A Few Hot Takes on a Few Hot Topics: Under Armour, Jorge Soler, Javy Baez, and the Bullpen

I’m not sure any of these items merits its own feature, and I’ve already offered my position on some of them, but I wanted to share a few more thoughts with greater context than is available on Twitter.

Under Armour logo on front of jerseys

It had initially been reported a couple months ago, but MLB and Under Armour announced Monday that they have finalized a 10-year apparel deal that will begin in 2020. Fanatics is involved as well, but they already operate MLB’s online store and not much changes there. Not a lot to wrap your brain around here, especially with the lag time between the announcement and the deal actually starting.

Something that got surprisingly little fanfare in all this is the fact that the UA logo will appear on the front of jerseys. Baseball fans are, by and large, a pretty nostalgic lot that clings to traditions both real and imagined with a little more fervor than is necessary. That said, I expected more people to get riled up about this whole deal. Maybe I’m wrong and no one will care. Or maybe no one cares because it’s not a topic anyone’s paying attention to yet.

As for me, I think it’s great. I love Under Armour products and prefer them over other manufacturers. Probably because I’m a sucker for hype and bright colors, though maybe it’s because I find UA gear to be incredibly comfortable and durable. Regardless, I’m fine with the new deal and the logo placement (includes mock-ups of what new jerseys will look like).

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Jorge Soler‘s value

Is there another player in baseball whose value, even among his own team’s fans, is more strenuously debated? Depending on who you ask, Soler is either a superstar in the making or the second coming of Wily Mo Pena. And while I do agree that he can be better than that particular comp, I am not among those who’s holding out hope for a big-time emergence from the oft-injured outfielder.

As much as I want to see Soler put it all together, I have very little confidence in his ability to stay healthy and perform on a consistent basis. And as long as he’s on a team already loaded up with outfield talent, his ability to do either becomes less possible and less relevant.

Were we having this conversation a year ago, following a superb playoff performance, I’d probably place Soler’s value much higher. Coming off of another injury-plagued campaign that saw him shut down for much of the stretch run, however, I’d be happy to see him traded to KC for Wade Davis. Okay, maybe “happy” isn’t the right way to put it, but I think you get the point.

For the Cubs, the point is to make the team better. So the question becomes whether Soler is enough to pry Davis away or whether he’s too much to give up for a closer who had arm issues last year. Of course, now we’re working with the respective values of two different players to two different teams. Soler’s value lies wholly in his control (4 more years) and his potential, neither of which the Cubs themselves can take as much advantage of as another team could.

That’s ceteris paribus of course, assuming no major injuries or rapid diminution of the skills of another player. Soler is a bench bat for the Cubs at this point, albeit one who has flashed elite power and plate discipline. As I see it, then, he has much more value to the Cubs in terms of what he can bring back in trade than what he provides with the bat. His defense leaves a lot to be desired as well, which further limits his valuation and, to an extent, his market.

I’ll reiterate here my hope that I’m wrong about Soler and that he goes on to be a marvelous player. I also hope that he does so with another team while the Cubs reap the benefits of the pitcher for whom he was traded.

Trading Javy Baez

Speaking of wild swings in valuation, and just wild swings in general, has anyone more resembled a pendulum than Baez? He has been untouchable, whether it’s as a unicorn or a member of the lowest rung of the caste system, and as gone from an insane bat to an unfathomably slick glove. And after putting it all together for the most part last season, he puts the Cubs in a perfect negotiating position.

They’re more than happy to keep him as a do-everything stud and they can tell other teams to pound sand if an offer for him doesn’t include a cost-controlled starter. Because the latter is unlikely to come with a price tag smaller than Baez-plus-plus, I find it hard to believe the Cubs will end up moving him. It’s hard to find such a perfect security blanket, both in terms of how he can fill in for other players and how he acts as sort of a governor when it comes to trade talks.

Now, if the Rays come down from their super-high demands for Chris Archer

Bullpen options

Mark Melancon is off the market, Aroldis Chapman wants too much money over too many years, and Kenley Jansen is probably overpriced too. The Cubs are rumored to be hot after Wade Davis and have had sustained interest in Greg Holland as well. We’ve seen them bring in Brian Duensing already, but another lefty like Boone Logan might be a nice addition.

All the Cubs have said since hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy was that they weren’t going to spend big on the pen. They want to stockpile a bunch of arms on the cheap, even if that means signing a few guys with primer paint masking the Bondo patches on their quarter panels. Jansen doesn’t really fit that description, though Davis sorta does. The latter could definitely be a fit under the right circumstances.

At $10 million, he’s a lot cheaper than the market value for a closer of his ilk. He’s only a rental, which the Cubs have proven they have an appetite for, but he’s also eligible for a qualifying offer and compensatory draft pick after he leaves. I mean, the pick isn’t as good under the new CBA, but it’s better than nothing. Of course, the overall cost would also include what the Cubs would have to give up to get Davis.

Though he’s not as sexy as the others, Brad Ziegler is another intriguing name to watch. He’s only four months younger than me, which means he’s several years removed from prime age for a big-league pitcher and also the accompanying big deal. I’d think he could command two-year contract at maybe $15-17 million. Ziegler has never relied on velocity and has plenty of experience in both setup and closer roles, thus mitigating much of the risk in a potential deal. Not an end-game, maybe part of the puzzle.

More thoughts to come as the Winter Meetings continue to provide us with topics.

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