Righty starter Jon Gray was apparently looking for a little more green, but there are some potential red flags when it comes to the possibility of him donning Cubbie Blue next season. Orange you glad I didn’t open this with some stupid color puns? Gray, who has been linked to the Cubs since the 2013 draft that saw him selected immediately after Kris Bryant, was being mentioned among their offseason targets as they look to rebuild a rotation that “simply wasn’t good enough” this past season.
Though his 95 mph fastball is almost pedestrian by today’s standards and doesn’t necessarily qualify him as a “power arm,” he still throws significantly harder than we’ve seen from most Cubs starters over the last five years. He’s also 29 years old with a career stat line that is almost exactly league average — 4.59 ERA, 23.9% K-rate, and 7.9% walk rate — and feels like someone who would fit what the Cubs are looking for in terms of money and length of deal.
However, a recent report from Nick Groke and Eno Sarris of The Athletic revealed that Gray turned down an extension offer worth $35-40 million over three years despite wanting to remain in Colorado. That means he’s looking for more than $12-13 million AAV and/or wants at least 4-5 guaranteed years, neither of which make much sense for a rebuilding team that won’t commit that to a mid-rotation type.
The other complicating factor is that Colorado will likely extend Gray an $18.4 million qualifying offer, thus triggering a penalty for any team that signs him. For the Cubs, that would mean forfeiting their second pick (7th pick in the second round, overall number TBD) and $500,000 in international bonus pool money. That’s an acceptable penalty for an impact player like Carlos Correa or maybe even Nick Castellanos, but it’s an incredibly steep price to pay for a pitcher of Gray’s caliber.
And as we all know, the Cubs have never overpaid in a huge way for a mid-rotation starter before.
We could see this theme playing out across the market in general as QOs figure to be more plentiful this offseason than ever before. Where it really hurts the Cubs is that they’ve got no pending free agents to whom they will extend a QO in order to get compensation back to mitigate potential losses for signing new players. Not unless they plan to risk having Matt Duffy or Zach Davies accept the offer, which both would do in a heartbeat.
If you’re playing armchair GM and trying to figure out a way for Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins, the likely surge in qualifying offers should weigh heavily in your proposed moves.