Gonzales: Will Cubs, White Sox spend now or wait for free agent bargains?

  • Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is one of the top free agents remaining on the market.

    Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is one of the top free agents remaining on the market. Associated Press file photo

 
Updated 11/29/2021 2:58 PM

Shop now, or wait until later for bargains?

Those are the options facing the White Sox and Cubs, who appear to have taken different paths with major league baseball likely to shut down after the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires Wednesday at 10:59 p.m.

 

Completing deals soon should alleviate some of the potential anxiety and fear during the length of the expected lockout, which would prohibit players from training at team facilities and potentially threaten the start of the regular season if the stalemate carries into March.

Not signing or trading for an impact pitcher or player before Thursday would increase the impatience level of Cubs fans, although there are currently too many needs to address in a short window.

Meanwhile, the White Sox already reinforced their intentions to push harder toward a World Series title by agreeing to terms last week on a three-year, $24 million contract with free-agent reliever Kendall Graveman.

The signing might not seem as sexy as last winter's acquisition of closer Liam Hendricks, but it addresses a need with Ryan Tepera currently a free agent and Craig Kimbrel and his $16 million contract being shopped.

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The White Sox's priorities, which include a second baseman and a starting pitcher, are more narrow than the Cubs, who wisely claimed left-hander Wade Miley off waivers from Cincinnati three weeks ago and picked up his $10 million option.

There's plenty for the Cubs to consider besides power starting pitching, a veteran shortstop and a power-hitting outfielder. After waiting until the All-Star break to trade All-Stars Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo two months before free agency, they face a similar landscape with Willson Contreras.

The situation is further impacted by Miguel Amaya, once touted as their "catcher of the future," who is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery Tuesday in Chicago and is destined to miss the majority of valuable development time for the third consecutive season.

Contreras' production dipped last season, but part of that could stem from the lack of a dependable backup that led to him starting 112 games and catching 935 2/3 innings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Contreras was a plus-8 in defensive runs saved, compared to his backups' minus-4 mark. Pitchers' ERA with Contreras behind the plate was 4.47, nearly a half-run below the team ERA. Contreras' backups batted .186 with five home runs and 13 RBIs.

A thin catching market could force the Cubs to lean closer toward re-signing Contreras, 29, unless they believe their other needs are too great to fill through non-tenders or free agency after the lockout.

Contreras' leadership qualities also are an asset to an inexperienced roster, so expect the Cubs to negotiate a long-term deal unless they believe that's not achievable and elect to entertain offers.

The deadline for tendering all remaining unsigned players under team control is Tuesday at 7 p.m. Despite a disastrous 4 1/2 months, Ian Happ might have hit himself into getting tendered after producing a slash line of .317/.405/.615 in his final 28 games.

That would result in a raise increase of about $2 million that would put him in the low $6 million range. But the Cubs need to add balance at center field, where Rafael Ortega batted .321 with a .374 on-base percentage against right-handers but batted .128 with 20 strikeouts in 59 plate appearances against lefties.

Should the Cubs splurge on a free-agent shortstop or acquire a dependable veteran, Nico Hoerner could split time in center field and the infield while batting leadoff.

As much it may pain Cubs fans, signing one top-notch free agent won't shore up all their problems. Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman and even Michael Lorenzen would have helped the pitching staff, but there's usually an unwritten surcharge for losing teams signing free agents.

They could make a quick strike from a new pool of free agents who weren't tendered contacts.

The White Sox, meanwhile, can sell the attraction of a winning team with young talent and a bona fide sense of urgency serving as enticements to free agents.

The lineup needs more tilt toward the left side, but youngster Gavin Sheets is an internal option. Their pool of tradable players isn't as deep as past seasons, but adding Graveman represents a much-needed early holiday purchase.

@MDGonzales

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