CARLSBAD, Calif. — When the Cubs slammed the competitive window closed on their championship core with a trade-deadline purge of their most decorated players, the most common thread through the final 20 hours of moves was that the top four players were sent to places they might have chosen themselves.
“I’m happy it was the Giants. It’s a great spot,” former Cubs MVP Kris Bryant said a week later when the Giants played in Milwaukee.
As all those core players now hit the free agent market, Bryant is likely headed to his third team in barely a year.
But is it possible Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez wind up with a chance to chase second rings in New York — where both were traded to different boroughs on back-to-back days in July?
“We just had a conversation with his agent about expressing the possibility of bringing him back,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said of Rizzo — who homered in his first game as a Yankee and quickly won the hearts of New York fans as a big, lefty-hitting kid with New Jersey roots, who performed down the stretch for a playoff team.
“He obviously was really good for us, we feel, both on the offensive side and the defensive side, and the leadership side. So he brings a lot of good things to the table.”
Baéz finished strong for the Mets, whose executive structure looks so dysfunctional that their last two heads of baseball operations were fired in the past year after a sexual harassment scandal and a DUI arrest, respectively — with the job vacant since then, after repeated rejections by targeted candidates.
Whether he ultimately gets an offer to stay with the Mets and best baseball pal Francisco Lindor, the Yankees could be in play depending on what happens with top shortstop free agents Carlos Correa (not likely) and Corey Seager (strong fit for the Yanks).
“It’s certainly the year of the shortstop, clearly, with a lot of high-end, talented players coming out at the same time,” said Cashman, who is openly shopping for an impact shortstop after moving former Cubs prospect Gleyber Torres to second base this season. “
“There’s a lot of impact there, a lot of difference makers there,” said Cashman, who sidestepped naming any specific targets. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
Whether Baéz becomes part of the Yankees off-season plans will involve the shortstop musical-chairs market.
But Rizzo is more of a known quantity with a more-needed left-handed swing and a first-base position they Yanks might like to upgrade from 30-year-old righty power-hitter Luke Voit, who’s looking for his first big-league season with more than 118 games played.
Factors in play include prime-age lefty stud first-baseman Matt Olson, who could be available in a trade from the A’s, who have signaled they’re sellers this winter — though the 27-year-old All-Star with the .511 career slugging percentage will certainly come at a steep price.
Cashman also suggested the Yankees’ $206 million payroll in 2021 will increase, possibly with enough flexibility to consider adding a premier shortstop and a first-base upgrade.
Ex-Cubs core anyone?
“It depends on a lot of circumstances,” Cashman said when asked about Rizzo’s fit on his roster in 2022. “To me, he fits, per se.
“But at the end of it all,” he added, “it all is connected with — in terms of each player has a salary attached to him. All of it measures together with your other needs and what can you have. Can you have everything you want? Sometimes you’re forced to make difficult choices.”
Some of the buzz at this week’s GM meetings in Carlsbad, California, where Cashman spoke Tuesday, involved speculation that Rizzo was not wise to reject the Cubs’ five-year, $70 million offer in the spring — which represented a pay cut he viewed as an insult.
Maybe Rizzo, 32, won’t get that total (which doesn’t mean he was wrong to turn it down). On the other hand, some predict he’ll get a contract worth more than that $14 million annual average.
All Cashman knows for now is that he likes Rizzo and his left-handed swing in a lineup that otherwise includes a lot of other big-hitting right-handers.
And that his competitive window is wide open for business.
Maybe even for a couple of ex-Cubs core guys whose fingers still sting from the other window slamming shut.