Image courtesy of MLB.com.
The 2016 World Series was one of the best World Series that I ever saw. Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of either the Chicago Cubs or the Cleveland Indians, watching Chicago win their first championship since 1908, was one of the most memorable moments in my time following this great game. That said, it’s disappointing to see them decline so quickly, their fans deserve better. The Chicago Cubs seemed to prioritize improving their offense, but have so far only added Daniel Descalso. They are also dodging their fans and admitting that they‘re basically skipping this off-season. How can they do that in a competitive division?
What should’ve they done? First of all, I would add $20 million to their budget by not picking up their team option on Cole Hamels. Let’s take a look at his FIP over the last 3 years:
How about his HardHit%?
In short, he’s in decline and despite modest success in 2018 with the Cubs (2.36 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 76.1 IP), he’s a bad investment at $20 million. Steamer projects him to pitch 172 innings in 2019 and finish with a 3.90 ERA and 3.94 FIP.
I would do this trade just like it happened in real life, as Drew Smyly just isn’t worth $7 million. I would also trade Ben Zobrist to Seattle for Edwin Encarnacion and then flip him to Tampa Bay or Houston for any low level prospect that they would give. Seattle would love to save more money and both are only under contract for one more year, with Zobrist being versatile unlike Encarnacion. Tampa Bay has money this offseason and the need and so does Houston. Zobrist is coming off a good season, but at 38 is likely declining soon and $16 million is too much to pay him in 2019. I would sign Brad Brach to the same deal that he received.
Ideally I would trade Tyler Chatwood to the Los Angeles Angels for Zack Cozart or to some team for any minor leaguer to just dump his salary, but that’s unlikely to work. However, I would do a “change of scenery” trade, by trading Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals for Dexter Fowler. Heyward might benefit from going back to St. Louis and Fowler might benefit by going back to the team that he won the World Series with and was a fan favorite on.
Next, I would trade Jon Lester to Philadelphia in a salary dump move. Wait what?! This move is a bit tricky as he has a no-trade clause, but it’s one that makes sense for both teams. Lester is guaranteed $27.5 million in 2019 and $20 million in 2020. His FIP however declined annually since 2015. Take a look:
His ERA’s have remained largely solid however:
Would you like to see his Steamer projections for both for 2019?
Is that production worth $27.5 million? What if we could convince Philadelphia (who have money and the need for a stabilizing veteran presence in their rotation), to take him on for basically nothing? We’ll even pay $5 million of his salary, putting him at $22.5 million for 2019. Of course we then have to convince him to waive his no-trade clause, but perhaps a chance at being on a team that’s actively trying to contend, is more appealing than being on one that seemingly peaked in 2016. Let’s assume that he would, maybe because Philadelphia guarantee to pick up his $25 million option for 2021, that we tell him that we won’t.
At this point we have $20 million (Hamels), $16.5 million (Zobrist) $3.5 million (the difference between Heyward’s and Fowler’s contracts) and $22.5 million (Lester) available. This adds up to a whopping $62.5 million. Now what can we do with $62.5 million?
Let’s first assess the team as it currently stands… looking towards the rotation, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana are on affordable contracts and have upside; Yu Darvish is untradeable due to his contract and missed 2018, but has upside as well. We still however have two spots open after losing both Hamels and Lester. How about signing Gio Gonzalez to a 1 year deal for $7 million with a team option for $10 million for 2020? That still leaves us with $55.5 million and gives the Cubs an inning eater, who most likely won’t be much worse than either Lester or Hamels and at a fraction of the cost. What about the other rotation spot? A mid-level prospect should be able to get Sonny Gray from the New York Yankees. We now have $48 million left at our disposal.
Let’s turn our attention to the bullpen: Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery (rotation depth), Tyler Chatwood (rotation depth), Brad Brach and Brandon Morrow are a solid collection and I would be on the look-out for bargains but with the volatility of bullpens, I don’t see much value in spending too much on relievers.
Looking towards the lineup, the one area that sticks out is shortstop. I would move Javier Baez back to second base, in order to sign Manny Machado for 10 years and $320 million, leaving us with $23 million.
2019 STEAMER PROJECTIONS
Let’s add this all up. Keep in mind that their projections are for players on their current teams and that their results would be different playing in new home ballparks. I also doubled Gonzalez’s WAR as Steamer projects only 92 innings for him in 2019, when he hasn’t pitched less than 171 since 2015. I also have higher expectations for Fowler, so raised his projected WAR from 0.9 to 2.0.
Ben Zobrist: 1.5
Jason Heyward: 2.1
Cole Hamels: 2.4
Jon Lester: 2.0
Gio Gonzalez: 1.6
Dexter Fowler: 2.0
Sonny Gray: 2.3
Manny Machado: 5.1
This is 3 extra wins. Fangraphs predicts St. Louis to win the NL Central with 86 wins and the Cubs to win the second NL WildCard with 85. Those 3 extra wins give Chicago the division and send St. Louis into a tie with the New York Mets for the two NL WildCard spots. There’s also the extra $23 million for the payroll.
What do you think?