Since a lot of folks only want to read about deals the Cubs have actually made, I’ll go ahead and say right off the jump that this is mainly about following breadcrumbs. And some of those crumbs have already been eaten, so the path is far from straightforward. In the end, we’re hoping to arrive at little more than a hint at who the Cubs might target for what would probably be their last free-agent addition.
To start, we should re-establish the notion that the team could use another lefty in a bullpen that has only Brandon Hughes right now. There are several options among the non-roster crowd and I think the Cubs are comfortable with the idea of seeing which of them earns a spot in spring training, but this front office has always had success when it comes to bringing in undervalued vets.
Andrew Chafin didn’t necessarily fit that description because he was a known commodity and didn’t seem to be undervalued prior to what ended up being a much smaller deal than he’d been seeking. That took the top lefty reliever and big fan favorite off the market, at which point the attention turned to Matt Moore, Will Smith, and Zack Britton.
The Cubs had already signed Michael Fulmer to a deal we didn’t know the terms of prior to Chafin coming off the board, so learning that the righty got $4 million kind of narrowed the field. With roughly $8 million in space below the first level of luxury tax penalties, Moore was probably off Jed Hoyer’s radar even before the Angels scooped him up. That’s based on the assumption that Hoyer wants to maintain a CBT buffer of at least $5 million.
Now we’re down to Smith and Britton, the latter of whom held a showcase Wednesday at which the Cubs were in attendance. The Angels were there as well and were said to “have strong interest” in the former all-world closer, who had reportedly been seeking the same $9 million AAV as Chafin. Moore was in that same range as well, so the Angels opting for him may mean either he dropped his price or Britton hasn’t dropped his enough.
The Tigers have also shown interest in Britton, though they weren’t at his recent throwing session and are also said to be eyeing Smith. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press reported on both of those topics, adding that Smith is coveted by several other clubs with better competitive outlooks and probably isn’t signing with the Tigers unless they blow him away with an offer.
So Chafin is gone, Moore appears to be as well, and Smith may have his pick of teams. That just leaves Britton, who I have to think will have to come way down from his asking price — if that figure was indeed accurate, which I find a little dubious — after his injuries and poor performance over the last two seasons. I’ve written more than once that I like him as an option for the Cubs, especially if he’s willing to accept the kind of deal that would keep Hoyer’s buffer intact.
One other factor here is the possibility that Codi Heuer returns from elbow reconstruction much earlier than initially projected. He was throwing off the mound during Wednesday’s workouts and there was talk that the Cubs might not even place him on the 60-day IL. I still think he ends up there because he’s got a ways to go before he’s ready for competition, plus the Cubs could use that roster spot in the meantime.
If he’s able to return by April or May rather than June or July, there’s a little less risk involved with whomever the Cubs give that spot to. At the same time, there’s less impetus for Hoyer to spend a penny more than necessary if he’s indeed intent on adding one more free-agent reliever. Based on all that, I think it just comes down to whether Britton is willing to swallow his pride a bit and take a lot less than he was hoping to get.
Then you have to consider that he’s also drawn interest from the Mets, Giants, Dodgers, and Rangers, which makes it look more and more like the Cubs will round out the bullpen from within.