Wade Davis

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.

How Wade Davis returning to Cubs could fall into place

How Wade Davis returning to Cubs could fall into place

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Cubs viewed Aroldis Chapman only as a rental closer and didn’t show any interest in the free agent last winter or even pretend like a reunion might happen. That trade-deadline deal with the New York Yankees was all about World Series or bust.

Wade Davis – who became part of the defending champs after the Jorge Soler trade with the Kansas City Royals during last year’s winter meetings – is a different story as a low-maintenance closer with a sophisticated approach to pitching, quiet leadership skills and no off-the-field baggage.

That doesn’t mean Theo Epstein’s front office will come anywhere close to the record-setting, five-year, $86 million contract the Yankees handed Chapman last offseason. But just look at the supply-and-demand dynamics and there appears to be a way Davis could return to Chicago, where he set a franchise record by converting his first 32 save chances in a Cubs uniform.

This is only Day 1 of the general manager meetings at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. But you can already cross off the Yankees – and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants after they invested $142 million combined in Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon last winter – and begin to see how the options narrow for an All-Star closer tagged with a qualifying offer.

The Boston Red Sox are set with Craig Kimbrel. The Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers are rebuilding. There are only so many teams that can afford a high-priced closer, have a clear ninth-inning need and expect to contend in 2018. Plus, right-handed relievers are seen as an overall strength in an otherwise underwhelming class of free agents.

“We think the world of Wade, on the field and off the field,” Epstein said Monday. “We’re definitely going to talk to him.

“Not only did he have an outstanding year in terms of his performance, but he was a terrific leader in the bullpen. He was really valuable to those other guys down there. Any club would love to have him in their clubhouse.

“We’ll certainly engage with him. He knows that we’re not known for giving long multiyear deals to relievers, but it’s definitely worth talking.”

The Cubs are also expected to revisit their talks with the Baltimore Orioles about Zach Britton, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and MLB Network reported, though Epstein broadly hinted that for now they are probably out of the business of trading a young player with four or five seasons of club control for a one-year rental.

“There are a number of guys on the board that we would be comfortable with closing for us,” Epstein said. “Some have closed in the past. Some haven’t.

“There are a lot of different ways we could go with that.”

MLB Trade Rumors projected Britton will make $12.2 million through the arbitration system in 2018, his final season before free agency. The Cubs targeted Britton this summer but didn’t want to risk the Orioles dragging it out until the final moments before the trade deadline and winding up with nothing, taking what they thought was a good deal on July 30 with the Tigers for lefty reliever Justin Wilson (who put up a 5.08 ERA and didn’t make the National League Championship Series roster).

“Guys pop up,” said Epstein, who believes Wilson will rebound next season and pointed to Hector Rondon developing from a Rule 5 pick into a 30-save closer. “Things change quickly, so you don’t want to panic and say: ‘We have no closer coming the next four years.’"

“We have a really talented ‘pen. Right now, we don’t have someone that we can fully count on in that role. But I know we will by the time we get ready to head to Arizona.”

Whether Davis reports to Mesa – or winds up closing for the St. Louis Cardinals – the Cubs are going to be patient and creative during an offseason where they will have options (like Brandon Morrow) as they try to find multiple high-leverage relievers.

“You can destabilize a good club really quickly with uncertainty at the back of the ‘pen,” Epstein said. “You blow a few games in April and May. You have undefined roles. Worse yet, you don’t have enough talent to close down close games and it can really destabilize the entire team, beyond just the impact of the wins and losses.

“The starting pitcher feels pressure to go deeper in games. The offense feels pressure to put up a huge number. It can be tough. If you’re a contending team, you have to go into the year with enough talent in your ‘pen where you feel confident you can shut down close games against good teams.

“Whether or not you want to have a ‘proven’ closer or have someone grow into that role, that’s an open question. But you certainly have to have enough talent.”

