The week started out so strong and so promising. Last Sunday, reports surfaced that the Reds were talking with the Dodgers about Aroldis Chapman and then, last Monday morning those talks ramped up, to the point that the Reds had all but agreed to trade their prolific closer to Los Angeles for two non-Seager-Urias-De Leon Dodgers prospects. So, for hours, we speculated.
And then a report surfaced of an alleged domestic incident at Chapman's residence.The league vowed to investigate and, in the meantime, the Reds and other teams backed away from potential deals involving the embattled reliever.
And then... nothing else materialized. There was a report here about the Reds shopping Frazier to AL Central teams, and there was a report there about Brandon Phillips being shopped to the suddenly serious Diamondbacks.
But enough about the Reds. There are four other teams in the division that had wheeling and dealing to make. So what'd they do? Did the Cardinals throw around all of their devil money? Did the Cubs continue to build? Did the Brewers get worse??
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals certainly looked to be swinging for the fences at the meetings, but failed to make much actual contact. In the week leading up to the meetings, the Cardinals were very much in on efforts to sign superstar southpaw David Price, but were ultimately usurped by the Boston Red Sox. They then turned their sights to former Cubs/As/White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija as a less talented, less expensive alternative, but failed to land Shark when he accepted a 5 year, $90 million deal with the Giants. Thus, the biggest ticket the Cardinals had their eyes on coming into the meetings was re-signing their own, most importantly Jason Heyward. Former Cardinal starting pitcher John Lackey had already bolted for the north side of Chicago prior to the meetings.
Arguably the best and most important player on the 100 win St. Louis team in 2015, Heyward put up 6.5 bWAR in his age 25 walk year, with a 116 OPS+ to go along with outstanding outfield defense. Heyward has failed to live up to the lofty expectations of "next Ken Griffey, Jr." since his outstanding rookie season, at least at the plate. But, if that's the worst thing you can say about someone, well, that's a pretty damn high bar to clear. Heyward has been great, and as a 26 year old free agent, was bound to have a Brinks truck back up to his front door.
The Heyward negotiations tied up not only the outfield market, but also, I would think, the Cardinals negotiations through the entire week. They did, however, manage to make a move with the Padres to swap center fielder Jon Jay for infielder Jedd Gyorko, along with money coming from the San Diego side of the deal. St. Louis seems content to roll with an out field of Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham and, presumably, Jason Heyward, which made Jay expendable. With the departure of Pete Kozma, Gyorko gives the Cards a utility infielder that serves as an insurance policy in case Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong run head long into brick walls again, production wise, for the 2016 Cardinals.
He's expensive, and been a disappointment since he's rookie year and subsequent extension, but the Cardinals will be counting on a change of scenery to do Gyorko some good.
Later in the week, the Cardinals reached a two year deal for former Reds reliever Jonathan Broxton. Earlier in the off season, St. Louis declined the $9 million team option on the big reliever's contract, which they acquired in a midseason trade. That amount was too rich for who he is now, but Broxton is still only 31 years old, and a more reasonable, 2/$7.5m was palatable enough for the Cardinals to bring him back.
The Cardinals then waited for the other shoe to drop in the Jason Heyward negotiations and, on Friday, it did. And it landed right on their head.
It was reported Friday afternoon that Heyward chose the Cubs over both the Cardinals and Nationals. The Nationals and Cardinals both reportedly cleared the $200 million dollar total value, though it was unclear how long those deals were for. The final number for Heyward ended up at 8 years, $184 million with two opportunities for him to opt out and do it all over again, the first after only three years.
So, the meetings closed with the Cardinals standing with their pockets full of money, flanked by only Broxton and Gyorko, neither of which were enough based on the bigger targets they missed out on and the cash they were willing to spend. Of course, the off season doesn't end at the meetings, and there are still very valuable players out there. The Cardinals are now said to be heavily pursuing Alex Gordon as Plan B, and, somewhat quietly, Justin Upton lurks. Chris Davis has been mentioned with the Cardinals as well.
Though, if you're willing to take a GM's word at face value, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak says that the Cardinals are no longer looking to make a dynamic signing.
It's not the end of the world for the Cardinals and they still project to be a good team next season, they have to be disappointed with how the meetings went, and a little concerned that they continually ended up the bridesmaid and never the bride.
The Cubs walked into the winter meetings in really good shape, having won 98 games in 2015, beating NL Central rival Pirates and Cardinals to reach the NLCS where they were ultimately ousted by the New York Mets. Before the meetings commenced, the Cubs lifted John Lackey from the Cardinals to presumably slot into the 3rd or 4th rotation spot. They weren't and still aren't completely satisfied with their rotation depth. After also missing out on Price, they were constantly linked to names such as Samardzija, but ultimately his price was one they weren't willing to pay.
Last Monday, the Cubs re-inked reliever Trevor Cahill, after receiving 17 great innings of relief from the former starter. But the bigger dominos were about to fall.
On Tuesday, after deliberating between the Mets and the Cubs (the two teams who appeared in the Championship Series), Ben Zobrist decided to take his talents to Wrigleyville, agreeing to a four year, $56 million contract with the Cubs, providing an immediate upgrade in the middle of the infield for the Cubs. Zobrist, fresh off a championship run of his own, will add valuable defensive flexibility on the Northside. He'll presumably play primarily at second base, but also gives the Cubs a reliable solution in the outfield where Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler are, well, anything but reliable. Zobrist's ability to play multiple positions will also allow the Cubs to be able to experiment with Schwarber at catcher, while allowing Baez to fill in in the infield, should they all stick around.
The Zobrist deal also made stalwart Cub Sarlin Castro expendable, and the Cubs followed through with that, despite assuring Castro he wouldn't be traded. After being long rumored, the Yankees and Cubs hooked up on a deal to send Castro to New York in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and Brenden Ryan. Warren started 17 games for the Yankees this year, but spent much of the year in relief. All told, the 28 year old right hander tossed 131 innings of 3.29 ERA ball in the Bronx. The Cubs probably see Warren as a starter, but it remains to be seen that Warren can reliably fill that role.
The Zobirst deal was huge, but the biggest of the week, and probably the one that puts the Cubs in first place as far as the meetings are concerned, was the aforementioned signing of Jason Heyward. After a long week and many teams involved, Heyward ultimately chose the Cubs over the Cardinals, Nationals, Angels, among others who called, I'm sure.
The additions of Heyward and Zobrist, along with promising arm Warren and the signing of Lackey immediately make the Cubs favorites for October, if they weren't already. But, as importantly, it may be the moves that the Cubs didn't make that make them even more interesting as the meeting ended. All throughout the week, the Cubs listened and were presumably close to unloading either Javier Baez or Jorge Soler for starting pitching. In particular, the Cubs came in second to the Diamondbacks for Shelby Miller, where they were apparently willing to give up Jorge Soler or Javier Baez, plus some, to Atlanta.
Despite leading the entire league in fWAR from the pitching position in 2015, the Cubs seem serious about adding another arm with some of the redundant, young pieces they now have. They remain the team to watch throughout the winter.
Later, we'll take a look at how the meetings went for the other two NL Central clubs, as the Brewers continued their rebuild and the Pirates did, well, whatever it was that the Pirates do.