Nolan Arenado

MLB Rumors: Could Cubs acquire Nolan Arenado, move Kris Bryant to CF?

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USA TODAY

MLB Rumors: Could Cubs acquire Nolan Arenado, move Kris Bryant to CF?

Recently, two reputable MLB insiders named the Cubs as potential suitors for Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. However, the consensus has been for the Cubs to make such a move, they’d have to trade Kris Bryant to clear payroll and open third base.

For that reason, the latest rumor connecting Arenado to the Cubs is the most shocking yet.

Saturday, Bruce Levine said on WSCR’s “Inside the Clubhouse” the Cubs are not only talking about acquiring Arenado but also keeping Bryant and moving him to the outfield.

“Could the Cubs end up with Arenado, and would that automatically mean that Bryant goes somewhere else? From what I heard from inside the Cub organization, are they considering making Bryant their everyday center fielder?

“I have no doubt [Bryant] can handle [center] at Wrigley Field. He’s always faced situations about different positions with a lot of character, with an awful lot of enthusiasm, with no doubt in his ability to be very good at that position.”

Both Levine and his co-host, Matt Spiegel, questioned how the Cubs would make the move happen. The club hasn’t signed any major-league free agents this winter (excluding split deals), and seemingly wants to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold.

Arenado is signed through 2026 (with an opt-out after 2021) for $234 million. He’ll make $35 million annually through 2024. To acquire him, the Cubs would have to send high-salary players to Colorado to make the money match up. Names that come to mind are:

  • Jason Heyward — owed $21 million annually from 2020-21, $22 million annually from 2022-23
  • Tyler Chatwood — owed $13 million in 2020
  • Jose Quintana — owed $11.5 million in 2020.

But while the money would match, the Rockies would likely seek more in return for their superstar third baseman. According to Levine, the Cardinals and Rockies have discussed a deal featuring Arenado going to St. Louis in exchange for pitchers Matthew Liberatore, Dakota Hudson and Carlos Martinez, and outfielder Tyler O’Neill.  

That offer would blow the aforementioned potential Cubs package — which is pure speculation — out of the water. Beyond that, Bryant has played 25 innings in center as a big-leaguer — though he has 1,054 total innings across the outfield. And if Heyward is dealt — opening up right field — why not play Bryant there, where he's more experienced?

Regardless, the issue that has plagued the Cubs all winter hasn't gone away. Unless they open some serious payroll space, Arenado to the Cubs is — as Levine and Spiegel mention — a pie in the sky possibility.

Update: According to WSCR's Julie DiCaro, Levine's comments may have been taken out of proportion.

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Javy Baez is the top defensive infielder in the game

Javy Baez is the top defensive infielder in the game

By one metric, Javy Baez is the top defensive infielder in Major League Baseball.

Yet somehow, he wasn't even a Top 3 finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award at shortstop.

Infield Outs Above Average is a new metric by Statcast released Wednesday to measure the overall impact of an infielder. If the OAA stat seems familiar, it's because it has been around as a way to evaluate MLB outfielders over the last couple seasons.

By this new stat, Baez is the top defensive infielder in the game, coming in with a +19 OAA. That makes him a bit better than Nolan Arenado. The entire Top 10 list is as follows:

Baez: +19
Arenado: +17
Andrelton Simmons: +16
Nick Ahmed: +16
Trevor Story: +15
Matt Chapman: +14
Paul DeJong: +13
Matt Olson: +12
Jose Iglesias: +12
Freddy Galvis: +12

Ahmed won the NL Gold Glove for shortstop, with DeJong and Story coming in behind him. All three players find themselves on this list, so they were all worthy candidates, but Baez was robbed of inclusion as a Gold Glove finalist.

For more on infield OAA, read Mike Petriello's fantastic write-up at MLB.com, but essentially it boils down to how many batted balls Baez turned into outs — including on plays he should not have made. That means either by virtue of his exceptional range, arm strength or break on the ball. The metric also takes into account the baserunner's speed on a given play or where the defender was located in the field, so it factors in all the outs Baez has converted from the outfield grass, either on the left or right side of the infield while serving as the rover on shifts for the Cubs.

At the end of the day, this is just a fancy number to confirm what Cubs fans saw with their eyes all 2019: Baez is an elite defensive shortstop and one of the most exciting players in the game even when he's not in the batter's box or on the basepaths. 

