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Rays Rumors: If Cubs Land Heyward, Rays Land Baez?

By Mat Germain
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The Rays and Cubs had some in-depth talks during the winter meetings about completing a deal that had the Rays landing Javier Baez. Could it be completed if the Cubs land free agent OF Jason Heyward?

You got the feeling during the winter meetings that the Cubs wanted to get a deal done with the Rays, one that would see their pitching situation improved significantly. However, circumstances in terms of free agents they were targeting stopped them from getting a deal done. One of those free agents was Ben Zobrist, who they signed and deal Starlin Castro to open up room for Zobrist at second base – his preferred position. With Zobrist set to man 2B for the majority of the year, it limits the positional availability to Javier Baez.

Meanwhile, the Cubs need to improve their pitching. With the cost of pitching on the market being what it is, they’ve decided to go with lower cost options like John Lackey who they signed for 2-years at $32m. More than their rotation, however, the Subs need a deeper bullpen, one that could be a strength for the team in a playoff run. With both of these things in mind, the Cubs were said to be targeting a combination of Alex Cobb and Jake McGee or Brad Boxberger in return for Baez.

While it doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface for the Cubs to target an injured pitcher, or one that’s recovering from injury, let’s remember that Cobb is someone Joe Maddon knows extremely well. The Cubs want to set themselves up for a World Series win, and with that in mind having Cobb jump in mid-season and provide them with a potent 1-2-3 trio sets them up for such a run. Add in the possible pen piece and the Cubs would be getting the improvements they need on the pitching front.

It’s entirely possible that these rumors were hogwash and that they were targeting another starter. Still, if they were, so long as it wasn’t Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi, that pitcher was likely on the table in terms of availability from the Rays point of view. With the depth the Rays have coming up from the minors, they know they can sustain the loss of one SP and still have enough depth to survive one or two injuries.

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With Rays ownership reminding everyone during the winter meetings that they’re left on an island where it’s getting tougher and tougher to compete without the budget to do so, the Rays would be doing very well if this deal were completed from a financial point-of-view.

Let’s assume for one moment that the deal is McGee and Cobb for Baez. A big assumption, I know, but I want to paint a picture of how much the Rays would save.

Jake McGee is going to make approximately $4.7m in arbitration in 2016, and likely more than $6m in  2017. Alex Cobb is set to make $4m in 2016, and like McGee will get a raise depending on how 2016 goes.

Both McGee and Cobb are in their second to last years of arbitration, meaning that both are set to become free agents after 2017. We know for a fact that the Rays are unlikely to be able to afford re-signing them, so dealing them at this point seems to make a ton of sense.

The savings as a result, for 2016, would be $8.7m less the league minimum Baez is set to make in 2016, or approximately $8.2m. For a Rays team that struggles to make ends meet, this is a substantial amount, and one that could see them add a free agent or trade for a player making a little more than they normally target.

Next: Rays Winter Meeting: Sternberg, Montreal, and Baez

I really do believe we can’t discount the Rays pursuit of Javier Baez at this point and that it may come to fruition if the Cubs are able to land Jason Heyward. Doing so would put the Cubs on an aggressive “win-now” approach where they need to upgrade at all possible positions, most importantly their pitching. Even if the Cubs don’t land Heyward, I don’t think the Rays pursuit of Baez is over. Anticipate more rumors or results on this front before the season begins.

What are your thoughts? Do you want to see a deal done? Do you see it as being a different deal?

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