Cubs Rumor Roundup: Shohei Otani, White Sox, Blackmon, Arrieta

shohei otani

Buster Olney has been dishing out some juicy rumors this week, first saying that the White Sox would not be engaging in any trade talks with the Cubs, saying “the White Sox have told the Cubs they won’t deal with them” and then went on later in the week to say that “rival executives” expect the Cubs will be players for Shohei Otani, the 22-year-old Japanese phenom who has ace potential on the mound, while also performing at an all star level at DH.

While Otani may not even be posted next offseason, whenever he does become available it’s no surprise to think that the Cubs would be heavily involved. Having built up an abundance of young, cost-controlled position players, the Cubs are built to buy pitching, and Otani could be a once in a generation type of talent. The Cubs should be first in line to court him and if their scouts think he can be close to as good as he’s been hyped to be, then the Cubs should be focusing the majority of their resources to acquire his services.

This would also be coming at a time when the Cubs could potentially be losing Jake Arrieta to free agency, and to a lesser extent, John Lackey’s contract is up after 2017 as well. That leaves the rotation with Jon Lester (signed through 2021), Kyle Hendricks (under team control through 2020) and hopefully Mike Montgomery (under team control through 2021). Hendricks should be due for extension talks soon, and Arrieta’s situation really comes down to what he does in 2017.

Eno Sarris at Fan Graphs put up an interesting piece in November focusing on Arrieta’s slider usage, saying:

It says something when a pitcher wins 18 games, records a 3.10 ERA, and people are still left wondering what went wrong. Nevertheless, that’s the case for Jake Arrieta and his 2016 season. Because he’s almost cut his slider usage in half this year — and because that alteration coincided with less dominant results than his 2015 campaign — much of the discourse settles on that pitch.

Arrieta’s slider this year was incredibly inconsistent, which led to a decrease in usage. If Arrieta rediscovers the consistency he had during his historical 2015 season, and just split the difference between 2015 and 2016 which saw him nearly double his walk rate, then Arrieta should be able to demand a contract that may set a new record for pitchers. I’m not sure the Cubs will see that as a good investment.

Otani, on the other hand, could be an ideal investment. It would shine an even brighter light on the Cubs brand internationally, and could solidify their rotation for years. The Cubs have always preached that you don’t pay for past performance, so in my mind it seems extremely likely that they will thank Jake for the memories and let him collect $200+ million somewhere else. The situation reminds me of the Jeff Samardzija contract talks. While Arrieta is clearly on another level than Samardzija, the Cubs will have a number they won’t go over and I’m guessing Arrieta will believe he can get more on the open market. We should know about a year from now how this all plays out.

Another name the Cubs have been connected to is Charlie Blackmon, by Bruce Levin of 670 The Score. Blackmon is an exciting lefty hitting outfielder who has come into his prime in a big way for the Colorado Rockies. Blackmon turned 30 in 2016 but put together an incredible season that saw him hit .324/.381/.552 with 29 home runs and 17 steals in just 143 games. Blackmon ranked 9th in the majors in weighted on-base average, or wOBA, at .394 just behind Kris Bryant at .396 and two spots ahead of Anthony Rizzo at .391.  Since Blackmon played half his games at Coors, it makes sense to look at wRC+ which normalizes the park effect on a player’s offensive numbers.  In that category Blackmon ranks No. 27 with a wRC+ of 130.  With 100 being average, that means Blackmon was 30-percent better than the average player offensively, which is still very impressive.

Blackmon is under team control through 2018, so the Rockies would be looking for a decent return if they were to trade him. The Rockies GM Jeff Bridich was on MLB Network’s Hot Stove earlier in the offseason saying how the Rockies intended to go for it in 2017, so they would likely be looking for MLB-ready talent in return if they were even going to consider trading their star outfielder. What the Rockies really need is pitching, so the Cubs don’t exactly match up there. If Colorado was interested in Jorge Soler that would be a starting point, but the Cubs would need to offer up more than just Soler. There may be a fit here, but the Cubs outfield is already crowded enough so this seems unlikely to happen.

Maybe the Rockies will give the Cubs a discount for the pure robbery that the DJ LeMahieu trade turned out to be. Just a few spots down that wRC+ list is LeMahieu ranked No. 30 at 128. Who would have ever thought that slap-hitting DJ LeMahieu would turn out to be an offesive force? Theo sure didn’t, but I think we can let that one slide.


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