This time of year can be exhilarating and incredibly frustrating, all at the same time. This year’s hot stove has been mostly broken, I think someone needs to check the thermal coupler in Scott Boras… It typically seems that by January there is a lot more action than rumor, as those subside just after baseball’s Winter Meetings. But we continue to hear rumor after rumor, and most Chicago Cubs rumors point you in different directions.
Here I will take a look at the latest Cubs rumors, and give you my educated opinion on them. Today we are talking Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Alex Cobb, and Yu Darvish. Be sure to comment on your opinion below – let’s keep this a conversation.
Over the past weekend, we heard a host of new Cubs rumors. Friday, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score and CBS Sports, mentioned that the Cubs would be interested in free agent center fielder, Lorenzo Cain. On Saturday Bruce doubled-down on the rumor, offering to the listeners of “Inside the Clubhouse” that the team had a three-year deal on the table for the speedy outfielder.
On Cubs: "If they're able to sign Cobb for something less than 20 mil a year then they very well might pursue Lorenzo Cain. If they sign an Arrieta or Darvish then they'd be open to a trade for Yelich." –@MLBBruceLevine just now with us. https://t.co/t7x173VxNa
— Bernstein & Goff (@Bernstein_Goff) January 4, 2018
So this is what we know about Cain. He has a very good bat, with a slash line of .290/.342/.421. In 2017 he hit .300/.363/.440 pairing that with 15 HRs and 26 SB. He certainly seems like a guy that can lead off for the Cubs in 2018, right?
The Cubs had a .270/.315/.414 slash line in 2017. In retrospect, the 2016 team (mostly Dexter Fowler) had a .382/.481/.684 slash line. So it seems like this would be a great fit. The Cubs get a leadoff hitter, someone that, while he might not replicate Fowler’s production, would improve the team’s production at the top. But here’s the thing… Cain isn’t a leadoff hitter…
Cain has never been a “leadoff” hitter in his career, outside of a few spot starts there from time to time. It isn’t because the Royals had a great leadoff hitter in front of him either. Alcides Escobar batted first in the Royals lineup, and he owns a career .294 OBP. Cain’s lifetime .311 OBP while leading off isn’t much better either.
Perhaps the Cubs look to Cain as a solid, veteran bat, and that would be worth the risk of signing him, right?
Well again… I’m not so sure he is worth that risk. Cain has an abnormally high BAbip of .344. To me this suggests two things; he gets on because of luck and because of his speed.
Cain cannot continue to rely on luck. Sooner than later those balls that found holes will correct themselves and he will hit towards someone. That is the nature of baseball. All players will eventually revert back to the mean of a .300 BAbip. As Cain’s speed declines, which when you look at similarity scores most all comparables to Cain does, his BAbip will certainly take that dive.
So assuming he reverts back to the mean, by even 30 points (reducing his .344 BAbip to .314), would knock his average down into the .260’s (assuming he doesn’t hit more balls or hits more home runs). This would also reduce his OBP to the .310’s range, which is hardly attractive. The main call here is if the Cubs front office believes he can maintain the relatively high BAbip, even through his declining seasons.
The deal smells bad from another aspect. He would cost the Cubs their second highest draft pick. They will pick up a pick from Jake Arrieta leaving, and another from Wade Davis signing in Colorado. But the team is likely going to need to stockpile picks for the mid to late 2020’s. The only way to sustain success, over long periods of time, is to constantly have young talent in the organization. This talent will be used to fill opening by leaving free agents or to trade to acquire positions of weakness. But this isn’t the only reason I think it stinks…
What will they do with Albert Almora?
In 2017 Albert Almora was platoon partner of Jon Jay. Jay would hit against right-handers, while Albert saw time against lefties. The Cubs could still run Almora out against left-handers in 2018, but why would they? Cain is also a right-handed hitter and hits 18 points higher against lefties than righties. So with the potential of paying for Cain’s declining years, the Cubs wouldn’t bat him in situations he’s most likely to succeed in?
It would mean the Cubs would like shop Almora, I would think. Why stuff him on the bench somewhere, losing his incredible defensive play and stunting his growth? The team could certainly flip him for pitching, but the only team that I’ve seen with any remote interest in Almora is the Tampa Bay Rays. They have a great defensive center fielder…
With Bruce Levine being the only one reporting this, I feel like someone tossed Bruce some bad info hoping to get more interest around Cain. This wouldn’t be the first time or the last time an agent used a baseball insider to increase interest or increase offers for a client.
I believe Christian Yelich is a difference maker, he has the same career average as Cain (.290), gets on base at a higher rate, has more power than Cain as well. But unlike Cain, he can be a leadoff hitter.
Yelich hasn’t held the top spot in the order in some years, but he has a .301/.359/.373 slash line while doing it (actually as the first batter in the game). This would be the perfect addition, especially since he is signed to a team-friendly deal through the 2022 season. Everyone would assume that the Cubs would need to send Albert Almora over to the Marlins, and I would be completely fine with doing that. Yelich has power and speed, has won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, and most importantly – young.
