Manny Machado

Baseball’s new normal: How an unpredictable offseason has changed the game for the Cubs

Baseball’s new normal: How an unpredictable offseason has changed the game for the Cubs

In a normal baseball offseason, most of the marquee free agents have found new homes and most of the major trades that occur each winter have already been finalized. However, this winter in baseball is unlike any that we have seen before.

“For the first time I can recall, every team is being exceptionally prudent in the contract offers that they are making to free agents,” a well-known player agent who has a handful of available free agents told me. “Usually, teams panic if they haven’t landed a player that they want by Christmas, but this time we are actually seeing teams let the market settle.”

In speaking with multiple MLB front-office executives, player agents and players themselves, they all talked about a common theme never before seen in baseball history: Teams are actually showing restraint instead of handing out long-term, huge-money contracts to players that aren’t worthy of such massive commitments.

“Our industry is now run by young, analytical executives instead of the crusty old baseball man, and with that change in almost every front office, we are seeing a renewed emphasis on keeping prospects, not signing average players to lengthy, obscene deals and most importantly we are seeing teams not get bullied by agents,” a former general manager said.

Another observation that many who work in the game are making is the coverage of the offseason and the nonstop stream of rumors that fill social media on minute-by-minute basis.

“I can’t believe some of the stuff I read out there,” one executive told me. “The contract offers, trade proposals and stories are — in most cases — so far from the truth, they are laughable.”

Another executive was more direct in his criticism of the media that covers the baseball offseason with a fury.

“Who holds you guys accountable? I’m serious. Some of the stuff I read about rumored trades and contract offers is so absurd and people take every tweet, post and story like it’s gospel. It really is a joke.”

From a Cubs perspective, things have been quiet on the surface but behind the scenes, multiple sources told me that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been exploring dozens of scenarios to improve their club while their window to win another World Series remains wide open.

“Theo and Jed have kicked the tires on every available guy and on guys who they have almost no chance of acquiring,” a rival executive told me. “But, I know what the price is to trade for Christian Yelich, Chris Archer, Manny Machado and others. The Marlins are asking for a ton, as they should.”

What would it take to land Yelich, who would fit perfectly into the Cubs lineup? Well, he is under contract for five more years at a total commitment of just over $58 million. For a player of his caliber who just turned 26 in December, the acquisition cost would be staggering.

“Fans think they can trade a bunch of OK players and get back a star who is under contract for several years and it just doesn’t work that way unless the player has a contract that a team has to move,” a general manager told me. “In the case of Yelich, he makes reasonable money, he’s a great teammate and he is getting better each year. Think about the best young players on the Cubs' roster and two or more of those guys would be the cost along with a top prospect or two.”

In the case of Jake Arrieta, several reports last week indicated that the Cubs had offered the star right-hander a four-year deal for $110 million, but a well-known agent told me that he did not believe that to be accurate.

“Would the Cubs do that deal? They probably would, but Scott (Boras, Arrieta's agent) is thinking about a much bigger deal at this point,” the agent said. “I don’t believe the Cubs made that offer at this point.”

In this new world around baseball, players have some big decisions to make.

“Players and their agents have long believed that if they wait out teams, the clubs will panic or the owners will overrule their front offices and the money spigot will start flowing as it always has,” another executive said. “Does a player take maybe 10 or 15 percent more to play somewhere that he has no chance to win? Is the money that important when you have made serious money already in your career?

“I get it if a guy has never made any money but the top guys — if they are really competitors — want to win. It’s not like they are being asked to play for the league minimum. This is, I believe, the new reality in baseball. Guys will make great money but teams will also show restraint when it is warranted.”

Early in the offseason, the Cubs tried to sign Tampa Bay Rays right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb, but he rejected the club’s offer of a three-year deal at approximately $42 million. Reports have pegged Cobb’s asking price at $80 million for four years, but those close to Cobb dispute that vehemently.

Will he do better than the Cubs’ original offer? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: Most of the unsigned players that currently don’t have homes will find employment soon.

With spring training just over a month away, these guys aren’t going to stay home. They will accept their millions and play baseball. After all, that’s what they do. They’re baseball players.

CubsTalk Podcast: Separating fact from fiction with offseason rumors

CubsTalk Podcast: Separating fact from fiction with offseason rumors

Did the Cubs really offer Jake Arrieta $110 million? Is Alex Cobb truly searching for an $80 million deal? Are the Miami Marlins out of their minds with what they want for Christian Yelich?

David Kaplan, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss these rumors and more from the coldest offseason in recent memory. The trio also chat about baseball's luxury tax and who will cave first — the owners or the agents/players.

Check out the entire podcast here.

No deal? New report says Manny Machado likely to stay in Baltimore

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USA TODAY

No deal? New report says Manny Machado likely to stay in Baltimore

All that simmering on the hot stove for nothing?

Manny Machado, reportedly shopped around and connected to the White Sox for the last week, might not be going anywhere, according to a new report from USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

White Sox fans have long coveted the Baltimore Orioles' star third baseman, who is set to become one of the headliners of next offseason's monster free-agent class. So when The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported during the Winter Meetings that the South Siders were making a push for Machado, Twitter expectedly lit up.

The saga went through several twists and turns from there, with the White Sox reportedly among the most aggressive teams and reportedly making the best offer. That generated speculation, if not outright fear, that the White Sox might have been deviating from their carefully laid rebuilding plans, with names like Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito guessed as potential trade chips considering the Orioles' reported interest in young pitching. Those fears were assuaged, however, when it was reported that the White Sox weren't including any of their top prospects in a deal for Machado.

The past behaviors of the Orioles and owner Peter Angelos put a potential trade into further doubt, with Angelos reportedly concerned that any team Machado was dealt to, including the White Sox, would turn around and send Machado to the New York Yankees.

But as recently as Tuesday, the White Sox were reported to still be talking with the Orioles about a potential deal.

All along, though, the trade seemed to make little sense for the rebuilding White Sox, who would have had to surrender multiple prospects from their highly rated farm system in exchange for just one guaranteed season of Machado's services. While having Machado in the fold might have given the White Sox a leg up in trying to convince him to sign a contract extension, it's almost unheard of in this day and age for one of the game's top players to give up the chance to hit the free-agent market and get the biggest possible contract.

The White Sox — and every other team — will figure to have their chance at acquiring Machado next winter, when he joins the likes of Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones and the rest of that bonkers free-agent class on the open market. And the likelihood of the White Sox bringing Machado or any other high-priced player to the South Side will depend on the 2018 season and how the team's much-heralded group of prospects develops, potentially putting the rebuild even more ahead of schedule.