Now that the World Series is over and the Cardinals lost (HOORAY!), we can get to the task at hand. The off-season. The Cubs are chocked full of needs this winter. Those will have to be addressed going into 2014 to keep the rebuilding plan on schedule.
These are the most pressing…
1. Find a new manager
After the firing of Dale Sveum, the next guy to lead the Cubs on-field is the first concern. With the playoffs having ended, the obstacle of candidates still playing is over. To be honest, I don’t care who they hire, as long as he fits the mold of what the front office is looking for. That Dale was the guy for a while, then suddenly became not the guy doesn’t matter. Great organizations are stable. And since 2010, this will be the fourth manager. That’s not stable. Find the guy. The right guy. So we’re not going through this mess again in two years.
2. Find some outfield depth
After losing Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, and Scott Hairston to midseason trades, it is going to be important for the Cubs to replace that lost depth at the major league level. The preference would be to sign veterans on short (1-2 years) deals while the youngsters get ready. With Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, and Junior Lake, there is a need for two more outfielders. Preferably one who can play center and one who hits right handed. To be clear, I do not see Shin Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury as viable options. I have no visions of the Cubs spending on either of those players with the talent that is coming behind them. I do see players like Curtis Granderson, Grady Sizemore, Corey Hart, and Tyler Colvin as options. Colvin is the standard “buy low flier” that this front office has taken in the past, and with his talent and familiarity with the Cubs, and the admission that the Stewart – Colvin trade may have been a mistake, he could be back. The others are veterans who have had some success, but have also had injury issues. Any resurgence could make them trade bait in July, and they all likely come relatively cheap. David DeJesus is also an option if the Rays decide not to pick up his option for next season
3. Trade Darwin Barney
The popular defensive wizard is not part of the core. He’s a below average hitter. And he’s getting a bit older. There is a market for him, though. His value, however, is at its highest point right now. He’s just now entering arbitration. Teams who have a need at second base can use him. The Cubs do not have that need. They are stocked full of middle infielders, from Starlin Castro to Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins, and Luis Valbuena, the Cubs have no shortage of middle infield options. All of whom are younger than Barney. And all of whom possess greater offensive upside and the potential to continue good defense at second base in the future. The return for Barney won’t be ground breaking, but it should be a decent prospect, or maybe two if Epstein and Hoyer break out the mask and gun. Now, though, is the best and most logical time to move him.
4. Address the rotation
The rotation was surprisingly good last season, throughout the year. There was a lot of depth that withstood trades, and some players emerged as legitimate long term options. Travis Wood showed that he is a solid mid to back of the rotation starter. Jake Arrieta showed that he is still talented and should get a shot going forward. Edwin Jackson had a rough first year, but with his contract and history, he will be back in the rotation next season, and I would venture to guess he has a better second year with the Cubs. It is the very top of the rotation and the very bottom that should be addressed. Jeff Samardzija walked more, stuck out fewer, and allowed more runners to score in 2013 than 2012. The differences aren’t startling, but they exist. Could it have been fatigue from the most innings in a season he’s thrown? Frustration from another near 100 losses? Displeasure over his contract situation? A combination of all three? I don’t have the answer. What I do have the answer to is Samardzija getting rocked a number of times. And it happening a number of times at home. That’s not an ace. That’s a third in the rotation type pitcher, at best. I am not sold on Japanese stud Masahiro Tanaka being an answer at the top of the rotation, either. Too many Japanese pitchers have flamed out because of arm issues. I understand his stuff is excellent, and he’s still young. That may make him a nice investment, but not for the $100+ million it’s going to cost. If the Cubs get him, I’ll hope for the best, but I won’t be at all surprised with the worst. As far as the back end of the rotation is concerned, bringing back Scott Baker, giving Chris Rusin a shot at a full season, and low cost free agents are all options.
5. Back-up catcher
I have a tough time with the idea of signing a Brian McCann (because of age and injury every bit as much as his high douche factor). All things being equal, I would hope the starting catcher market doesn’t treat Dioner Navarro as he would like, and he comes back. He had a nice year, seemed to have a good relationship with Wellington Castillo, and is a reliable backstop. Whoever comes in should take a back seat to Castillo, though. Big money free agent catchers shouldn’t (and probably won’t) be a priority. If the Cubs can land a guy like Jarrod Saltalamacchia for a decent price, great. if not, a LH hitting backup will work just fine.
