Veteran lefty Danny Duffy looked very much like a possible Cubs target, particularly after they added Marcus Stroman and still hadn’t picked up any of those power arms Jed Hoyer talked about. Duffy is by no means possessed of elite velocity, but he’s still capable of touching mid-90s and would fit perfectly with the Cubs’ desire for short-term deals. After starting out as a hypothetical, the idea of pursuing Duffy gained credence when Patrick Mooney named him as “someone they would pursue” after the lockout.
That bubble burst Wednesday, however, as Andy McCullough of The Athletic reported that Duffy underwent flexor tendon surgery in October. He didn’t need Tommy John elbow reconstruction and believes he’ll be ready to pitch by June, though likely only in a relief role. That’s just not going to fit what the Cubs want and need to do, so they’ll have to pivot if Duffy was indeed on their list.
Options are limited on that front, with only Carlos Rodón and Yusei Kikuchi standing out as the only remaining free agents with big enough fastballs to move the needle for a team that desperately needs more velo. The Cubs haven’t been tied to either beyond the pages of CI and other blogs, not to mention myriad tweets, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t checked in.
Another option would be to swing a trade for a big arm like Frankie Montas of the A’s, who might be available as Oakland looks to shed payroll. The downside is that the righty is still under control for two seasons and will cost the kind of prospect capital the Cubs may be unwilling to part with. One slightly less exciting possibility is to help the Reds lighten their load by taking Tyler Mahle and his projected $5.6 million off their hands.
But wait, Mahle would command almost as a big haul as Montas because he has been pretty darn good and likewise still has two years of club control left. And that’s where we get to the strategy of offsetting prospect cost by taking on a bad contract, something we discussed regarding Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers earlier in the year. Perhaps the Cubs could greatly reduce the return for Mahle by agreeing to take on Mike Moustakas and his remaining $34 million ($16M AAV due to first two years) over the next two seasons.
Tyler Mahle + take on the Moustakas contract is one of my favorite ideas at the moment
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) December 8, 2021
Though the 33-year-old is coming off the worst season of his career, flailing to a .208 average, 70 wRC+ and -0.4 fWAR, he managed just 206 plate appearances while battling plantar fasciitis and other nicks. The Cubs need lefty power and Moose is just two years removed from a 35-homer season that was his third solid power output in a row. With the DH inevitable and both of their incumbent corner infielders right-handed batters, the Cubs could offer Moustakas a soft landing and might be able to milk better performance from his twilight seasons.
The four-year, $64 million free-agent deal Moustakas signed two years ago after that big season above in Milwaukee remains the largest in Reds history and Moose is second only to Joey Votto ($25M) in terms of 2022 salary. Cincy has already lost several key players by various means and is clearly looking to change directions, so what point is there to keep Moustakas around? He doesn’t have anything approaching Votto’s cachet or production and the latter wouldn’t make a difference anyway given how bad the Reds figure to be.
It’s a long shot, but getting Mahle’s mid-90’s heat with a possible bounceback power bat on the left side would be a very nice fit for the Cubs. The $23-25 million salary load would be easy enough to bear too, and it fits perfectly within the short window Hoyer prefers to operate within. If those guys work out, great. If they don’t, they’re off the books by the time the next wave of internal talent should be pushing up to the bigs.
I’m mildly surprised the Cubs haven’t made a move yet to take on a bad contract or two because it really makes sense given their MO. I guess we’ll see what happens once the lockout ends and teams find themselves in a mad scramble to fill out rosters ahead of spring training.