Bernstein: Cubs Keep Shopping At The Clearance Rack

When you keep acquiring bounce-back guys, that makes you a bounce-back team.

Dan Bernstein
January 28, 2020 - 1:29 pm

(670 The Score) When you're going out of your way to acquire bounce-back guys, that makes you a bounce-back team.

That's a common thread for so many of the Cubs' acquisitions so far this offseason, a handful of uninspiring names who cost next to nothing and might have upside value in a reversion to some semblance of previous form. The circumstances conspiring to have president of baseball operations Theo Epstein currently shopping at the clearance rack and rummaging through the tubs of used gear are both the team's austerity plan -- wanting to keep more of its money than spend it -- and the combination of unfulfilled promise of homegrown players with largely disappointing return on previous free-agent investments.  

Epstein has framed this year as transitional, a smoothing out of the end of the first competitive phase to the beginning of the next one while reconciling the respective contract clocks for too many young players to extend concurrently. Also weighing on the the Cubs is the uncertainty surrounding third baseman Kris Bryant's service time grievance that remains in arbitration limbo, holding up a potential trade that would ostensibly restock a depleted farm system. This is far from the "reckoning" that Epstein once promised, instead turning into a more passive acceptance of a pullback, knowing that all the doubling down on failed contenders the last two seasons has drained the resources. That's how you get here, apparently trying retroactively to win a previous World Series.

Reliever Dan Winkler was brilliant for the Braves in 2018, posting a 2.76 FIP in 69 appearances. That number more than doubled to 5.84 last year.

Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. had a 121 wRC+ in 2017 for the Rays that included 30 home runs. He worked through a lingering pectoral muscle injury that dogged him through 2018, then concluded that year by blowing up his knee in fall ball and missing last season entirely.

Jeremy Jeffress was a nearly unhittable cog in the Brewers' bullpen in 2018, with 1.29 ERA and 2.78 FIP while striking out 10.45 batters per nine innings. Those categories turned into 5.02. 3.96 and 7.96 in 2019.

The latest chatter has the Cubs interested in second baseman Scooter Gennett, because of course they are: He had a wRC+ of 125 in 2018 and a miserable 44 last year.

The total value in fWAR of those players in their next-most recent season is a robust 11.2. The total from the year after?

That'd be -0.9.

Cheap fliers off of garbage campaigns, betting on something closer to what used to be or what could be represented by a larger body of work. You know, like the logic behind giving Craig Kimbrel a three-year, $43-million deal.

This is what the Cubs are, barring the surprise of a foundational trade. They could be looking at a PECOTA projection of 77-79 wins, hoping to hit enough high ends of enough individual outcome ranges to overperform during whatever this time is.

That doesn't make for the most inspirational T-shirt.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.