The negative here is, Yelich would cost a whole heck of a lot more than Almora. I would assume a package starting with Almora and either of these three – Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, or Addison Russell. Then there would likely be a couple minor leaguers with upside. An Alex Lange or Brendon Little and another. This is an expensive race to get involved in, and with presumably 28 other teams inquiring, I don’t know if the Cubs would pay up for Yelich at this point.
Leadoff, is it important?
Additionally, the Cubs don’t “need” a leadoff hitter, that (as Theo Epstein mentioned before) is a luxury. Long gone are the days that you have this scrappy, fast leadoff hitter, that bunts his way on, steals second, gets bunted to third, and then comes in on a sac fly. The small ball era, for all intensive purposes – is dead.
Now there is a much larger emphasis on getting on base. Whether you attribute that to Moneyball or The team is littered with guys that have a high ability to get on base. When you have a team that hits for as much power as the Cubs, stealing and manufacturing runs typically gets in the way more than it helps. Say you have a leadoff guy get on in front of Kris Bryant. You are then asking Bryant to give up a pitch so that guy can try and steal a base, potentially putting Bryant in a hole (the most popular count to run on is a 2-1 count). Do you really want to limit Bryant’s at-bats to two-strike at-bats?
I would love for Yelich to be a Cub, he has all the tools and would be a fantastic addition. I just don’t see where or how this deal gets done.
There have been a lot of rumors surrounding Alex Cobb. The latest rumors mention that Cobb turned down a three-year contract worth $42 million. That is an AAV of $14 million. This was probably where most people expected Cobb to fall into. In fact, this was more salary per year than what MLB Trade Rumors predicted (by a significant amount). MLB Trade Rumors suggested a four year $48 million deal for Cobb, however, it has been rumored that Cobb is asking for up to a $20 million AAV per season (The Atlantic is a subscription-based site, and I highly suggest one pays for the subscription).
The $20 million per season price tag has been debunked on several occasions, and Ken Rosenthal does so again in the around the horn section of Sunday’s article. He also mentions a couple of other nuggets, which dispels some other assumptions made in Cubs rumors.
Officials on both sides of the Cubs’ negotiations with Alex Cobb refute reports that the team’s interest in fellow free agent right-hander Yu Darvish increased after Cobb asked for an average annual value of $20 million in a long-term deal. No such request was made, and Cobb does not expect a salary at that level, the officials said.
Cobb might not be looking for $20 million, but is looking for something north of $15 million and south of $19 million AAV. The Cubs ‘have’ the ability to pay something in that neighborhood, but they don’t ‘want’ to do it.
It was heavily rumored that the Cubs offered that three-year $42 million deal, and Cobb initially thought it was good, but took his agent’s advice and declined. It is now being discussed that Cobb is willing to accept a four-year $70 million deal.
This isn’t the $20 million AAV that was floated (and denied). It is a $28 million raise from the deal he already turned down. There are a number of factors that suggest Cobb isn’t out of his mind in asking for a deal in this neighborhood.
The first, and as Jon Heyman points out in the above article, is Wade Davis received a three-year $52 million deal from the Rockies. When Davis, a closer, receives an AAV of $17.3 million, Cobb and his people believe he can get something at or above that level.
The pitchers above him are asking for at least a $25 million AAV. The guys below him aren’t getting much attention at all. Assuming Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta get a deal in the $25 million range, Cobb almost is a bargain at that $17.5 million Now the price-point might have provoked an extra conversation with Yu or Jake, but I still think Cobb and the Cubs would have to come back into the $15 million AAV range for a deal to work.
Remember, Cobb turned down a qualifying offer from the Rays. In doing so, he will cost the Cubs a draft pick to sign. This is why some believe that, especially with the increased cost of Cobb, Darvish might be more valuable since he will not cost a pick if he is signed.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of news around Yu Darvish over the past couple of days. I mentioned he would be the first pitcher to decide, his silence might scare me off of that remark.
Yu is a special case. For everyone that wants to jump into the Darvish pool headfirst, there are a number of people sending out warnings about his World Series failures. Personally, I think Yu is worth every cent of the 100-something million dollar deal he will sign. The biggest cause for worry and I have this with Jake as well, is his durability.
Yu has had four different stints on the DL since he arrived in the MLB. That year off for Tommy John isn’t attractive either.
I was behind signing Jon Lester, even with a grenade in his arm, because he has mostly been durable throughout his career. Here is a guy that has pitched a lot of postseason ball, and has been on the DL three times, including his stint for Lymphoma cancer. I worry about Yu (ha, unintended pun) because that transition from the Japanese game to the American game is so different. In Japan, pitchers rely on offspeed pitches more than the fastball. The American game focuses on the fastball first and offspeed as secondary pitches.
This is a huge shock for a lot of Japanese pitchers, especially since we have learned the fastball is the biggest culprit of arm injuries. Now luckily, the Los Angeles Dodgers worked with Darvish to reduce his fastball usage in his pitch mix. This proved to be successful on the field, but could also prolong his window of effectiveness.
If he has used some of the advanced analytics, improving his pitch mix, and adjusting issues in his delivery, Yu very well could be a steal at $25 million over the next four or five seasons. But if those arm issues continue, this will be an epic failure of a deal.