The Cubs are one of three teams that hasn’t signed a free agent to a fully-guaranteed contract this offseason. In fact, the signing of Carlos Asuaje to a minor-league deal (not officially announced by the ballclub yet) was the first we’d even heard a peep from the front office since they signed Ryan Tepera two weeks earlier. Tepera’s deal is a split contract, so not fully guaranteed.
I thought I’d take a look at the remaining top-ranked free agents, using MLB Trade Rumors’ list. Note that MLBTR specifically ranks 50 players, then has 15 more as “honorable mentions.” For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume the extra 15 are ranked 51 through 65, since the “honorable mention” list isn’t in alphabetical order nor by position.
13 players remain of MLBTR’s top 65. Here they are, with their number rank:
5. Josh Donaldson
8. Nicholas Castellanos
11. Marcell Ozuna
37. Yasiel Puig
39. Alex Wood
41. Brock Holt
48. Ivan Nova
49. Pedro Strop
50. Drew Smyly
52. Todd Frazier
53. Brandon Kintzler
57. Ben Zobrist
59. Hunter Pence
One of the most interesting things about those 13 is that four of them played for the Cubs in 2019 — Castellanos, Strop, Kintzler and Zobrist. (Also, not sure how Smyly manages to rank as high as 50th on this list.)
Many have hoped the Cubs would be able to bring Castellanos back. That’s likely going to happen only if the team can move either Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber. They made do with an outfield of Schwarber, Heyward and Castellanos for a couple of months in 2019, but I wouldn’t want to see that kind of defense for a full season, or more.
It’s also possible the Cubs bring Strop back; he’s been a key part of the bullpen for the last seven seasons and by all accounts is a great teammate and could serve as a mentor to younger pitchers.
Kintzler is likely gone, even though he redeemed his awful two months as a Cub in 2018 with a very good 2019 season.
Zobrist — not a peep from him all winter. I suspect he’ll retire.
The player I want to focus on from that list is Alex Wood. I wrote an entire article here last month about Wood and how he might be able to help the Cubs in 2020. In it, I proposed the following contract:
A one-year deal with a $3 million base salary and $1.5 million each for every 10 starts he makes. Thus if he has a 30 (or more) start season, he’d make $7.5 million. That sounds about right for someone coming off the injury he has. In addition, I’d include an $11 million team option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout, and the option would vest if he makes 30 starts in 2020.
For the player, that would be a two-year, $18.5 million contract if he’s healthy enough to get back to his previous level of performance. For the team, it commits only $4 million over the two years if he can’t make the incentives.
But now we’re only a few weeks from spring training. Maybe the Cubs wouldn’t have to offer Wood that big a base salary to get him in camp.
So how about this instead: A $1 million base salary for 2020, with $1 million for 10 starts, $2 million more for 20 starts, and $3 million more if he gets to 30 starts. That would still make $7 million for Wood in 2020 if he makes 30 starts. Then I’d include a $11 million team option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout, which would vest if he makes 30 or more starts in 2020.
That would be a two-year, $18 million deal if he makes the incentives, but only a guaranteed commitment of $2 million for the team if he doesn’t.
Maybe the Cubs really, truly don’t want to spend any more money. I don’t agree with that approach, but here we are. I’d certainly like to see them do something to improve the ballclub, particularly the starting rotation, before spring training begins.