As the days grow shorter, the MLB off-season inches toward its most noteworthy events in the weeks to come: the non-tender deadline, virtual winter meetings and the Rule 5 draft.
Meanwhile, free agency is still in its infancy. To get you up to speed on the latest rumblings around the league, here’s a roundup of some of baseball’s biggest storylines right now.
Blue Jays interested in Kolten Wong
It’s no secret to Francisco Lindor‘s presence on the trade block has the Blue Jays buzzing, but there’s a different middle infielder who could be a fit for a fraction of the price.
Hall of Fame baseball writer Bob Elliott reported that Toronto is interested in second baseman Kolten Wong, who became a free agent when the St. Louis Cardinals declined his $12.5-million option last month.
Wong is known more for his fielding prowess than his offensive ability. He has a career 94 OPS+ and struggled in the shortened 2020 season, posting a slash line of .265/.350/.326 in 53 games.
Adding Wong would require a bit of a shakeup to the Blue Jays’ lineup. His status as a two-time reigning Gold Glove winner would cement him as the everyday second baseman, a position that has been primarily filled by Cavan Biggio.
According to Elliott, Wong has already turned down a multi-year deal from the Cardinals. If the Blue Jays can find a price and term that satisfies the 30-year-old, it’s possible he could head north this winter.
Cano suspension helps the Mets
Wednesday’s news that Robinson Cano will be suspended for the 2021 season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug can be a real “addition by subtraction” situation for the New York Mets.
Cano will forfeit his $24-million salary in concert with the suspension, which means the Mets suddenly have a substantial chunk of change that couldn’t have foreseen a few days ago.
Under new ownership, and interested in halting a four-year playoff absence, the Mets figured to be ready to spend this off-season regardless. All of the big free-agent fish remain on the market, and the Mets can reasonably be in play for all of them.
But let’s not overthink this one too much: wouldn’t the most logical replacement for Cano be another second baseman? DJ LeMahieu, come on down.
LeMahieu, the AL batting champ and bronze medalist in the MVP race, will be among the costliest options out there. But his blistering production in the Bronx (145 OPS+ in 195 games) shows that he should be worth the price.
If Cano was around this year, burning a $24-million hole in Steve Cohen’s pocket, the Mets still could’ve made a splash. But now MLB Network’s Jon Heyman thinks a “wild winter” could be coming in Queens.
Forst appears to be GM target for Mets
Sticking with the Mets, one name recently appeared on the radar amid their general manager search: David Forst, the current GM of the Oakland Athletics.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Forst is a target for the Mets despite the fact he has always turned down opportunities elsewhere.
Forst was hired by the Athletics as a scout in 2000, promoted to assistant GM in 2004 and became GM in 2015. He has previously declined offers to interview for GM openings with the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres.
What, then, makes this situation different? For one, it’s an opportunity to continue working with Mets president Sandy Alderson, who spent the past two seasons as senior adviser of baseball operations in Oakland.
Also, as Slusser noted, the Athletics’ “dim” financial picture might play a role. Oakland regularly deploys a bottom-10 (if not bottom-five) payroll in the majors, while the Mets are capable of flexing much more financial muscle.
Angels positioned to spend
That sounds like a team that’s ready to write some cheques and buy enough talent to get Mike Trout back to the playoffs, right? Well… maybe.
You see, a statement like Moreno’s does not guarantee growth for the payroll — it just quells concern about the payroll moving in the other direction. Not that it’d be able to move much in the other direction without a drastic move, anyway.
Spotrac currently projects the Angels to have an active payroll just north of $148 million, which is fourth among projected payrolls right now (all subject to change as free agency unfolds). Of that $148 million, about $116 million (or 78 per cent) is tied up in four players: Trout, Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton.
Last time I checked, you need at least nine players to field a baseball team. So unless the Angels were planning to move one of those guys (and no reports suggest they can or would), Moreno doesn’t have much room to cut costs.
That, of course, is the pessimistic way of looking at this. The optimistic way is to believe the Angels have a major acquisition in their future. Moreno’s “It’s not going down” statement certainly keeps the door open for that.
Bryant among MLBTR’s non-tender candidates
Changes are coming for the Chicago Cubs. That is not a rumour.
On Monday, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein — engineer of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title — stepped down after nine seasons. Now, if the Cubs opt for a rebuild, it’s possible that another cornerstone from that championship team will head out the door, too.
Bryant is in his third season of arbitration eligibility and will become a free agent if the Cubs decide not to tender him a contract. He earned $18.6 million last season and is projected by MLBTR to make the same in 2021.
The shortened 2020 season was not kind to Bryant, who slashed .206/.293/.351 in 34 games with a 73 OPS+. Still, his reputation is one of a game-breaking player (he had a 137 OPS+ from 2015-19) with superstar potential.
Despite his individual and team success on the north side, the 28-year-old’s relationship with the Cubs hasn’t always been peachy. Last winter, Bryant filed a grievance against his club regarding service-time manipulation. He lost that grievance in January, which meant he would remain arbitration-eligible this off-season instead of hitting free agency early.
As it turns out, that might not matter.