After the Winter Meetings, we saw the money-heavy Dodgers blow their load on Zack Greinke, go down to the wire with Ryu Hyun-Jin after beating the Cubs (among other teams) in bidding before sealing the deal, and think about going after Anibal Sanchez too. The Diamondbacks signed Brandon McCarthy, much to our chagrin (though in all honesty his injury history is really scary so that’s not that big of a deal). The Braves got B.J. Upton. All that stuff is on MLBTR and around the interwebs if you want to Google it. Meanwhile, the Cubs pretty much stood pat and seem to be waiting things out. 2013 is likely to be another lost cause, with a bunch of flippable players signed and traded by July 31st again. It is a bit disappointing that the Cubs won’t throw some money into the fire, but that’s the sad reality of the rebuild. When will they start spending? I can’t tell you that for sure, but let’s just for the sake of fantasy assume they look to next offseason.
Before we go on, I for one was pretty disappointed that the Cubs didn’t get a number of free agents, but I understand their predicament. The team was coming off a 101-loss season. Trying to throw money at this problem would have been extremely expensive and the free agent market was thin at best, very top-heavy with Greinke and Josh Hamilton up top with Anibal Sanchez right there, then a huge drop off to the next tier.
The Cubs could have tried to acquire Zack Greinke, but I was hoping he’d be had for a Matt Cain contract and not the ridiculous one he just agreed to. Ditto for Brandon McCarthy, but that was more understandable given the injury history. Brett from Bleacher Nation shared a tweet from Phil Rogers suggesting that the Cubs were in it but the deal was heavy on incentives rather than guarantees, which I’m perfectly fine with though it would have been small potatoes for a team like the Cubs. There were various deals made this year where we as Cubs fans would have said, “Boy I’m glad the Cubs didn’t overspend on that guy.” Part of it is a defense mechanism to reassure ourselves that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know what they’re doing, and a large part of it is true. $39MM for Shane Victorino? Lulz.
The Cubs are in a mess and they need to dig out of it. They have some good pieces in place in the lower minors and some pieces to build on with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro on the big league club, but there’s more work to be done. The best hope that we have is that the prospects closest to scratching the surface (i.e. Brett Jackson) make that leap forward and start producing to solidify the core anchored by Rizzo and Castro. If that happens in 2013 then the Cubs are more apt to spend the following offseason. Let’s just pretend that happens and look at who’s available.
To begin, I took the MLBTR 2014 MLB free agents list and set it up in a spreadsheet. I sorted each player by age and position. Before taking into account international free agents and non-tendered players, there are 154 potential players available for 2014 (declared free agents upon conclusion of the 2013 season). These players range in age from 28 to 44. I then eliminated obvious players who would never sign with the Cubs (i.e. because they’re going to retire as Yankees, like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera) as well as anyone over the age of 40. I also eliminated the older relief pitchers and position players except for a few who could be interesting like Roy Halladay.
In the next step, I re-sorted the pared down list by position and then sorted by age. I eliminated most of the first basemen because of Anthony Rizzo‘s assumed hold on the position. I did, however, include all 2B/SS candidates since someone can still serve as a backup infielder and shortstops can theoretically be moved anywhere on the diamond.
Finally, I resorted the pared down list by name and set up three ranks: YES, MEH, and NO. YES means if they are available (option is declined, former team can’t re-sign them etc) then the Cubs should make a bid. MEH means that I don’t care either way. NO means that the Cubs should not touch these guys at all except for a minor league contract with a spring invite. I eliminated all the NO guys and was left with a list of 84. Of that list, I have 12 “YES” ranks. They are listed below:
|Jon Lester||SP||30||$13MM club option with a $250K buyout|
|James Shields||SP||32||$12MM club option with a $1MM buyout|
|Ben Zobrist||2B||33||$7MM club option with a $2.5MM buyout|
The “MEH” guys are somewhat important too, but these are the twelve that I want the Cubs to try to target for various reasons. Some of them have had bad 2012 seasons, but based on their history they should be able to bounce back (Jon Lester comes to mind). Others have been on the decline for a bit but should still be very useful (i.e. Tim Lincecum). Robinson Cano in particular has suggested that he will not accept a hometown discount from the Yankees, who seem to be trimming payroll lately, and would be an absolute coup of a signing if the Cubs tried it. Mike Morse is listed as a first baseman but can play outfield as well. And Ben Zobrist can pretty much play everywhere, still a very useful and productive player despite being the elder stateman on this short list.
I don’t expect that the Cubs will sign all (or any) of these guys, and I also don’t expect some of them to make it to free agency given the climate of baseball economics in the new CBA that sees teams giving their best players extensions and leaving slim pickings to hit the market. All of them will over 30 or turn 30 when their hypothetical contract starts with the Cubs to put another wrinkle in the plan. But if there was any reason to spend, then this is my short list of goodies. I’d be thrilled to hear yours.