The good, the bad, the ugly of MLB shutdown for Cubs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
It’s hard to put a positive spin on MLB’s first labor shutdown in 26 years, but at least it hasn’t cost games or spring training time — yet.
And despite a massive gap to bridge between owners and the players union, many insiders on both sides have stayed optimistic during dozens of private conversations over the past several months that next season will start on time.
So what comes next?
For now, the industry is recovering from the whiplash created by the screeching halt Tuesday night to a fast and furious late-November rush of free agent signings, including the just-under-the-wire signing by the Cubs of coveted starting pitcher Marcus Stroman (three years, $71 million).
Until the lockout by owners, teams spent a November record $1.7 billion on free agents, with almost $1 billion going to six of them in the final four days:
- Corey Seager, $325 million (10 years) from the Rangers
- Marcus Semien, $175 million (seven) from the Rangers
- Javy Báez, $140 million (six) from the Tigers
- Max Scherzer, $130 million (three) from the Mets
- Robbie Ray, $115 million (five) from the Mariners
- Kevin Gausman, $110 million (five) from the Blue Jays
Whether that says says more about how much money the owners have as they try to argue they need to keep caps on spending to protect themselves from themselves or whether it says more about the anxiety of players facing unemployment during a lockout, the only thing certain about the next few weeks or months is uncertainty.
The Cubs, who admittedly changed strategy to get more aggressive once they saw how other teams were rushing to sign players before the lockout, at least addressed a significant starting pitching need as well as landing catcher Yan Gomes on a two-year, $13 million deal in the final days.
They also took a $1.5 million flyer on outfielder Clint Frazier, a former No. 5 overall pick, who was released by the Yankees after a disappointing, injury-hampered season.
It’s little more than a start for a team that blew up its roster in July. But it’s an important one considering the transactions freeze that comes with the lockout — which also bans clubs from contact with their own players.
Where does that leave the Cubs?
Mostly regrouping, redrawing their plans for what might be a post-lockout flurry of transactions even more fast and furious than November, filling their last coaching staff opening, working through that promised extension with manager David Ross and otherwise holding plenty of office meetings.
Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of where the Cubs stand and what the shutdown might mean for them:
The Cubs planned to wait for the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement before making most of their significant moves until that not-so-small tweak to their strategy — and good thing for the comparative look of the roster they did that.
Check out the early makings of the Cubs’ 2022 rotation all of a sudden — especially compared to last season’s discount group. The front three:
- 2022: Kyle Hendricks, Stroman, Wade Miley.
- 2021: Hendricks, Zach Davies, Jake Arrieta.
The Cubs expect to add depth, even as they shift priorities to the infield (in particular shortstop). But even without significant additions, this group looks more competitive already on paper all the way through the fourth spot, considering that the No. 4 starter in the opening rotation was Trevor Williams in a failed bounce-back attempt before being traded with Báez to the Mets at the deadline.
The late-season tanking that elevated their position for waiver claims and allowed the to claim Miley gave them a head start with one middle to back-end rotation piece. And the decision last week to ramp up talks with Stroman gives them another front-end piece — and peace of mind into the lockout.
“I feel very good that we added two starting pitchers prior to Dec. 1,” Hoyer said. “We needed to add pitching; we talked about adding innings, and we were able to do that.”
One more item to add to the “good” list for the shutdown’s impact for the Cubs: The transaction freeze does not apply to those who aren’t members of the union (i.e., to non-players), which means Hoyer and Ross have plenty of quiet time to work out the extension both said they had discussed briefly before the end of the season.
Ross’ original three-year contract has one more year left.
The shutdown comes just as the Cubs were getting started and with more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in any season since the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime took over a decade ago.
Even more specifically, as Hoyer said he planned to shift focus to the infield, the Cubs were linked again, repeatedly, to top free agent shortstop Carlos Correa in the final hours and minutes before Tuesday’s lockout.
In fact, the ink wasn’t dry on Stroman’s contract before the newest Cub began recruiting Correa through social media.
Whether any of that would have provided momentum for at least serious talks, there’s no momentum of any kind to be had with all contact with players shut down until the labor contract is resolved.
Maybe Stroman uses the shutdown to become tight with Correa, and he’s able to do some of Hoyer’s bidding until Hoyer is allowed to close the deal. Or maybe everybody regroups, cools off, starts over on the back end of this, and the Yankees come in hot or the Astros rethink their lowballing approach to Correa.
Meanwhile, the Cubs will have a lengthy list of holes to fill either way once the markets open up again and possibly little time to work with.
Perhaps more than most teams, they could have used next week’s MLB winter meetings, which have been canceled. Not to mention the month or two (or more) after that to work.
Don’t think we forgot about what that Gomes signing might have meant.
Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ two-time All-Star catcher and competitive tone-setter, certainly hasn’t.
Contreras, who followed news of the Gomes signing by tweeting emojis of planes taking off and landing, is said to be ticked off at the lack of communication from the club on a possible extension and what the Gomes signing might indicate for the insurance it gives the Cubs at the position if they choose to trade Contreras.
Hoyer downplayed that side of the signing, focusing more on the steep dropoff between Gomes — the one-time All-Star — and other catchers on the market, and the Cubs need for reliable catching beyond Contreras.
And the Cubs seek to spell Contreras more often behind the plate and perhaps coax even more from his big bat, Hoyer noted.
But without being allowed to have contact with Contreras during the shutdown, the Cubs have effectively left their most valuable returning player to stew for potentially months. And that doesn’t figure to help the process of any ensuing negotiation, assuming the Cubs aren’t already well down the road on a decision to shop him.
One more reason for at least the Cubs to root for for an especially quick resolution to the game’s latest labor war.