The Rundown: Snakes Shock Baseball, Cubs Land Lackey

Top Of The First

The big news of the day was the shocking, record-setting agreement between Zack Greinke and the Arizona Diamondbacks on a six-year, $206.5M dollar contract. This is the first Mystery Team signing of the offseason as Arizona seemingly came out of nowhere to steal Greinke from the clutches of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. On the plus side, both the Dodgers and Giants can take some solace in the fact that neither signed Greinke. The NL West is now three team race though, and Arizona has reportedly presented a five-year deal to SP Mike Leake as well.

The aftermath of the Greinke signing bumps both Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to the top tier of available free agent starting pitchers. Almost everybody had considered Samardzija a second tier starting pitching option but it now seems more likely he is going to be paid as a frontline starter.

In news that now pales in comparison, the Chicago Cubs inked John Lackey to a two-year deal. This is a good signing for the Cubs and one for which I have championed since the season ended. The Lackey signing leaves the Cubs with a ton of options heading into Sunday’s Winter Meetings.

Let’s dig in to yesterday’s top stories.

Diamondbacks Shock The World, Greinke Breaks The Bank

Six years and $206.5 million dollars. That’s $34.4 million AAV with no buyout. Greinke is now the highest paid player in baseball, in terms of AAV anyway. Barring trade, Greinke is going to finish his Hall of Fame career with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’ll win his 200th game and record his 3,000th strike out with Arizona. Whether he finally gets to pitch in a World Series remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this signing signals Arizona’s intent to be a player in the suddenly tightly packed NL West.

Ken Rosenthal tweets that $60M or more is deferred, and that the present-day value of Greinke’s deal is around $190MM. Greinke is probably a 4.3-5.0 WAR pitcher (with some serious hitting chops to boot), and he shows no signs of regression. Greinke’s offspeed stuff, brilliant command and feel for pitch sequencing make him a solid bet to continue to be successful even if his velocity declines, according to ESPN’s Keith Law, making him as close to Greg Maddux as there exists in today’s game.

On paper, believe it or not, that could make this a value signing for the Diamondbacks. We’ll have to see what type of roster Arizona builds around Greinke.

There’s a lot of work to be done for sure, but the heavy lifting’s done. Before the signing, Arizona’s payroll obligation for 2016 was $32.65M for five players. Greinke more than doubled that. The team also has eight arb-eligible players projected to add another $20M to the team’s payroll. The Snakes are all in now, one would think, and should be very active this weekend. My feeling is they still need at least one other SP, a closer and some late-inning relief help. The team’s payroll last season was just under $90M dollars.

On the heels of this signing, teams looking for a top-of-the-rotation starter are likely to pursue Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija. Both should see a decent spike in their respective values. Samardzija’s decision to enter free agency is going to work in his favor despite the fact he’s coming off  an ill-timed, subpar season. The trade market is another option for teams needing a starter, and good starting pitching will now come at a higher premium. For that reason alone, the Lackey signing appears to be almost frugal for the Chicago Cubs.

Cubs Land Lackey

You hated him as a Cardinal. You will love him as a Cub. John Lackey is a bulldog who brings a necessary edge to the Chicago Cubs. Not a Jonathan Papalbon-ish edge, thankfully, but he’s a proven winner, despises losing and has closed out World Series championships for both the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels. I predicted Lackey to the Cubs at an AAV of $15M on November 8th.

Lackey’s deal is for two years and is worth $32 million dollars. This could be a value signing for the Cubs as ZiPS predicts the following numbers: 12-9, 3.34 ERA, 114 ERA+, and 3.4 WAR over the next two years in Chicago per Dan Szymbroski. That projects to $36M in value over the length of the contract.

But there’s additional value besides just the bottom line. For one, the Cubs got Lackey on a short term deal, so he and Jason Hammel ($9M AAV) will be off the books when Jake Arrieta is due for a new contract in 2018.  Also, the Cubs still have some financial flexibility going into the Winter Meetings to get another pitcher, an outfielder, and perhaps improve their bullpen. Their minor leagues are flush with talent at all levels, and they are overstocked on quality middle infielders should they decide to seek help in trade.

The Lackey signing also signals that this front office believes this team is ready to win now. As a number three starter behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, the 37-year old right hander gives the Cubs a formidable top and mid-rotation, arguably the best in the Central Division. Consider this: Arrieta, Lester and Lackey were a combined 46-28 with a 2.48 ERA over 652 IP last year. They averaged 8+ strike outs per nine innings and walked just 2 batters per nine innings (per Phil Rogers). Anything close to that in 2016 will likely win the division for this team.

Fact, Fiction, Truth, Or Rumor

Gordon Wittenmeyer wonders if the Cubs can get creative enough to sign Jason Heyward as well, hoping to rip the heart and soul out of Cardinals Nation after the Lackey signing.

Speaking of which, with the Cardinals missing out on David Price and Greinke, and with the Cubs signing Lackey, isn’t it nice to see the Cardinals getting shut out so far this offseason despite that shiny new television contract with Fox Midwest?

The Cubs will lose their first round pick (28th overall) in the 2016 Rule 4 Draft for signing John Lackey. St. Louis gets the last pick in the compensatory round. If Dexter Fowler signs with another team, the Cubs will get the compensatory pick just ahead of the pick the Cardinals acquired for losing Lackey. If St. Louis does not sign Jason Heyward, the Cardinals would get a second compensatory pick between the two.

At some point, the Cubs biggest signing of 2016 is going to be re-upping Theo Epstein. I think we can all agree that that this front office has been worth every penny and then some since Epstein and Jed Hoyer arrived in Chicago four years ago.

Joey Votto is not interested in leaving Cincinnati and will not waive the no-trade clause in his contact.

Darren O’Day is close to signing, and the Nationals and Orioles are the clear frontrunners at this point.

The Dodgers spoke today to representatives of Cueto, Samardzija and Scott Kazmir after the news of Greinke’s signing broke, and a source tells Ken Rosenthal they’re “intrigued” by Cueto. Hisashi Iwakuma is also on the Dodgers’ radar and the team is engaged in talks with righty reliever Ryan Madson.

Bob Nightengale says the Cardinals have interest in free agent starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Jon Heyman confirms. I’m all for this signing if it handcuffs St. Louis financially for the rest of the offseason. I don’t see Samardzija improving much unless he reunites with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, and it appears the Shark has priced himself out of Chicago’s price range unless they make a trade or two.

Not to get all Peter Gammons on you, but if you picked up one vinyl album this year for the Black Friday version of Record Store Day, I hope it was the limited edition, historic London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions featuring Chess Records’ Howlin’ Wolf with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. It’s already selling on Ebay at four times the original retail price and higher. This long player is a true blues masterpiece.

Bottom Of The Ninth

The Cubs will look to address other needs during the Winter Meetings this week, hoping to upgrade outfield defense and improve contact hitting while picking up another starter and possibly some relief help. The team has so much flexibility there are a number of ways in which they could and should accomplish those goals. The front office feels this team is now a legitimate World Series contender and the moves they make this week should reflect that purpose.

As money continues to aggressively pour into the starting pitching market, the Cubs could exercise a little patience and value shop after the smoke clears. If they decide to upgrade via trade, they have incredible depth in the minor leagues as well as a number of major league ready or near major league ready pieces to move. Their middle infield depth is the envy of all of baseball. Should be an interesting week.

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