One of the great parts about baseball is how this is going to play out throughout the off-season. The Cubs are not going to compete for a World Series next season, most likely. It could, though, bring the first wave of prospects to Wrigley Field. Javier Baez and Kris Bryant very well could debut with the big league club at some point next summer. In addition, could be up after being acquired in trades. It appears that the worst is behind the Cubs in the rebuild. Much of the “acquire talent at all costs” is over because of the amount of talent in the organization. The time now is for the build up. While the Cubs will continue to add pieces and make the team better and organization healthier, this off-season is the beginning of the build up of a contender. Whether it be adding placeholders for a prospect, adding leadership to help those prospects grow, or the eventual hiring of a new manager, the fruits of two years of painful big league play are beginning to ripen.
Look no further than what’s been going on in Arizona. Let the off-season begin!
With the season winding down, the off-season stove is going to start to heat up in front offices around MLB. To think Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer aren’t putting together a list of names to go after this winter would be foolish. Theo said earlier this year that he made some mistakes in making big slashes in Boston, and when accompanied by the team’s “bottom up” approach to building, don’t expect any big names to be added to the roster this winter. Any clamoring for Zack Greinke, B.J. Upton, or Brian McCann should be toned down dramatically. It is highly unlikely that it happens. Think starting pitching, relief pitching, and veteran players that can help develop players and may have trade value down the line…like Paul Maholm last winter. With all that said…ON TO THE SPECULATION!!
1. RHP Scott Baker, Twins
Scott Baker is exactly the type of free agent that would interest the Cubs. He has had some success in the major leagues, and probably will not command a big price. The Twins do have a club option on Baker, so he may not even be available, but if he is, I would anticipate the Cubs to give him a look. He’ll be 31 next season, so he won’t be too old, and would be a good candidate for a contract similar to what Paul Maholm got last winter.
2. RHP Ryan Dempster, Rangers
I know, I know. He’s barely out the door and now I’m talking about bringing him back. Why? First, because he said he wouldn’t rule out coming back. Second, he pitched very well for the Cubs this season. Third, he has strong ties to the city of Chicago. I can keep going on and on about why Dempster is a logical target, but it’s pretty obvious. He didn’t want to leave, his teammates love him, and he loves Chicago. A reunion shouldn’t be out of the question. It is very possible.
3. RHP Colby Lewis, Rangers
He’s another Ranger who has some success at the major league level. Before this season, he has pitched over 200 innings and kept his ERA respectable in the bam box in Arlington. He’s another second tier free agent that can make starts and eat some innings. And he will probably have some trade value at mid-season. While it is unlikely that every free agent will be traded, they should at least have the ability to bring something back via trade, and Lewis will. His 4-1 record and 2.34 postseason ERA proves that October isn’t too big for him, so that gives him value to teams looking to acquire him, but an injury history and average numbers will keep his free agent value marketable.
4. OF Reed Johnson, Braves
Reed is basically in the same boat as Ryan Dempster. You know what you’re getting. A versatile outfielder that plays excellent defense, can make a start and give four good at bats, and is always ready. There wouldn’t be a better man to have on the bench for a young team than Johnson, and he proved that during the first half of this season.
5. RHP Jair Jurrjens, Braves
Jair Jurrjens is arbitration eligible, but has struggled mightily in 2012 and was sent to the minors and currently resides on the disabled list. He has pitched his way, this season, to non-tender contender, which would make him a buy low candidate for any team looking to sign him. He is a 26 year old, who has been excellent until this season. The Braves have arms in their system and may not want to deal with a Jurrjens arbitration, so he could be an odd man out. If he’s available, he is exactly the type of player Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein would target. He’s young, got a good arm, and has a ton of upside. Unless he commands big money, he would be a great pick up for the Cubs. There is a lot of low risk, high reward potential to grabbing a non-tendered Jurrjens.
Without knowing who is going to be available for sure until the winter, this was an exercise of trying to get an idea of what the Cubs could look for. The front office is going to center their efforts around adding starting pitching, especially after trading Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm. While Dempster could come back and fill a rotation spot, there are going to be openings for free agents to step in and contribute. There will not be any big names coming to the North Side, but there are some nice players that could be available at a reasonable price. After trying so hard for years to fill spots with free agents to contend right away, these names may not make anyone sit up and take notice, but they are names that can help the rebuilding process move along.