They say timing is everything. Whether that be a stock broker, an entry into the work force, or when you leave your home to go to the office in the morning, timing matters.
The Cubs timed their first major offseason move perfectly Friday evening when they signed John Lackey to a 2 year, 32 million dollar contract. Simultaneously weakening the Cubs fiercest rival.
Less than 2 hours after the reported signing of John Lackey, Zack Greinke and the Arizona Diamondbacks would shock the baseball world after coming to terms on a 6 year, 206 million dollar agreement.
The amount, while record-breakingingly high, was not the shocker. Most insiders agreed that Greinke would ink an agreement that would land him a higher AAV than that of the recently signed David Price. The shocker was the team he would sign with.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were not even reported to be in the running for Greinkes services until late Wednesday evening. Even then, most agreed that Greinke would land with either the San Fransisco Giants or LA Dodgers. You have to wonder how much California’s state income taxes are beginning to effect free agents decisions on where they ultimately sign. There is almost a 10% difference between California’s highest marginal rate and that of Arizona’s.
Had the Cubs waited 3 additional hours to ink Lackey the whole ball game would have changed. Some could argue had Greinke signed his contract first then Lackey would have become the top target for the teams that had lost out, driving Lackey’s price up significantly.
Now, with both the Dodgers and Giants losing out on Greinke that changes the entire “second-tier” market. I mentioned yesterday how I believe both Leake and Samardijza will net a 100 million dollar deal. I also believe Cueto is now looking at a deal somewhere in the $140+ million range.
The fact that the Cardinals just lost Lackey adds another team who will be in the bidding that reportdly offered David Price a $190 million. The bidding for the second-tier pitching market is going to be between 3 teams with significant resources in a market which saw any surplus supply available deteriorate in the span of 3 hours last night. The agents for those pitchers are salivating in Tennessee this morning.
The Cubs jumping the market on Lackey likely saved them at least one additional guaranteed year on his contract and a couple of million more per season. Competing with the Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals for Lackeys services is not the position any team would like to find themselves in.
The Cubs did more than just save 70+ million, though. On the field Lackey is likely the best pitcher of that “second tier” other than Johnny Cueto.
Here are the 2016 Steamer projections posted for 4 pitchers:
Pitcher A: 3.81 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 2.5 WARP
Pitcher B: 4.13 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 2.0 WARP
Pitcher C: 3.85 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 2.8 WARP
Pitcher D: 3.89 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 2.6 WARP
Looking at only the projections you would naturally argue that either pitcher C or pitcher D is the best of the bunch, and the difference is negligible.
So what if I told you that Pitcher A is the recently signed 22 million dollar per year Jordan Zimmermann, pitcher B is Mike Leake, pitcher C is Samardijza, and pitcher D is Lackey.
Then add in the body of work Lackey has displayed throughout his career when healthy and the probable savings of multiple contractually guaranteed years and 70-100 million dollars? It’s a no brainer. Lackey is the least risky and as productive if not more productive than the group of “second tiers”, and the other teams looking for pitching knew that too.
They were simply waiting for the top-tier of the pitching market to play itself out before jumping head first into the water for the second-tier pitchers.
Theo and company knew better, though. They noticed what was taking place and that the free agent pitching market price had ballooned faster than they had expected it to.
Rober Killen recognized that the price to play at the poker table in free agency had spiked as well, and wrote a terrific analysis on the what that meant for the Cubs a mere hour before the Lackey signing was announced. He is now going to go by the nickname “Nostradamus”.
So now the Cubs have immensely improved the middle of the rotation with a proven winner who went toe-to-toe with the Cubs in the NLDS this past postseason. The Winter Meetings have not officially begun, but the deals and signings are clearly in full swing.
The Cubs have a lot more to do. They will still seek out a cost-controlled pitcher through trade to hedge against the rapidly rising free agent market for pitching, they will seek out OF’ers that improve the team defense and contact rate, and they will continue to look at the waiver-wire for savvy signings to improve the teams bullpen and overall pitching depth.
Whatever moves are yet to come for the Cubs we certainly know one thing about their front office. They’ll be sure to get the timing right!