Lukewarm Stove: Phillies “Aggressively” Targeting Theo, *Everyone* on the Cubs is Available, Wong, Angels Payroll, More –

Theo Epstein’s resignation still feels sad, but at least the Cubs are left in good hands.

And at least he’s taking a year off from base…

Uhm … back off. The gentleman said he doesn’t want to talk to you. Hey, sorry about that, Theo. Are those guys bothering you? Do you want me to get the bouncer? 

Would Theo Really Take Another Job Right Away?

While I can’t say I’m surprised the Phillies will still pursue Epstein, despite his expectation that he’ll take a year off, I also can’t see anything coming out of it. For one, if it were a matter of money, he would have plenty of other options (in Chicago – at least, for another year – or in New York, where he would not only receive whatever level raise he sought, but would also soon have a payroll rivaled by only the Dodgers and Yankees long-term).

For another, I suspect Epstein’s preferred plan is to lead an ownership group *of one of the expansion teams.* Sure, an offer TODAY that included an ownership component for an existing team might turn his head, but given the way he discussed his desire and perceived ability to build something rather than maintain it is a huge distinction. There is NO greater challenge in baseball than crafting an organization from the ground up as part of the ownership group (and baseball operations department?), so I suspect that’s the next place we’ll see him land *long-term.*

What’s Next for the Cubs?

At ESPN+, Buster Olney, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers, and David Schoenfield did a roundtable about what comes next for the Chicago Cubs, and you’ll obviously want to give that a read. (If you don’t have ESPN+, you can sign up right here and support Bleacher Nation.)

•   Among the highlights (or lowlights?), this quote from Buster Olney:

The Cubs have signaled to other teams they are going to alter the core of position players that won the World Series in 2016 and they’re open to talk about everyone from Yu Darvish to Javier Báez. The perception of other teams is that the club is dealing with major financial stresses.

•   Sigh. I know this may be true, but if the Cubs make even a single move that prioritizes money over the return, I’m going to riot. If you have to shake things up or trade someone to reduce salary, fine, do it. But you better not be SEEKING monetary relief as the primary return. That’s bad business that will lead to bad baseball that will lead to more bad business.

•   A Kris Bryant trade seems to be the most obvious direction to accomplish both goals mentioned above (shake things up, save money), and that is indeed mentioned as the idea (emphasis mine):

“One way or another, I [Olney] expect them to move on from Kris Bryant. He’ll be making a lot of money for next year, and given the team’s desire to cut payroll, he could move.”

But because of Bryant’s salary, he’s not going to be the guy that nets the biggest return. And with THAT in mind, each of Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras, and Javy Báez are mentioned as players who are available and could fetch more enticing returns. I will add, though, that my personal opinion is that Anthony Rizzo will stay right here at home in Chicago, regardless of anything else.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cubs, and Kolten Wong

There are two pieces of information I’d like you to recall before we get into this rumor.

1. The Cardinals declined the $12.5M club option on Kolten Wong’s contract earlier this offseason ($1.5M buyout), making him a free agent for the first time in his career. They are also generally expected to lower their payroll significantly this offseason – as indicated by their actions with Wong and the words that came straight from the horse’s mouth.

2. The Blue Jays are widely expected to be one of the few active teams in MLB this offseason, willing to spend what it takes to supplement an already exciting infield with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavin Biggio, and Bo Bichette.

Blue Jays: All right, then. So why do I find this interesting? Well, so far, all the early Blue Jays rumors have revolved around the *corner* infield, because Vladito can cover either first or third spot, depending on whom they add. But Wong is a two-time Gold Glove second baseman (2019, 2020). If the Blue Jays are really interested, are they planning to move Biggio to third base? It’s hardly absurd, but I’m not sure I see that. I also don’t think Wong is quite as *impactful* of an addition as I expected, but I guess we should stay on high alert.

Cardinals: I’m a little surprised to hear that the Cardinals have already offered Wong a muti-year deal. The actual plan makes perfect sense – decline the pricey one year option and see if you can scare the guy into accepting a more affordable, long-term deal, perhaps even at a higher total commitment, but over many years – but the Cardinals were reportedly prioritizing final decisions on Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina before any other money was spent. So … what happened there?

Cubs: And lastly, we did generally consider the Cubs an option for Wong, given the vacancy at second base, at least in the near-term, but if he’s already got multi-year offers and multiple teams willing to pounce, I don’t think he makes much sense for the Cubs, who’d probably use him primarily as a bridge to Nico Hoerner or Chase Strumpf.

The Angels Payroll

This is pretty straight-forward, but it’s important to note: The Los Angeles Angels payroll is apparently going to remain neutral or go up from last season, per … the owner of the Angels:

By MLB Trade Rumors calculations, that means the Angels have at least $25 million to spend before next winter, which actually might go a lot further than usual, given the broader financial environment. But step one is going to be to find a replacement shortstop for Andrelton Simmons, who’s one of the tippy-top defensive shortstops in baseball.