before their age-22 season,  Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is in some pretty elite company.

Three of the latest hot stove rumors include the Padres making a play for Snell, the Reds hoping to upgrade at shortstop, and the possibility that the Phillies might make infielder Jean Segura available.

Extra Innings

I had to do a double-take because at first I thought this was a shot of Wrigley Field with expanded bleachers.

Sliding Into Home

I had blood work yesterday and though my liver enzymes are still dangerously high, they do continue to keep coming down. My weight is down to 225, and my blood sugar levels have normalized. I have a liver density test and second biopsy scheduled for the first week of February, so we are hoping for some reduction in the fibrosis based on yesterday’s labs. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Every year that I maintain or reduce the scarring adds another year to my shelf life. My right foot is improving, too, though the inflammation is still bothersome.

They Said It

  • “Sometimes the best decisions you make are the hardest ones. And sometimes the worst decisions you make are the ones that you’re excited about at that moment or have the most fan appeal.” – Jed Hoyer

Sunday Walk Up Song

Philosopher Stone by Van Morrison – An underrated gem by Van the Man, and perfect for any Sunday morning meditation.

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