MLB execs weigh in on Epstein, Canó impact

November 19th, 2020

Tuesday’s announcement that Theo Epstein was stepping down as the president of baseball operations was the first of several major moves expected for the Cubs this offseason.

Epstein acknowledged as much in his farewell statement, noting that the Cubs face “a number of decisions this winter that carry long-term consequences,” so his successor, Jed Hoyer, should be the one making those decisions given Epstein’s lame-duck status.

So what’s next for the Cubs?

A number of rival executives around the league believe Hoyer will move a number of players in the coming months, with Kris Bryant and Javier Báez the names mentioned most. The Cubs had been telling teams as much since the season ended, letting it be known that nearly anybody can be had if the right offer is there.

“They seem to think a heavy restart could be in order,” a National League executive said. “Won’t be easy, though, because of the money their guys are set to make. If someone can extend Bryant or Báez, they are probably still pretty good gets.”

Bryant, Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all slated to become free agents at the end of the 2021 season, while Willson Contreras can become a free agent after the '22 campaign. Yu Darvish has three years and $59 million left on his contract, while Kyle Hendricks has three years and $43.5 million remaining on his deal.

All seven players were mentioned by executives as potential trade chips this offseason.

“They are open to all kinds of stuff,” the NL executive said. “They aren’t a group afraid to make big moves.”

An American League executive believes Chicago will move at least two of the aforementioned group in an effort to save money and undergo a reset of sorts.

“My sense is that the Cubs are very open [to anything],” the exec said.

Trading some from this group could be tricky given their salaries. Bryant should see a raise from his $18.6 million figure in his fourth and final year of arbitration, Rizzo is due $16.5 million, while Báez and Schwarber will also be due arbitration raises in their final year of eligibility.

Crosstown move?
In the aftermath of Robinson Canó’s 162-game suspension for a second violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, Mets Twitter exploded.

It had nothing to do with Canó’s future with the team. Instead, it was a collective plea for owner Steve Cohen to fill the newly created void at second base with free agent DJ LeMahieu.

Could LeMahieu -- who has been the best and, arguably, most popular player on the Yankees over the past two seasons -- make the jump across town and sign with the Mets?

The Mets had been among the teams mentioned as potential suitors for LeMahieu, but without a clear spot for him, it seemed far-fetched that the club would prioritize him over other free agents such as Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and George Springer.

The designated hitter is no sure thing to return to the NL in 2021, though most believe it will be installed on a permanent basis in the next collective bargaining agreement, which would impact 2022 and beyond. Now that second base is open at Citi Field next season, LeMahieu could be the perfect fit for the Mets.

It remains to be seen whether Canó will be welcomed back by the Mets in 2022 -- he will have two more years and $48 million left on his contract once his suspension is served -- but if the NL has adapted the DH full-time by then, he could slot into that position while LeMahieu occupies second base.

The Mets figure to be in play for most of this year’s premier free agents, but Canó’s suspension now opens the door for LeMahieu, both at his position and with the additional $20 million in payroll opened by Canó’s suspension.

“I can’t imagine they are super disappointed in getting that money off the books,” an NL executive said.

Cream of the closer crop?
The closer’s market hasn’t started to take shape yet, but one thing has become clear: Liam Hendriks is a wanted man.

According to sources, several teams in the hunt for a closer have prioritized Hendriks above all others, though Brad Hand, Alex Colomé, Trevor Rosenthal and Mark Melancon are among the other relief arms drawing interest around the league.

“He’s going to have a very strong market,” one executive said.

Hendriks has been the best reliever in the game since the start of 2019, posting a 1.79 ERA over 110 1/3 innings, the lowest of any reliever with at least 75 innings pitched over the past two seasons.