Brandon Morrow shows ways Cubs can rebuild bullpen

Brandon Morrow shows ways Cubs can rebuild bullpen

The Cubs could try to sign Brandon Morrow or find the next Brandon Morrow or maybe pull off both moves as they rebuild a bullpen that got exposed in the playoffs.

After another October featuring short-leash starters, hybrid relievers and managers on the hot seat, super-bullpens will again be a trending topic when the general manager meetings kick off on Monday in Orlando, Florida.

The lottery-ticket ideal is Morrow, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft who didn’t live up to the hype in the Seattle or Toronto rotations, a survivor of two Tommy John surgeries and a breakout playoff star after beginning the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Morrow shut down the Cubs for 4.2 innings during the National League Championship Series, striking out seven of the 16 hitters he faced, working 14 of 15 playoff games out of the Dodger bullpen and generating some free-agent buzz.

Since the Theo Epstein regime took over after the 2011 season, the Cubs have handed out multiyear contracts to only two relievers — swingman Carlos Villanueva and Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa —  and neither deal totaled more than $10 million. Signing a top-tier reliever like Morrow might cost two or three times that amount and require a commitment of at least three or four years.

Even Pedro Strop’s low-risk extension announced in spring training came out of settling at a $5.5 million salary for 2017 before a potential arbitration hearing and then adding a reasonable guarantee for 2018 ($5.85 million) and a 2019 club option ($6.25 million or a $500,000 buyout).

This is more of an overall bullpen philosophy than a hard-and-fast rule, but the Cubs will probably have to get out of that comfort zone, whether or not they bring back All-Star closer Wade Davis.

“You’ve got to keep an open mind,” general manager Jed Hoyer said on NBC Sports Chicago’s Cubs Talk Podcast. “We’ve certainly had offers out there to different guys that have gone elsewhere. Building a bullpen is a very complicated thing, and probably one of the hardest things that we have to do. They come from all over.

“Pedro Strop had a 7.00 (ERA) with the Orioles and was in that (Jake Arrieta) deal and he comes over to the Cubs and he’s been fantastic for us. You can get guys off the waiver wire. You look at Brandon Morrow and the kind of season he had. That was obviously not expected.

“You have to always be vigilant trying to find guys and put guys in opportunities to succeed. Now, that said, having some stability in the bullpen —  and guys with a little bit more of a track record or a little better stuff —  is important as well.”

The Cubs completely rebuilt their bullpen on the fly in the middle of a 97-win season —  picking up Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill and Fernando Rodney from the scrap heap — and made it to the 2015 NLCS.

Despite their postseason struggles, Epstein pointed out that Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery got the three most important outs in franchise history —  the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 —  and will be vital parts of the 2018 bullpen.

Brian Duensing showed the Cubs enough in only 14 appearances out of the Baltimore bullpen in 2016 to get a one-year, $2 million deal that generated zero buzz last offseason —  and the lefty wound up being one of Joe Maddon’s most-trusted relievers.

The Cubs can also take advantage of the supply-and-demand dynamics this winter.

Addison Reed —  a reliever the Cubs have monitored at trade-deadline season —  will be 29 next year and has extensive experience as a closer (with the White Sox) and a setup guy for big-market playoff teams (Mets and Red Sox).

The Cubs showed interest in Greg Holland before trading for Davis at last year’s winter meetings. But that was as a bounce-back Tommy John guy, not someone who opted out of his $15 million player option for 2018 and will probably decline the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rockies.

Bryan Shaw just turned 30 and has made at least 70 appearances in each of the last five seasons for the Indians, plus five playoff series out of Terry Francona’s bullpen. Tony Watson had been a left-handed piece to that lights-out Dodger bullpen in the NLCS.

Steve Cishek and Pat Neshek can offer funky sidearm looks. Jake McGee has the Tampa Bay connection to Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey. Chicago guy Luke Gregerson helped transform the Astros into World Series champs.

“There’s a little bit more depth in the reliever market than some of the other markets,” Hoyer said. “All in all, this is not a robust free-agent class, which may lend itself to some creativity by a lot of teams. But that is one area of the market that has a few more players than some of the others.”