As for the rest of the Cubs infielders, here's how the list looks in OAA:

Addison Russell: +5
David Bote: +3
Kris Bryant: +2
Anthony Rizzo: -3
Daniel Descalso: -4

As a whole, the Cubs had the fifth-best infield OAA in baseball (+20), but that was obviously buoyed by Baez's contributions. The St. Louis Cardinals ranked first in baseball (+42 OAA), with the Rockies, Astros and Angels also ahead of the Cubs.

Entering 2020, the Cubs look to expand upon that number. They won't have Russell, but currently have every other player on the list and it's unknown how much Descalso will even play given Nico Hoerner's eventual addition to the infield on a regular basis. Baez may also improve upon his overall defensive metrics, too, if he can avoid injury (remember, he missed all of September) and in his second full season at shortstop.

Another rumor connects Cubs to superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado

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USA TODAY

Another rumor connects Cubs to superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado

Make that two reputable MLB insiders connecting the Cubs to Rockies superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado.

Last Thursday, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported the Cubs “loom as a possible suitor” for Arenado, should the North Siders deal Kris Bryant this winter. ESPN’s Jeff Passan took that idea a step further on Tuesday.

According to Passan, two teams have particularly intrigued the Rockies as they search for Arenado trade partners: The Cardinals and Cubs. From Passan’s report:

The Cubs would make sense if they move Bryant. They are not primed for some sort of a rebuild as much as a refresh or reboot -- an always-difficult needle to thread, particularly if they hope to dip under the luxury-tax threshold. One source characterized the Cubs as doing due diligence, as they've done throughout the winter with myriad trade conversations, but the notion of trading catcher Willson Contreras and a higher-priced, underperforming player in an Arenado deal, then flipping Bryant to revitalize a mediocre farm system, squares in the short and long term. The Nationals' best trade piece, middle infielder Carter Kieboom, would be a perfect anchor for a Bryant deal if the Cubs didn't already have Javier Baez at shortstop and rookie Nico Hoerner at second base.

Passan isn’t reporting the Cubs have had any conversations regarding Arenado. Furthermore, his mentioning of Willson Contreras and “a higher-priced, underperforming player” is completely hypothetical and merely an idea of what a Cubs-Rockies Arenado deal could look like.

But let’s say the hypothetical became reality.

Based on Passan’s speculation, the Cubs could try and include Jason Heyward with Contreras in an Arenado package. Heyward hasn’t performed at a consistently high level offensively after signing a lucrative eight-year deal with the Cubs in December 2015. However, he posted Cubs career-highs last season (.343 OBP, 21 home runs, 62 RBIs, 101 wRC+, .328 wOBA) all while playing stellar defense in right field (7 Defensive Runs Saved).

Arenado is under contract through 2026 for $234 million. Heyward is under contract through 2023 for $86 million. Contreras is under contract through 2022, but he’s in arbitration and is only projected to make $4.5 million in 2020.

The money wouldn’t match up in an Arenado for Heyward and Contreras deal. However, acquiring Arenado would give the Cubs a cost-controlled third baseman, all while netting the Cubs prospects in exchange for Bryant to replenish their farm system.

A couple quick caveats:

-The Rockies are 50-50 on dealing Arenado, per Morosi’s report, meaning a deal is far from guaranteed. Plus, Colorado may seek more for Arenado — a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner — than just Contreras and Heyward. 

-Arenado has an opt-out after 2021. If the Cubs acquired him, they could find themseleves in a similar position as they are now with Bryant, whose situation is also complicated due to his ongoing service time grievance. Bryant is under contract through 2021, but he'll become a free agent after 2020 if he wins his grievance, taking away some of his trade value.

-The Cubs are in a position where they need to gain prospects rather than trade any. If the Rockies seek minor-league pieces in a deal, that would likely take the Cubs out of the running for Arenado.

-Although the Cubs would land Arenado, they’d lose their starting right fielder and catcher, in this hypothetical scenario. Victor Caratini would assume the starting catcher position if Contreras is dealt, but right field would still be a question mark.

Arenado will make $35 million in 2020 compared to the combined $44 million Heyward, Contreras and Bryant will make — using the latter two's arbitration estimates. The Cubs could use that $9 million in savings on a right fielder, though the best available options — such as Nick Castellanos — will come at higher price tags. Plus, the Cubs have other needs to address, like the bullpen.

There is a scenario where the Cubs could acquire Arenado, but a lot of moving parts would be involved to make a deal come to fruition.

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