It’s been a frustrating offseason for Cubs fans, if you’re the irritable type. The angst for greater Cubdom is in what we hear and what’s being reported, that the Cubs may end up being wallflowers at the dance of free agency. We’ve been repeatedly told they want to stay under the highest luxury tax threshold, and that they may have to shed salary before signing up for any new commitments.
And now comes another facet, perhaps meant to soften the blow. It’s not that the Cubs don’t want to spend money. It’s that they don’t want to spend money now.
It seems strange, because the Cubs have a third baseman and they have openings in the outfield right now. Being told of a possible future chase for Arenado does not sate the appetite for now. Does it makes sense in the long term?
In the long-term, it might be a push. Since Arenado game into the league in 2012, he’s been worth one fewer win in fWAR than Harper. If you go by BP’s WARP, Arenado has actually been about five WARP better. Harper has clearly been he superior offensive player, with a .320 TAv. Arenado clocks in at a more respectable .292. Arenado makes up that ground and more by being possibly the best third baseman in the game, racking up 95.4 FRAA since he debuted in Denver.
The fear with Arenado, and really anyone who’s donned the purple and black, is that he’s a product of Coors. You’d be right to have those fears.
Arenado was an unholy spirit at home last year, with a 161 wRC+. But when he put on the grays, or in the case of the Rockies sometimes the black), it dropped to 104, barely above average. Over his career the split is 129 at home to 108 away. 108 is hardly something you’d throw tomatoes at him for, but it’s also not something you’d fork over between $25 and $30 million per year for either. Arenado’s .333 wOBA on the road in his career would have ranked him behind Jurickson Profar this year, for instance.
There’s also the matter of Arenado being a year older than Harper now, and 28 when he signs a free agent deal a year from now. He’s going to want eight years or more you’d think. He might only be a plus-plus player for four or five of those, where you get six or seven prime years out of Harper at least right now.
The defensive shuffling also is a bit weird. Obviously, Kris Bryant would have to shift to the outfield, and likely left field. Which means a trade of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, or both. You wouldn’t ask Bryant to take over in right or center, at least you wouldn’t think so. While it could easily be done, it seems like a more complicated process to sign a player no more effective than Bryant right now. Are the savings really that big?
That’s not to discount the defensive difference between the two, which is huge. Arenado figures to be a superb third baseman for years, and Bryant would be average or better in left. Harper is already deteriorating in the field, and seems destined for left field, which would necessitate shuffling out the players previously mentioned anyway. Depending on what the Cubs do at second base long-term, with Bryant in left, Almora in center, and Heyward in right they would be one of the better defensive teams we’ve seen. That counts for more than the average fan thinks.
I’ve been of the opinion the Cubs only “have” to tweak the roster from last year, and if they get a cleaner bill of health and merely a bounce or two they can be a 98-win or more team. If they did that and then ended up with Arenado the following winter you wouldn’t exactly be upset.
And yet this sounds like it has tinge of placation to it. After weeks of fans hearing the Cubs were going to turn their pockets out and pretend to be Uncle Pennybags on his way to jail, it wouldn’t be shocking if they’re throwing this half-bone out there just to stop the screeching for a couple minutes. On paper, it doesn’t totally add up.
Lead photo courtesy Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus