The Rundown: Olson Could Be Option as A’s Slash Payroll, Cubs Likely to Steer Clear of QOs, AFL Experimenting With Pre-Tacked Baseballs

If you look at some of the ridiculous free agent projections, it becomes abundantly clear that most pundits do not expect the Cubs to splurge on offense in free agency. I’m sure there’s some recency bias connected to that theory since the Cubs haven’t spent significantly on a position player since they signed Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. It’s kind of a fool-me-once proposition, I suppose, or it could be that Chicago has so many needs that the front office will concentrate on players outside most top 50 lists to fortify their lineup.

Another option might be to trade for players in their arbitration years whose current contracts are tied to teams that have already indicated they’re slashing payroll. If you’re looking for an example, allow me to present Matt Olson of the A’s.

Oakland is so hell-bent on slashing payroll that they let their manager, Bob Melvin, leave for greener pastures with the Padres. I would never say $4 million is chump change, but that’s exactly what it is in baseball’s financial ecosystem and that’s what Oakland saved by letting Melvin walk.

The A’s are said to be planning to slash their payroll to a major-league low $50 million for the 2022 season, two MLB executives told USA TODAY Sports, but A’s GM Robert Forst said Monday that the budget has yet to be determined by owner John Fisher. However, Oakland has been operating under the same financial constraints since Charles O. Finley sold the team in 1980, so we have a pretty good idea of what Forst will be instructed to do.

That means Olson, who is expected to earn $12 million in arbitration, should be available for a collection of low-level prospects, since that has also been Oakland’s M.O. when peddling their expensive players. On that note, Matt Chapman (projected $9.5 million), Chris Bassitt ($8.8 million), and Sean Manaea ($10.2 million) should be available, too. As badly as the Cubs need pitching and as good as Bassitt and Manaea would look in blue pinstripes, consider what Olson could do in Chicago’s lineup.

The 27-year-old lefty slugger flies a little under the radar because he plays in Oakland, but he’s coming off a 5.8 WAR season in which he slugged 39 home runs while slashing .271/.371/.911. Yes, he plays first base strictly and the Cubs have Frank Schwindel, but there are a few options. First, Schwindel could move to DH if the next CBA includes an agreement for the National League to adopt the designated hitter. Schwindel could also be used as part of the package to acquire Olson, especially considering that the Cubs’ surprise star is not even eligible for arbitration until 2025.

Sure, A’s fans would be pissed off because the team let Schwindel leave for nothing when Forst cut him last June, but when are they not angry with their penny-pinching front office? If the Cubs packaged one of their low-level shortstops and an outfielder or pitcher, maybe even Nico Hoerner, they might be able to grab one of Oakland’s pitchers as well. That would save the expense of shopping for at least one of Robbie Ray, Marcus Stroman, or Kevin Gausman. Ray is attached to a qualifying offer, so you can kick the can down the alley on any hope of the Cubs signing him.

The caveat here is that, like the doubting national writers, we still can’t say for certain that Jed Hoyer is going to be allowed to go chips in with a bona fide baseball budget this winter. Replacing a cheap first baseman with a more expensive one will therefore cut into whatever financial reserves the Cubs are allowed to spend over the next three months. Olson also comes with just two years of control and could be a priority of a number of teams, which should temper any expectations of a potential Cubs deal. However, Olson would be a helluva catch if Hoyer is serious about competing for a division title in 2022.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

The Mets could hire me if they simply match my current salary and give me a $100,000 signing bonus so I can pay down medical bills and get my mouth/nasal cavity fixed. They’d also have to allow me to continue writing The Rundown, though I suppose that could be a conflict of interest.

Tuesday Stove

Ken Davidoff of the NY Post predicts the Yankees will land free agents Marcus Semien and Justin Verlander.

Verlander threw 25 pitches between 94-97 MPH in front of scouts for 15-20 teams yesterday.

The Mariners are reportedly very interested in Semien.

As noted at the top of this article, free agent projections have been all over the place, and Joel Reuter of Bleacher Nation continues the trend. Of note, he has Kris Bryant getting a 6/$160 million deal, with Nick Castellanos (4/$72 million) and Javier Báez (3/$72 million) falling short of exceeding nine figures.

San Diego GM A.J. Preller is expected to again be one of baseball’s busiest executives this winter. The Padres usually win the offseason with little to show for it in the way of hardware once the games begin, having made the playoffs just once in the last 15 years.

As expected, Castellanos has rejected the Reds’ qualifying offer. Mets outfielder Michael Conforto also rejected his $18.4 million offer from the Mets.

Per sources, the Reds are willing to engage in trade talks for starter Luis Castillo.

Andrew Heaney is the first true free agent to sign a deal. The lefty starter agreed to a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Dodgers.

The Marlins may trade one of starters Sandy AlcantaraPablo López, or Elieser Hernandez.

The Red Sox are expected to prioritize depth over elite talent in free agency.

Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is now projected to earn over $500 million with his next contract. The Braves front office must be all smiles and rainbows for having locked up Ronald Acuña Jr. to an 8/$100 million extension in 2019.

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi was officially named the recipient of MLB’s 2021 Executive of the Year award yesterday. No surprise there.

Extra Innings

This world needs more people like the late Jerry Remy.

They Said It

  • “The one thing that from the outside looking in that will always remain the same is what the Cubs organization is, what Wrigley Field is, how much Cubs fans genuinely love their team. That’s what the organization is.” — Castellanos
  • “I’m just going to believe in what [Hoyer] says, that the door isn’t closed. … But if it is, I had great memories there.” – Bryant

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

Low Rising by The Swell Season – A new favorite.

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