SAN DIEGO — An already big, hot shortstop market just got bigger and hotter Monday with Trea Turner’s $300 million deal to play for the National League-champion Phillies.
Cue the sad-Cubs emojis?
Not so fast.
Sources from Chicago to the lobbies of the Winter Meetings in San Diego suggest the Cubs might finally be ready to flex their big-market muscle on the rest of the division again and go big in that elite free agent shortstop market.
Cubs president Jed Hoyer and manager David Ross met offsite Monday in San Diego with top-of-the-class shortstop Carlos Correa and his agent Scott Boras, according to multiple sources.
One source said Braves free agent Dansby Swanson — another of the three big shortstops still available after Turner’s signing — is Plan B for the Cubs.
Or maybe they go after both? That’s what the Rangers did last year by signing free agent shortstops Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to contracts worth a combined $500 million.
If that sounds crazy, especially after the Rangers’ pitching left them a flopping mess this season, consider that NBC Sports Chicago’s Dave Kaplan reported late Monday night that Ricketts ownership issued a mandate to Hoyer to go big this winter to turn the team around — that he has the “green light” from the family to spend what he needs for the players he wants.
Either way, one source deeply involved in the shortstop market said Monday that Turner’s signing has heated up the activity and look of those players’ timelines to such a degree that the others could reach agreements in a matter of days.
Whether the Cubs get their man/men in the middle is anything but clear, especially that quickly.
But Hoyer said the Cubs already have been more active than usual in general during the early part of the Meetings, and he reiterated what he said during last month’s General Managers Meetings that he expects the Cubs to get most of their roster work done via free agency this winter rather than trades.
“Certainly we have a lot of offers out there, and we’ll continue to make offers,” he said. “Whether things come to fruition or not you never quite know, but it wouldn’t be for lack of putting offers out there and trying.”
Monday’s events point to at least how much money there is in the game after two years of pandemic-related downturns, if not how charged the middle-infield market is in particular with rules changes coming next year that ban extreme infield shifts.
“You can’t hide a middle-of-the-infield player in the shift anymore,” Hoyer said. “That’s going to expose those guys even more, and it makes athleticism and defense in the middle of the infield that much more important.
“That’s something we’re talking about a lot.”
And even putting some money where their mouths are on the subject so far. If it’s enough to get the job done — especially if they land two of the big guys — they would go from a relative sieve of a 2022 infield to potentially one of the best in the National League.
Imagine Correa, Swanson and 2020 Gold Glove-finalist second baseman Nico Hoerner — an above-average shortstop in his own right this year — spread across the infield to the left of first base in some order.
That also qualifies as an upgrade for what might be a mostly contact-pitching rotation again next season.
And consider this from a megabucks-contract perspective: With Jason Heyward’s $23 million luxury-tax-threshold hit coming off the books after next season, then a contract with an annual average value of, say, $30 million, amounts to a net $7 million addition after 2023.
That’s also how much higher the first luxury-tax threshold will be in 2024 compared to 2022 — with increases of $4 million and $3 million to follow in the next two, final, years of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Correa, 28, is the youngest of this winter's four free agent, All-Star shortstops, and he's the only one of them who didn't get saddled with a qualifying offer — and the consequent draft-pick compensation surrendered by any team signing a player with a QO.
Will the Cubs have the appetite to outbid the competition for either target, never mind both? Will they have the sales pitch that sells Correa on Hoyer’s whole not-a-rebuild, Next Great Cubs Team vision thing — a year after their brief free agency flirtation went nowhere over the state of the team?
What seems clear is they’re at least willing to push more resources into the fray to compete in an inflationary market beyond anything The Fed might face in its worst nightmares.
“It’s hard to get a real feel for it, but, yeah, certainly it’s been an aggressive market,” Hoyer said. “There’s been a lot of deals coming in, and obviously those numbers in some cases are probably higher than some projections.
“You try not to be surprised. But certainly it’s been active so far.”
The Cubs certainly have the resources to compete for any player they want. And this time, it appears, with ownership’s blessing to use them.
Now they just have to close the deal(s).
“Getting deals done is complicated obviously,” Hoyer said, “but we’ll certainly try.”